Isabella Le Bon
D.C. Urban Greens seed beds at the William Penn House in Washington, D.C.
WASHINGTON—A group of girl scouts from Fairfax High School in Virginia spent their afternoon working with a non-profit organization, D.C. UrbanGreens, at the William Penn House on Sunday.
D.C. Urban Greens runs two urban production farms of chemical-free produce in Ward 7 and Ward 8. The organization aims to make healthy food more available to local food desert areas.
DCUG’s mission, as stated on their site, “is to feed bodies and nourish minds by increasing accessibility of affordable healthy foods to residents of food desert neighborhoods.”
This weekend, Operations Manager Avery Snipes and Community Outreach Coordinator Lelia Parker, focused on the nutrition education aspect of their work at DCUG’s seeding center, located in the old carriage house at the William Penn House.
Snipes and Parker directed the girls while they prepared seed beds of chard, kale and collards for Cultivate the City and a senior garden being developed by Fort Stanton Recreation Center. Cultivate the City is a group of urban farmers who also educate children in Northeast D.C. on gardening.
DCUG has held youth gardening workshops in the past, but Snipes said production is the organization’s priority.
“We definitely are way more production farm focused, and it’s not like we have a ton of kids coming all the time, but we absolutely have kids interacting on the farm,” Snipes said.
For now, it’s too early and cold to have volunteers planting on the farm, so Snipes brought the girl scouts to the roots of the organization’s work.
“I think, like, the seeding center is such a special place because they’re seeing trays of food grow from, like, tiny seeds,” Snipes said. “So, these kids are interacting with the fact that they can create life, you know.”
Snipes came to DCUG as an intern upon graduating Appalachian State University with a degree in agroecology and sustainable agriculture.
Today, the local and organic food movement is all about sustainability. But this term expands beyond being environmentally friendly. Snipes said DCUG typically only sells to the 20019 area code, where their first farm is located. However, in order to become more economically sustainable, DCUG is starting to broaden their sales to the restaurant, Centrolina, in the Northwest area.
“The point is that we’re in food deserts and we want our neighbors to eat well so that’s why we stay [in Ward 7,]” Snipes said. “And we partner with Centrolina simply because we want to become a sustainable unit, so, where we have an income revenue that’s large enough to kind of propel serving the community. And right now we don’t have that, and that’s OK.”
The US Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as “parts of the country vapid of fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods, usually found in impoverished areas.” According to the USDA 2015 report on Household Food Security in the United States, 13.2 percent of DC households were reported having low or very low food security between 2013 and 2015. Food insecurity in Ward 7 and Ward 8 have drawn attention for several years and have been reported on in publications like the Washington Post and Washington City Paper.
Still, many are unaware of the hunger issues facing the nation’s capital.
Co-leader of the Fairfax High School Girl Scout troop, Sarah Jordan, said she first learned about food deserts only recently when DCUG co-founder, Julie Kirkwood, came to speak to the troop.
“I was not even aware of the term until we started with this project so I, myself, have learned a lot about [food deserts,]” Jordan said.
The seeding work with DCUG was a part of the young women’s service work to fulfill their journey project.
“Girl Scouts has, what they call, journeys which is an in-depth look at certain topics,” Jordan said. “And the one that they were doing was talking about food and where food comes from.”
Leila Parker has a deep understanding of food production from having grown up on a farm in Baskerville, VA.
“We had a farm and we raised, like tobacco, for the sale,” Parker said. “Then we had tomatoes, potatoes; we grew corn.”
As DCUG’s Community Outreach Coordinator, Parker is constantly sharing her farming experience with urban locals. Currently she is helping the ANC build a community garden.
“It’s important because we need more fresh, unchemicalized vegetables because I think that’s a lot of our problems today, eating so much contaminated food,” Parker said. “And I think by growing food without the chemicals, or anything, is ideal for us and the neighborhood.”
Healthy food is unarguably a prerequisite to public health, but space in the district is sparse. Some argue the rise of urban farms is driving negative gentrification effects despite good intentions.
“We’re really trying to, in the most sustainable way, pump out a ton of food,” Snipes said.
For D.C. Urban Greens, reducing hunger is the goal.
“In ten years, I hope to see D.C. loaded with gardens, from one end to the other,” Parker said.