Posts Tagged ‘Urban Farming’

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on D.C. Gardeners are Growing Food to Combat Climate Change

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.”

***

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.

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By: Margaret Morgan-Hubbard

I am the daughter of a Russian Jewish refugee who escaped the holocaust and landed in NYC in the mid 1930’s. Farming may not be in my blood, but fighting for justice certainly is part of my inheritance.  I aim to expand equity and justice, while protecting and restoring the environment. 

While working at the University of Maryland, I formed the Engaged University (EU) to make the University more accountable and responsive to our local community. I began to focus particularly on community health, food and the environment, because I discovered the systemic neglect and abuse inflicted by industrial food production on local people and the land. I wanted to explore ways I could act locally and impact globally.  

In 2007, I started the Masterpeace Community Farm. The goal of the project was to create a communal space that enabled the growth of middle school youth, college students, and local community residents, primarily of African and Latinx heritage. My staff and I found the young people’s positive response to growing, preparing, and eating healthy food especially intriguing.

When the University of Maryland defunded the project, a few of us decided to continue our food justice work through the non-profit we formed called Engaged Community Offshoots, or ECO. Ultimately, our work evolved into ECO City Farms. 

When we began ECO, we secured an agreement with the chief dietitian of the Prince George’s Public School System to supply seasonal organic vegetables for a salad bar at William Wirt Middle School. Although this agreement was never honored, we were able to leverage the commitment to secure land from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission as well as funding from a number of area foundations for the farm. 

Losing Masterpeace Community Farm solidified our determination to own the land for ECO. We located a perfect site— a residential house in a low food access/low income neighborhood with a large back yard where food had been grown for decades. 

When I met with the Planning Office and local Council members, I was informed that I could never build hoop houses nor create a commercial urban farm in a residential neighborhood, and that urban farming was  not a legal land use in the County. Nevertheless, I persisted.   I continued to insist on meetings with planning supervisors, and then their bosses, going higher and higher up the chain of command. After a series of such meetings, I finally reached a director who publicly declared: “This woman is never going to go away, so let’s just give her some parkland on which to farm!” I was escorted to the Parks Division and spent many hours looking over maps to find a suitable site. 

The land I ultimately secured for ECO was just two blocks away from the land I tried to purchase, and it was free. However, the use agreement was only good for one year and the land had a tennis court in front of it that the town hoped to redevelop. Nevertheless, we built our farm and immediately began growing and selling food. 

Local politicians were so impressed with our achievements that by the end of the year, we were able to achieve a number of things, including: negotiating a 15-year renewable use agreement, expanding onto the obsolete tennis court, building a processing kitchen out of a shipping container, and renting the first floor of a Parks & Recreation Division house for our offices, less than a mile from the farm. After months of persistent advocacy and the struggle, the County code was changed to allow urban farming, along with its accompanying infrastructure, in almost every zone of Prince George’s County.

With land secured, funds raised and basic infrastructure built, we imagined that all we had left to do was grow good food for our healthy-food-deprived neighbors and they would come. But nothing is that simple. 

While there is certainly a need for healthy locally grown food in every community everywhere, there is often a disconnect between the food we grew and the eating habits, purchasing practices, cooking skills and desires of the community where that food is grown. Our clientele was rarely the predominantly working class Latinx residents who neighbored the farm.

Over ten long years, with many advances and setbacks, ECO has become the première urban farm in the metropolitan DC region, employing 7 people—mainly women– full time and exposing hundreds of people yearly to the art and science of urban growing. We have taught many hundreds of DC area residents, aspiring farmers and their families through community-based experiential learning courses at our farm– incorporating cultivating and harvesting vegetables, cooking, nutrition, composting, herbalism, business skills and responsible environmental stewardship. 

We’ve exposed many hundreds of area school children to environmental education and conduct 6-week-long youth summer employment programs every year, including this one. We’ve engaged hundreds of area college students in programs about healthy eating and active living. We’ve held dozens of community events, poetry readings, festivals and celebrations. 

