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Homegrown DC: Farming Within City Limits

Written by Caroline Selle, the Zero Waste Girl

On Sept. 7, 2013, hundreds of DC residents turned out for the city’s first Homegrown DC Festival. Organized by the Neighborhood Farm Initiative, Common Good City Farm, and Old City Farm & Guild, the hyper local farmers’ market included over 40 vendors and a variety of activities.

“One person had a nutrition game, [and another had] little vegetable outfits the kids could dress up in,” said Sarah McLaughlin of Old City Farm & Guild, one of the festival’s three organizers. Seaton Elementary School brought sunflowers grown by the students. At the kids table, children could pick seeds out of the flower heads and eat them.

Along with Kristin Brower of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative and Anita Adalja of Common Good City Farm, McLaughlin created Homegrown DC to be “a celebration of food that is grown inside the city.” Vendors included community gardens, urban farms, nonprofit education farms, school gardens, and honey producers.

In a city not particularly known for its urban agriculture, “There’s a pretty good network of farmers and growers,” said McLaughlin. There are even for-profit farms inside the city, and plenty of small businesses use local ingredients.

Chef Zulu’s Tofu Delight and Rahkel’s Raw Cuisine were both present. Rahkel bought local, DC ingredients and put them in her recipes for the day. By the time she made it through the crowd and to her table, she sold out of her meals.

The day wasn’t without adventure. Attendees got a real taste of beekeeping when a honey producer brought an empty hive. “All the bees started going over and coming into the hive,” said McLaughlin. “There were bees flying everywhere…swarming the new hive. We had to take the hive and move it out of the crowd.”

McLaughlin has long been interested in food policy and agriculture. She majored in Sustainable Agriculture and International Development in college. “I realized I wanted to learn more and do more work in the states on food policy and access to healthy food,” she said. “I didn’t grown up learning how to grow food myself.” Now, she works as a garden coordinator at two different elementary schools.

The idea for Homegrown DC came one day when talking with Brower, McLaughlin’s friend. It came together better than they expected. “We used Old City Farm,” said McLaughlin, since the organization’s mission, “is to bring people and plants together.”

After the first festival’s success, the organizers hope to hold the festival annually, if not twice a year. Future events will include more cooks and small DC businesses, especially solo enterprises.


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