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By: Julia John

Nine-and-a-half years ago, lifelong gardener Kathy Jentz pushed to convert a brownfield site by her Silver Spring home into a community garden to expand sunny growing space for nearby urban residents. Today, with the removal of several inches of gravel, the addition of several tons of topsoil, and the dedication of dozens of local gardeners, the Fenton Community Garden is a productive Climate Victory Garden mere steps past the Washington, D.C. border. It’s one of hundreds in the D.C. metro area that not only offers fresh produce but also offsets greenhouse gas emissions.

““The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,”

—Kathy Jentz
Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“The more we can do it [offset carbon], the better,” said Washington Gardener Magazine editor Jentz. She plants lettuce, radish, asparagus, strawberry, and thornless blackberry for publication research alongside her interns on one of the garden’s 44 plots.

Launched in D.C. in 2018, Green America’s Climate Victory Gardens campaign encourages gardeners of all levels worldwide to mitigate climate impacts by planting gardens, restoring soil health, and sequestering atmospheric carbon. The nonprofit modeled the effort on the world-wars-era victory gardening movement, when 20 million gardeners, united by the urgent cause of supporting the troops, grew two-fifths of the United States’ fruits and vegetables.

Now, across the D.C. region, households, community gardens, urban farms, schools, businesses, and other organizations tend to over 400 Climate Victory Gardens.

“Together, they span nearly 14 acres and draw down approximately 35 tons of carbon per year—equivalent to offsetting roughly 284,000 miles driven.”

—Julia john

“Garden activism is real and powerful,” said Carissa Tirado-Marks, school garden and sustainability coordinator at Mundo Verde Bilingual Public Charter School in D.C.

A Climate Victory Garden can be just a couple square feet or even a few indoor pots. With the right methods, any garden can enhance soil, capture carbon, and produce healthy food.

Climate Victory Gardening follows ten practices that protect the soil, store carbon in it, and cut emissions from garden inputs. Basic steps involve covering soils with organic matter, composting, avoiding chemicals, and promoting biodiversity. Additional tips include incorporating perennial and native plants.

Photo Credit: Kathy Jentz

“Gardens have a special place in urban settings,” said Jes Walton, Food Campaigns Director at Green America. “They’re a way for folks to connect to the land. They provide an opportunity for community building. In D.C., gardens have played an important role in human and ecological health and increasing food security, from World-War-I Victory Gardens to today’s Climate Victory Gardens.”

The 2.7-acre Glover Park Community Garden is the District’s largest Climate Victory Garden. Situated within Rock Creek Park, it actually began as a Victory Garden that tackled World-War-II food shortages. Today, its 150 plots supply organic vegetables and herbs for household, charitable, and instructional use. 

Many smaller D.C. gardens joined the Climate Victory Gardens campaign through Love & Carrots, a woman-owned company that has installed organic vegetable and flower gardens around the city since 2011. The landscapers also help clients care for gardens via coaching and maintenance programs.

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

Schools are popular locations for Climate Victory Gardens. In 2014, Mundo Verde’s Truxton Circle campus transformed 700 square feet of asphalt into a bounty of greens, peas, turnips, sunchokes, squashes, cabbages, celery, peppers, tomatoes, berries, figs, watermelons, herbs, and native species.

“A lot of people walk by during the day…ask about what is growing in the garden and leave with their arms full of greens and herbs,” Tirado-Marks said.

The space commemorates the land’s indigenous roots and grows food for students, their families, and the afterschool garden market by harnessing soil-building techniques, she said. These include rotating crops, leaving soils undisturbed, using cover crops in the cold season, and applying compost from the garden’s compost system and from its hens and worm bins.

Through engaging with this outdoor classroom and urban wildlife habitat, Tirado-Marks said, “students learn that natural, social, and economic systems are linked and interdependent. They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.” 

Photo Credit: Carissa Tirado-Marks

“They build a foundation for understanding and treasuring ecological systems and begin to understand intergenerational responsibility and act with this mindset.”

—Carissa Tirado-Marks

As an educator, she believes that “growing hyper-locally and keeping healthy food in communities should not be revolutionary.” And she hopes that “society will recognize the value of gardens—for learning, for healing, and for survival—and that eventually, gardens will be supported and evenly distributed throughout D.C. and beyond.”

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Julia John is a former Green America food campaigns intern. She received a Masters in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University in 2020 and currently writes about sustainable agriculture for Food Tank.