June 2, 2011

DC: A Community of Gardeners

Bread for the City's Northwest Rooftop Garden “vine-cutting” ceremony officially marked the opening of the DC area’s largest rooftop agricultural site.

The goal of the rooftop gardens in both Northwest and Southeast is to provide a space for community members to engage with the production of fresh produce, and also to foster community among neighbors and allies.

One of the ways we can do that is by using the space itself as a site for growing dialogues.

So the week following the vine-cutting, we hosted a screening and discussion of the film A Community of Gardeners, which depicts how community gardens in seven DC neighborhoods have, in distinct ways, empowered individuals and groups. The standing-room only crowd included community activists, teachers, avid gardeners, BFC staff and clients, City officials, and other residents interested in BFC’s rooftop garden efforts.

Cintia Cabib, the filmmaker, introduced the film and answered questions. In addition, Dennis Chestnut of Groundwork Anacostia, and Bea Trickett of the Neighborhood Farm Initiative were part of the panel discussion following the film.

Filmmaker Cintia Cabib discusses her work
with the standing room only crowd.

Among other themes, the film and discussion underscored the importance of community gardens in the lives of youth throughout the City. As just one example, the film illustrated the positive learning outcomes that a community garden at C. Melvin Sharpe Health School in Northwest created for disabled students. While parks and other green spaces in the City might keep pedestrian paths away from plants, community gardens allow students, especially those with physical disabilities, to experience the smells and touch of the plants up close. Not only do these gardens provide a valuable teaching tool, but they also create a joyful experience for children who may never have been able to grow their own plants.

A desire to give young people a direct connection to the land and food production resonated in all seven community gardens featured in the film, as well as throughout the discussion. One young woman interviewed at Fort Stevens Garden remarked that she “hated golf courses and lawns now” because these spaces did not allow her to dig into the dirt and produce food that she could take home.

During the discussion, Erika Moses -- a BFC client who was also recently interviewed on WAMU in a piece on the rooftop garden project -- commented that while her daughter was initially reluctant to take part in the Rooftop Garden building days at the NW Center, she ended up enjoying planting seeds so much that she wanted to keep coming back. Community gardens present an opportunity for youth to develop confidence since they can see the literal growth of their work and have the ability to harvest what they grow.

An educator in attendance from the National Youth Garden confirmed the satisfaction that students get from growing their own nutritious, fresh food, and learning about garden wildlife, all while interacting with their peers in the outdoors. The film emphasized the rapid increase in demand for community gardens as concerns about access to fresh, organic, and healthy foods have grown. Community gardens in DC can instill the concepts of food security and fresh produce among young residents who have never encountered agricultural sites before. These gardens can help youth to reject their perception that, as one BFC client put it, “vegetables must come from a can at the grocery store.”

Cintia Cabib
framed the discussion by explaining that community gardens can sprout up anywhere in the city- but that they work best when they reflect the particular needs of their neighborhood. Already, DC Schoolyard Greening offers curricular resources for teachers so that they can match a student gardening program to specific conditions on school sites, with hopes of an entry into the official DCPS curriculum in the near future. Groundwork Anacostia has been partnering with community groups and housing projects in SE to create gardens as vehicles for community development. Also,the Neighborhood Farm Initiative has published a guide to assist individuals and groups who are interested in starting their own community gardens. Encouraging young people to take part in transforming familiar, but inaccessible spaces in their neighborhoods into productive food growth sites teaches new skills, fosters interaction between peers, and also increases local food security.

How can Bread for the City best engage young people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding the NW and SE centers in its Rooftop Garden projects? How can BFC make its gardens a desirable place for all community members?

To join in this conversation about creating more gardens for food production in DC, please join the DC Food for All Google Group or contact Allison Burket at aburket@breadforthecity.org

To volunteer at one of our rooftop gardens, please contact Erin Garnaas-Holmes at eholmes@breadforthecity.org

BFC’s food production initiatives, such as the rooftop gardens, would not be possible without the generous support of donors, so please give today.

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