Together with Prince George’s Community College, we’ve issued a Certificate of Completion in Commercial Urban Agriculture to the hundreds of trainees who attend our courses and we are just now completing the fourth of a six-year USDA grant to train urban farmers to fulfill ECO’s mission to “grow great food, farms and farmers.”  

We’ve managed to keep our farms open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing practices that maintain social distancing amongst staff, customers and apprentices.  Simultaneously, we’ve provided affordable weekly farm shares to 70 local families and supply free weekly shares to 25-40 area senior households.

We helped to found the Prince George’s Food Equity Council to advocate for the policy change that is needed to make food production, distribution and consumption more equitable.  Our goal is to undo the damage wrought by the plantation economy, persistent racism, the  devastation of the environment and the industrialization of the food system.

Despite all of our collaborative work to date, urban farms have not proliferated as rapidly as we initially imagined; few children get to eat healthy, fresh, locally grown foods at school; most families do not know where their food comes from or how it is produced; small scale farming is only marginally economically viable; and few public resources are devoted to ensuring that toxic-free food is a human right.

I am proud that after 10 years of hard work and persistence, ECO City Farms still exists as a model of what is possible. And I am excited that when we advertise  our training to students now, the majority of our responders are women of color of all ages who want to ensure their food is toxic-free and grown by people they trust, and who earn a living wage. But there are still very few new urban farms, and many financial and other impediments to becoming a full-time urban farmer. 

I know that I and my partners in this struggle cannot rest until truly sustainable urban farms pepper the landscape of Maryland and beyond, and that everyone who wants to grow food, for themselves and/or others, has the opportunity, means, resources and know-how to do so. 

Please join me in this effort. Let me know what steps you are taking to make your local food system more just, equitable and healthy for all.  [email protected]

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder of ECO City Farms in 2010, is a daughter, sister, mother, grandmother and friend of the earth, who has lived in the DC area since 1982. ECO is the premier nonprofit urban teaching and learning farm in Prince George’s County that grows great food, farms and farmers in ways that protect, restore and sustain the natural environment. Working with area children, youth and adults, ECO educates and trains the area’s next generation of area urban farmers and eaters.

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Country Meet City: Urban Farming at Walker Jones

By Jamillah Muhammad

Welcome to the Farm at Walker JonesI recently attended the second EcoWomen urban farming event at the Walker Jones Educational Center. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s ward 6, it’s the last place you’d expect to see an open plot of land with rows of crops, bee hives, compost piles and pumpkin patches. With busy New Jersey Ave on one side, K Street on another, and a basketball court that sits between the farm and the public housing complexes on 1st St., the farm is like an oasis…albeit surrounded by chain link fencing, but an oasis nonetheless. I’ve done a fair amount of volunteering, but this was my first time on a farm. What I enjoyed the most was learning the science behind all of the decisions that are made, which techniques are used and why, and the challenges that accompany introducing an alternative learning project to a school system not typically open to change.

Once a lot with a dilapidated building on it, it is now home to bees, butterflies, marigolds, corn, cabbage, eggplant, broccoli and numerous other staples for the children to cultivate and eat. Creating a new educational tool, David Himly (a teacher at Walker Jones and a tropical biologist) runs the farm and has fought to add it to the school’s curriculum. The children get a hands-on outdoor escape from the conventional elementary/middle school learning environment, as the farm sits adjacent to the school.

The children learn to cultivate plants and crops, but also learn the science behind farming. Why lavender plants are set next to the beehives, or why the black fly larvae is used for the compost instead of just worms. They learn what a cistern is, how a rain garden works, all while learning to work together and to communicate effectively outside of the classroom.

We worked to clean up, weed, sow seeds and add compost freshly sifted from a large pile at the far end of the lot. It was surprisingly easy to tune out the police cars, fire trucks and other city sounds wailing the background and focus on the experience. Luckily for us the sky stayed overcast for most of the day, keeping the sun out of our eyes as we weeded the rows.

When I think of farming, I used to imagine of acres and acres of land with rows and rows of crops, but now I have a much better understanding of how urban farming works and how a small plot of land can not only feed children physically, but also mentally and emotionally. I look forward to doing it again soon!

