STPF Fellows' Group Digs Into Washington DC Agriculture and Nutrition
Last month, the Agriculture and Nutrition Affinity Group (AgriNuts) of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships visited Lederer Gardens, a small farm and community garden in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, DC.
We weeded, planted peppers, eggplants, and flowers, and helped plant a sensory garden bed designed for people with visual impairment to interact with and enjoy. We learned about the history of the farm and its role in the community, and about future opportunities to volunteer. It was a perfect spring day, and so refreshing to step away from a computer screen, get outside, and get our hands dirty—all while helping out our community.
At the AgriNuts event, our group learned about DC’s communal farm model from Joshua Singer, who manages the farm and its programming. Lederer Gardens is one of several sites managed by the District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). These farms are operated by city staff, local leaders, and volunteers to help feed and educate the community. Josh said he specifically assists older adults in the surrounding neighborhood who might be food insecure by offering free produce pickup hours on weekday mornings and afternoons.
Lederer Gardens is a community farm that’s over 50 years old, with greenhouses and sheds on the property that have been around for decades. But the farm was never very productive because it was prone to flooding. A couple of strong
rainstorms each season would wash away all of their topsoil, leading to poor soil fertility and unproductive harvests. Then about two years ago, the property received a grant from the city to install a drainage system that solved the flooding problem and converted the land into a productive urban oasis with honeybees, flowers, vegetables, and herbs.
Just in time for the farm’s revival, the pandemic struck. People all over DC were struggling to find fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s when the city decided that the best way to leverage their community gardens might be to give away the produce to those who need it most. And that’s how the city’s community garden program still works today: twice a week at their Edgewood rooftop garden and twice a week at Lederer Gardens, anyone can swing by and pick up free food. The farm also serves as an educational center, with classes on how to grow, use, prepare, and preserve healthy produce.
This is quite a different model from other community gardens you may have heard of. Often, the way other gardens work is community members can rent a plot for a fee from
whoever manages the land and cultivate whatever it is they want to grow. Community members might provide all their own labor, seeds, tools, and time. But not everyone knows how to garden, has access to a plot, or can afford the startup costs—and many people just don’t have the time to dedicate to gardening.
DC’s communal farm model has shown that fresh, organic, local produce from urban gardening doesn’t have to be reserved for those who have the time, resources, and know how. Volunteers and DC city staff contribute all of the labor to grow, harvest, and maintain the farm, and all of the fresh fruits and veggies that are produced as a result are given away to community members free of charge.
Our group of AgriNut volunteers was happy to pitch in to the effort. Seven members of the AgriNuts worked together on a warm Wednesday evening—weeding, planting, and learning from Josh about the power of transforming flooding land into a small farm that serves, and is served by the community.
If you’re interested in being added to Josh’s mailing list to learn about events and volunteer opportunities at DC’s communal farms, you can reach him at email@example.com.
I, for one, can’t wait to go back throughout the summer! AgriNuts hosts events related to an array of agriculture and nutrition related topics – we look forward to seeing you at the next one!
Image: Simone Passarelli