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Continued from May 2017 issue pdf page 1 ~ Gardening

Located just west of the Washington Hospital Center, between Irving Street and Park Place and south of Kenyon Street, Wangari Gardens is named after Professor and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Wangari Maathai.

Looking over the vine-covered fence is the wotking garden area in the park's western end; seen in the distance beyong the park's expanse is the Washington Hospital Center photo--Larry Ray--The InTowner.

Looking over the vine-covered fence is the wotking garden area in the park’s western end; seen in the distance beyong the park’s expanse is the Washington Hospital Center photo–Larry Ray–The InTowner.

A citizen of Kenya, she founded the Green Belt Movement which spread all over East Africa and worldwide. She was an environmentalist and social justice peace activist who empowered mainly women to plant more than 47 million trees.

School Community Gardens

There is a national trend towards school community gardens. DC has joined this trend with more than 127 of its 233 schools having such gardens. In 2010 the DC Council enacted the Healthy Schools Act. Among its provisions     was authorization for creating outdoor classrooms in the form of working teaching gardens.

Facilitating this endeavor is the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education which provides grants to schools to create gardens.

REAL School Gardens, a nonprofit that helps to create school gardens in Texas, Maryland, Virginia and DC, reports that as a result of gardening activities overall student scores show an increase between 12 and 15%. And 94% of the teachers interviewed agreed that students are more engaged, leading to greater academic success.

Ward One’s State Board of Education member Laura Wilson Phelan summarizes the benefits of school gardening: “School community gardening offers students a wonderful opportunity to practice skills and thinking critical to success later in life. Students experience hands-on science related to biology when they plant seeds, observe their growth, and care for plants. Students also learn to troubleshoot when a plant isn’t responding to their care and understand how to incorporate healthy foods into their diet. All of these elements help students learn and grow. I’m not sure that I would name this social activism, but rather high-quality educational experiences. Students learn best when they have hands-on opportunities to apply what they are learning, and gardening provides a great example of this.”

Planting beds as seen just prior to when the children were to start clearing for spring planting. photo--Larry Ray--The InTowner.

Planting beds as seen just prior to when the children were to start clearing for spring planting. photo–Larry Ray–The InTowner.

When asked what inspired the creation of Tubman Elementary School’s  community garden, Principal Amanda Delabar asserted that the school wanted to help children understand where food actually come from:

“We want children to think about growing their own food and cooking fresh vegetables. We want them to try new things and feel accomplished planting seeds and watching plants grow and produce vegetables or fruit they can eat.

“There is a strong connection between gardening and school learning. There are so many science connections. The technical pieces like how does a seed become a plant and produce fruits or vegetables and how does weather impact that to environmental lessons like how to chemicals harm valuable insects, what are valuable insects, how do pollinators work and what is important for soil health. Kindergartners have explored monarch butterflies and how they help plants and how humans have impacted them and second grade can fully explain the process of photosynthesis. I believe this technical knowledge will serve students and our community well, and the knowledge about our food and ecosystem will prove invaluable to our society moving forward.

“Parents love community gardening. They want their students to learn and interact with the gardening. We have two different garden clubs and also support teachers with incorporating the garden into their units and lessons. Parents are excited about their kids trying new things which they are more willing to do when they have grown these things.”

Restaurants Farm to Table

Surely restaurants are part of the community and many are establishing their own gardens. Chef Mike Friedman of The Red Hen in Bloomingdale is one example. Over in Northeast’s Ivy City neighborhood, Gravitas restaurant which is scheduled to open in September is spending over a $100,000 on their rooftop garden.

Chef Matt Baker is on the board of Brainfood. Brainfood is a nonprofit with three locations — Columbia Heights, Chinatown and Mt. Vernon Square. Brainfood uses the power of food to “engage, empower and employ” DC teens. Brainfood’s community partners include Whole Foods and Union Market.

Gravitas’ chef and owner Matt Baker reports the restaurant’s rooftop garden will participate in Brainfood’s program of education for young adults. “Once we are fully growing we are hoping there will also be donation opportunities for the community from the garden, offering fresh produce and herbs. We are still in the very early stages of the construction so will not be up and running for a few months.”

Restaurant gardens are not new. The first in DC was at Restaurant Nora in Dupont Circle, which opened in 1979. Nora Pouillon, who will be retiring and closing her establishment — much to the consternation of loyal patrons and neighbors — on June 30, is a self-taught, Austrian-born chef who guided her restaurant to become DC’s first certified organic; the front yard garden provides the herbs enhancing the menu’s offerings. Of the ingredients used, 95% come from certified organic and biodynamic growers.

Conclusion

In 1979 the American Community Gardening Association was formed with a mission “to build community by increasing and enhancing community gardening and greening.”

photo--courtesy American Community Gardening Association.

photo–courtesy American Community Gardening Association.

It provides training in fundraising, leadership development and organizing as well as environmental education. Its Garden Mosaic program which links youth and experienced gardeners is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

So, whether community gardening is a sign of social activism, meditation, desire for excellent fresh food hobby, or student learning stimulant, most agree that this is a great idea. Whether the District government will actively seek out unused vacant lots that could at least temporarily be used for community gardening is an open question at this time.

*Larry Ray, a resident of Columbia Heights and former ANC commissioner for Dupont Circle and Columbia Heights, has also served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association. An arbitrator and mediator, he has been providing training and assistance to the Tubman Elementary School Peer Mediation Program.

Copyright © 2017 InTowner Publishing Corp. & Larry Ray. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without permission is prohibited, except as provided by 17 U.S.C. §§107 & 108 (“fair use”).