Related Resources:

Remember our last trip to Walker Jones?
Have ideas for volunteer opportunities you’d like to get involved with? Let us know, email Jen Howard >>

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By Katrina Phillips

DC EcoWomen with Green Living Project founder Rob Holmes In partnership with the UN’s World Environment Day, Green Living Project recently held a Washington, DC, premiere to share their latest films.  Green Living Project is a filmmaking and marketing company that creates short films to showcase examples of sustainability in action.  DC EcoWomen was a promotional sponsor for the event and several EcoWomen attended, including myself.

Our evening began with a short local spotlight story from Sam Ullery, the Schoolyard Garden Specialist for DC’s education office.  I had no idea the DC school system had such a position, and it was great to see Sam’s passion to provide students in the area access to local, nutritious food.

Elisabeth Guilbaud-Cox from the UN Environment Program Regional Office for North America also joined the screening.  She applauded the audience for attending because as our 7 billion-person world ever increases demand on resources, “we need to empower ourselves to bring about change”.

DC EcoWomen was a local sponsor for the event.The six films screened at the event included stories from the US and Central America, each focusing on a local sustainability project’s success.  Issues ranged from agroforestry in Belize to refurbishing bicycles “rescued” from landfills in Chicago.  It was a great reminder to us that all it takes is regular people with a passion for change coming together to reach a sustainability goal.

Green Living Project founder and chief storyteller Rob Holmes was our guide through the films of the evening, and shared how each film was  made during our viewing.  We ended with a preview of the latest films from Africa, and the footage looked stunning!  I can’t wait to see them!  Rob also shared that he is currently seeking projects to highlight for their upcoming trip to Asia, so contact Jenny at Green Living Project if you know of great stories to share.   All in all it was an informative ininspirational event – and I even won a door prize!

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on April EcoHour Recap: Sustainable Farms!

By Vesper Hubbard

Devora kimelman-Block, Jess, Tonya Tolchin, Meredith Sheperd_2

In April, DC EcoWomen hosted a panel discussion for EcoHour on local farming. We heard about kosher meat production from Devora Kimelman-Block (KOL Foods), about private DC gardens from Meredith Sheperd (Love and Carrots), and small-scale produce farming from Tanya Tolchin (Jug Bay Market Garden). These women have all made admirable commitments to sustainable practices that promote the health and well-being of their friends, families, and communities.

Devora started off the talk with her story. Over a year ago she found herself trucking cattle to a kosher slaughterhouse in Baltimore in order to get the food she needed prepared according to her family’s diet. As she was taking these time intensive and costly trips she thought about how the task fit into her own spiritual journey and how the process could be made better. Prior to 2007, when she decided to found her own slaughterhouse, people had to choose between kosher and sustainability. What started as a hobby quickly turned busy and she found investors to help her turn the venture into a full time job. She also commented that people before WWII considered meat to be a treat rather than a daily diet staple. Her company encourages meat minimalism.

Tonya grows veggies, flowers and herbs on an organic farm in Prince Georges County in Maryland. As a child she grew up in a town with one of the best agricultural programs in the country but did not find a lot of personal interest in it. Farming was not considered “cool.” Once in college however she became interested in the subject of food shortages and took a course linking farm ownership with poverty issues. She quickly found her way onto a local farm and food bank and started volunteering her time. After college she came to DC to work with Sierra Club. Once married, she found that she and her husband had an enjoyment for farming and decided to start a farm, an idea that seemed absurd at the time. However after some serious business planning their farm was underway. Tonya remarked that the times of have changed and people are beginning to see the value in local farms and personal agriculture again.

Meredith runs Love and Carrots a local company that starts gardens for people in urban areas. It all started when she moved into a house in the DC area with a great yard but the soil was no good. Her closest community garden had a 2 year waiting list to join. After observing the yard space of her neighbors, she decided to start a business creating gardens in these underused green spaces. She deals with people who have been separated from gardening but want to learn. She commented that people have been culturally removed from the action and concept of personal and local agriculture. Now local farming has become a new and large trend.

