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Program Provides Food, Farming Education to Urban Poor

  • Ariadne Budianto

In many U.S. inner-city neighborhoods, residents live in what is often referred to as a "food desert" - with few options for easy access to healthy foods. One organization in Washington, however, is trying to help residents of one such neighborhood create their own nutrition oasis.

In Washington's historic LeDroit Park neighborhood, finding fresh food that is affordable can be challenging. About a third of its residents live in poverty, while the nearest grocery store is more than 1.5 kilometers away. But a community farm is trying to resolve it by providing food, as well as education through various programs on food production, healthy eating and environmental sustainability.

"Not only do they know how to grow their own food, we start from seed to harvest to weeding, composting," said Anita Adalja, the farm's manager. "There are workshops on canning food preservation, beekeeping, herbalism, health and nutrition. So not only do they get to educate themselves on that process of food system, but we also distribute up to 15 lbs [6.8 kilograms] of produce [per week, per family]."

Since 2007, Common Good City Farm has taught more than 1,100 residents in its workshops, engaged more than 2,000 school children and recruited more than 2,500 volunteers. Farm manager Adalja said that in 2013, the farm provided more than 2,200 kilograms [5,200 pounds] of fresh fruits and vegetables to the community.

"At Common Good we tried to stick to 85-15, so 85 percent of the food we grow are distributed within the community, then 15 percent we sell to local restaurants and a mobile farmers' market that comes once a week," she said.

Seeds are donated by companies and also harvested from the farm’s greenhouse. Community members, staff and volunteers grow them in a garden built on an abandoned baseball field.

Cassie Hoffman likes the idea of an urban garden that not only is beneficial to the community, but also to the participants.

"I can spend an hour cutting salad greens and slip into a purely meditative state where I’m not even thinking about anything in particular," she said. "I kind of like it, just because I do a lot of research and number crunching [mathematical], in front of the computer a lot, so I kind of enjoy the peace."

Fifteen-year-old Eliamani Ismail has been volunteering for more than two years. She believes the community around the farm will enjoy a healthier life.

"I think it’s absolutely fantastic," she said. "They really teach people about how their food gets to them and how to properly eat and properly grow things, and that’s what a lot of, especially Americans, need nowadays because we have the obesity problem."

And cultivating healthy habits requires an early start. Youth coordinator Elizabeth Packer takes children to harvest eggplants they grew a few months ago. In the outdoor kitchen, they cook eggplant parmigiana, which instantly becomes a favorite.

Common Good City Farm hopes to serve as a model community-based urban food system while helping LeDroit park residents achieve a healthier lifestyle.