Farms, Faith and Food

Written by Scott Kratz

This Saturday, dozens of volunteers arrived in the early morning sun at Union Temple Baptist Church, a large and historic congregation located just steps away from Anacostia’s Big Chair. Teenagers, seniors and everyone in between constructed wooden garden frames, moved tons of soil into 80 raised bed and dug holes for a small fruit orchard.  Supported by a generous grant from The Kresge Foundation, the 11th Street Bridge Park is partnering with the University of the District of Columbia’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) and community partners to create urban gardens in neighborhoods adjacent to our future civic space.

From our earliest efforts, we asked the community what kind of programming should be included on the Bridge Park and a repeated suggestion was urban agriculture. We didn’t want to wait until we open in 2019 though, so we’ve already begun to create these local farms to pilot what we’re calling “Bridge Park Plots.” In addition to Union Temple, we are partnering with two other Ward 8 non-profits: Bethel Christian Fellowship and Far Southeast Strengthening Collaborative’s housing on Mississippi Ave. SE. And in Ward 6 we are teaming up with National Community Church to create a number of vertical gardens off Virginia Ave. SE.

But we are producing more than just tasty and healthy fruit and vegetables. Later this summer we are collaborating with talented artists at Ward 8’s ArtReach at THEARC and Ward 6’s Capitol Hill Arts Workshop to work with our community partners to brainstorm, design and create public art to be installed on site. Ideas include transforming old stumps into colorful works of art, installing a meditative labyrinth and drawing bright veggie garden labels with a local daycare.
What’s remarkable is how each site is becoming its own unique space based on specific community needs and interests. Union Temple is planning to use their considerable harvest for on-going efforts to feed those in need and they are exploring the sale of this locally raised food to nearby restaurants. Bethel Christian Fellowship will be partnering with their daycare supporting education and a healthier congregation.

As we start to harvest these crops, install fabulous art and train residents with new skills, we’ll be sure to keep you up to date with future blog posts. Special thanks to UDC’s Ashley Milton who has tirelessly lead this effort (coordinating the construction of 80 raised beds in one day is no easy task), Norman Nixon at Union Temple and our dedicated partners at all our urban garden sites!