There were lots of questions from the audience and some of the tips/answers the ladies offered were to really vet farmers. Ask lots of questions to get to know them especially if you are looking for certain qualities in your food, whether it is organic, sustainability or other standards. Tonya offered that her company/farm offers internships to professionals and students who want a chance to “try on” farming. Devora spoke to being a woman in the Kosher food business and said her gender has not been a sticking point. She is the main point person for her organization so most people know her gender immediately. She also offered that people should start cutting down their diet to eating meat twice a week rather than every day. Such is a more sustainable practice.

Farm resources:
Realtimefarms.com – A crowd-sourced nationwide food guide. We enable you to trace your food back to the farm it came from, whether staying in or dining out, so you can find food you feel good about eating.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Environmental Community Activism Grows with Earth Day Approaching

By Kate Seitz


With Earth Day just around the corner, activists and volunteers are finalizing plans and gathering support for events intended to inspire awareness and appreciation for the natural environment. This time of year is flush with trash cleanup efforts, gardening seminars, tree plantings, and composting demonstrations taking place across the globe. Whether or not you are a recycling novice or have already incorporated numerous “green living” strategies into your daily life, there are a plethora of opportunities to engage in environmental community activism.

This Earth Day, I will be busy fundraising for Climate Ride, a 300 mile 5 day bicycling journey that aims to raise awareness about climate change, sustainability, and bike advocacy. Climate Ride participants have the option to participate in the NYC to DC trek, which takes place in the spring, or the Eureka to San Francisco, California ride in the fall.   I have chosen to participate in the California ride, but have made ties with riders participating on the local ride this spring. A few colleagues that participated in the NYC to DC ride a year ago spoke volumes about how wonderfully rewarding the entire experience is: raising money for charities dedicated to climate change and sustainability solutions, biking en masse through NYC as onlookers stare curiously, peddling on through the countryside in three neighboring states, and finally, reaching the finish line at the steps of the Capitol building amidst a throng of supporters and climate change activists. Climate Ride is a challenging yet rewarding adventure that benefits a multitude of eco-minded charities.

Whether you plan to participate in an eco-seminar, teach others about the benefits of buying local produce, or trade in an old, inefficient refrigerator for an ENERGY STAR model®, the options to celebrate the environment and its protection are limitless. In what ways do you participate in environmental community activism?

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Blog post by Lina Khan

On Sunday, November 6, DC EcoWomen learned what a community farm can bring (and, for some of us, where they could find one!).  DC EcoWomen volunteered for an afternoon at The Farm at Walker Jones, an urban farm that is part of the campus of Walker Jones, a DC Public School.  The Farm provides its food to the school, DC Central Kitchen, and other organizations, or sells it at a farm stand to raise money for supplies.  According to Sarah Bernardi, the Farm Coordinator, they stick to natural forms of insect repellant such as corn starch — and rely on volunteers like us to help keep up the herbs, vegetable, and fruit gardens.  We soaked in amazing autumn weather that I considered ourselves lucky to get after a couple of weeks of rain.

Almost 20 DC EcoWomen members and friends joined us, some looking to catch rare outdoor time, others to meet like-minded residents of DC, or both.  While we dug our trowels into the earth to uproot weeds and cleared debris around the herb garden, a variety of conversation flowed — being on the job hunt, good spare-time reading, running routines (which I don’t know a thing about), and inspirational speakers.  That last topic was tied to potential new speakers for the EcoWomen speaker series.  More than a few EcoWomen expressed a sense of gratitude from getting to help out the Farm and be outdoors for the day —  so in a way, this Farm gave back to us.  When we had finished our work and eaten lunch, we listened to Ms. Bernardi tell us how the Farm got started, and we asked a bunch of questions ourselves.

This Farm is an idea that is continuously growing.  It was once a deserted vacant lot, then several crops that continued to expand, and now a farm with its own beehives!  The question of how to make it an asset for the community and for the kids nearby continues to direct its mission.  We were excited to be a part of it.