SW Gardens featured in Washington City Paper article: The Plot Thickens

PamCoyWCP Story

Photo: Darrow Montgomery @Darrow_M

SW Community Gardens was featured in a very thorough piece about community gardens in DC by the Washington City Paper. If you’re curious about how diverse and wide-ranging community gardening is in DC, this is a great piece to get a primer. Below, is the section which discusses the SW Community Garden:

During dedicated work times on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons, married gardeners Coy and Pam McKinney open up the garden hoping residents of the Greenleaf Gardens public housing complex across the street will come over and take part in growing corn, Swiss chard, snap peas, sweet potatoes, peppers, and peanuts in the community plots.

The Housing Authority named Greenleaf as one of its properties most in need of repair, especially as a quarter of people who live there are children. City Paper previously reported that a 10-year-old tenant was hospitalized in 2018 after suffering respiratory failure. A medical team at Children’s National Medical Center attributed her illness to the extensive mold in her family’s apartment. Attorneys with both Howard University Law School’s Fair Housing Clinic and the Legal Aid Society say their Greenleaf clients experience leaking sewage and insect infestations.

‘When we first started my push was, I don’t want this to be a garden in a community, I want it to be an actual community garden,’ Coy says. He oversees the public plot work days and teaches urban agriculture at Friendship Technology Preparatory High. ‘When it’s just individual plot owners, then you get 30 people who have access and that’s it. That closes the door to everyone else. To be an actual community garden we have to open the doors and let everybody come in.’

Participation was low on a recent Sunday, but Pam says when school’s in session they typically get 10 to 20 people on work days. On this visit, Blaire Johnson, 11, and Jarmal Pannell, 14, were busy watering. They’re friends and neighbors who live in Greenleaf. Johnson says she comes almost every week and brings cucumbers, sweet peas, and peanuts home to her family. ‘I saw them across the street and came over,’ she says. Pannell also visits frequently, though he jokes that the garden should be a splash park with a 10-foot water slide instead. Coy and Pam set out a station where they can quickly pickle cucumbers in salt and vinegar.

‘I like seeing the kids come over and interact with each other,’ says Caroline Waddell Koehler, who gardens in the communal plots. ‘Sometimes they’re bad, and I mean that in a loving way. Sometimes they get kicked out of the garden, but they’re always contrite because they want to come back in.’

Coy also hopes the garden is a place where adults can talk openly and notes that four of the 32 individual plots are reserved for public housing residents. ‘We don’t want to shove it down people’s throats, but these are opportunities to talk about what’s happening at Greenleaf, opportunities to talk to your neighbors about gentrification and affordability issues. People think they come here to weed, but if you weed together then that time can lead to conversations where you learn about your neighborhood.’

Since not every community garden has volunteers who are as dialed-in as the McKinneys, partnering with nonprofit organizations, schools, or even local businesses is a third way gardens can increase overall participation beyond what individual plot holders are privy to.

You can read the full article here: The Plot Thickens