If community gardens are going to be relevant to a sustainable future they’ll need to cease behaving as quiet refuges for individual gardeners and start reaching out to the broader community.
In case you haven’t noticed, areas of the city that most desperately need fresh produce are the same areas that have the fewest public gardens. The demographic realities are glaring: the farther west and north you go in the D istrict of Columbia (the closer to the fall line) the more community gardens you will find. In upscale neighborhoods, it’s almost impossible to obtain a plot in a community garden without a long wait. Pretty much the opposite holds true as you move south and east into the city’s low-income precincts. If you do find a garden there, you are likely to find plots unclaimed.
The administration of Mayor Adrian Fenty is doing very little about this. But that’s nothing new. The city for more than 20 years has had a law on the books requiring the mayor to inventory all the vacant property in the city and make it available for food gardening. The same law calls on the mayor to develop urban agriculture programs for the city’s youth. Community gardens, if they are “administered” at all, remain the pervue of the city’s recreation department. In other words, growing local, wholesome food–even in an age of food-borne disease pandemics–is still a leisure activity as far as our local political establishment is concerned.
Leave it to a couple of young, energetic food gardeners to take matters into their own hands. Bea Trickett and Joshua Wenz came upon a huge area of unused plots near Ft. Totten–nearly one-half acre–and paid for the rights to use it for something called “Community Supported Gardens.” That sounds very much like Community Supported Agriculture, because it is. Bea and Joshua plan to use half their new acreage to grow and sell shares of produce to subscribers. The other half is dedicated to a kind of gardening university. Pay $600 and you get a season worth of gardening lessons as well as all the vegetables you can grow in your individual plot.
Bea and Joshua are thinking the funds from the operation might just make them enough to at least provide a model for how urban farms–and farm managers–can thrive in the District of Columbia. They’re calling it “Neighborhood Farm Initiative.”
Some of you may know Bea Trickett from the many progressive activities she’s involved in. She works at Community Forklift, a non-profit that recycles used building materials. She’s a mover and shaker with the Mt. Rainier Bike Co-Op. She was an early volunteer with the 7th Street Garden (now Common Good City Farm). She’s been a key organizer with Rooting D.C., the hugely successful annual gardening confab. She recently completed an in-depth survey and guide to community gardens in the D.C. metro area.
Joshua Wenz, meanwhile, approaches food gardening from a business angle. In 2007, he started My Organic Garden, a full-service operation that will come to your yard and not only show you how to grow fruits and vegetables, but actually do the planting, growing and harvesting should you so desire.
Bea and Joshua make a dynamic pair. When I visited them recently, it was between rains in this wet spring we’ve been having and Joshua was trying to plant potatoes in a still moist section of their acre-sized plot. Bea, meanwhile, was busy weeding in lettuce beds that were thriving under long rows of Reemay. Elsewhere in the fairly large community garden setting, a few plot holders here and there were going about their early season chores, digging, planting, dragging bags of mulch.
Sitting in front of a computer scribbling about our food system, it’s easy to become dejected that more progress isn’t being made faster. Watching Bea and Joshua in action is a real tonic. They are on the front lines of the sustainable food movement. They are creating the future right in front of our eyes. Mayor Fenty could use them as an example of what our city needs to do–where our community gardens need to go–to make wholesome produce available to the people who need it most
At first, I thought $600 was a lot to ask for gardening lessons and a plot. But that’s really not much more than what you would pay for a season’s subscription to a CSA plan that provides a weekly box of produce. You’ll be learning from two pros who not only know how to garden, but are leading the way toward a sustainable food supply that benefits the entire community.
Interested? You can contact Bea and Joshua by e-mailing NeighborhoodFarm@gmail.com.