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

PamCoyWCP Story

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

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Summer Harvests & Justice For Greenleaf Gardens Residents

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Summer harvests: Despite the recent heat surge, the garden is doing well and there are plenty of natural goodies available for harvesting: carrots, rosemary, lavender, chard, cucumbers, and basil. We recently planted bell peppers, hot peppers, and beets.

Did you know that we have three different types of fruit trees growing outside the garden? We have figs, persimmons, and pawpaws. If you’re curious about pawpaws, fellow farmhand, Catarina, shared a podcast that talks all about them. Their taste has been described as a cross between mango and banana.

This week, we will continue pruning the blackberry bushes, will say farewell to the beans, and start weeding the ‘W’ in the S❤️W garden.

Requests: First request is for onion bags. Strange, we know, but we’ve got some pumpkins growing and to ward off squirrels, we’re going to wrap them with onion bags for protection. If you happen to have any, we will gladly put them to good use.

Second request comes from a reporter with the Washington City Paper, Laura Hayes. Laura reached out with the following message:

Good afternoon. I am working on a print story about community garden culture in D.C. and would love to include some of your plot holders. Would you be willing to cast out this call for interview subjects to your community and provide my email address should any of your gardeners be up for chatting with me about their triumphs and trials?

If you’d like to share your SW garden stories with Laura, you can reach her at lhayes@washingtoncitypaper.com. You can read Laura’s stories here, including a piece she recently wrote on three generations of a Ward 7 family who “find work and fulfillment in urban farming.”

Justice Outside the Garden
“It’s about food, but we gotta be a little bit bigger than food.” – Xavier Brown

Concern regarding neighbors in Greenleaf Gardens. Many of the younger farmhands, who have volunteered at the garden, live in Greenleaf Gardens. Greenleaf is one of the three public housing communities in SW. Greenleaf was built in 1959 and has largely been neglected by the city government ever since. Consider this excerpt from an article written by Morgan Baskin for Washington City Paper:

Greenleaf Gardens … is notorious among legal service providers and public housing residents for hosting some of the city’s most repulsive housing conditions. Last summer, Maggie Donahue, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, recounted for City Paper the story of a client with such a severe cockroach infestation that the pests had eaten through the back of her kitchen cabinets, causing them to collapse; maintenance workers merely nailed the cabinets back on top of a blanket of cockroaches. Last month, Valerie Schneider, an attorney with Howard University Law School’s Fair Housing Clinic, told City Paper that clients living in Greenleaf have also reported sewage leaking through their walls.

Greenleaf is scheduled for redevelopment and politicians and government officials, for years, have touted a “Build First” model to prevent displacement of residents. While this sounds reassuring, there is reason to be skeptical whether this will actually happen (you can read why here and here).

Last Friday, July 19th, the DC Housing Authority hosted a meeting about where they are in the redevelopment process (Empower DC streamed it all). The Housing Authority said that “Build First” would be ideal, but no public land has been dispositioned for that use, so they are also looking for developers to offer their land. The residents were presented with an unfair choice: wait the process out, while continuing to live in squalor, which could be anywhere from 3-10 years, or take a housing voucher, which landlords and property managers are known to (illegally) snub, and hope they would be able to return to SW.

It is heartbreaking to learn how our neighbors are currently living, especially given the repeated neglect by the DC government and the abundance of luxury apartments that have been built in just the last five years. This frustration grows when I consider the multi-billion dollar Wharf project, which is just a few blocks away, was purchased for $1 (article: Million Dollar Properties, $1 Deals) and offers very little affordable housing. As a community, we must stand up with our Greenleaf neighbors.

If you feel as strongly as we do about this issue, feel free to reach out so we can turn these emotions into action.

SW Chat Series continues: If the issue mentioned above, or others listed on the fliers are of interest to you, consider attending the two remaining SW Chat series. You can read about the first two here. RSVP by sending an email to swconsciousrising@gmail.com.

6th Annual Spring Kick-off 4/20/19!

Spring is getting close, which means it’s time to get our hands in some SW soil! SW Community Gardens is excited to host our 6th Annual Annual Spring Kick-off Event, April 20th, from 11am-3pm in Lansburgh Park (1098 Delaware Avenue SW).

If you didn’t know already, SW’s only community garden is located in Lansburgh Park. A group of neighbors committed to bringing communal gardening to SW established the garden in 2013. The garden is composed of two sections: one for individual plot owners and a communal section open to anyone during our regular work days, which are Wednesdays 6-7pm, and Sundays 4-6pm. Throughout the gardening season, we plant, have cooking demos, compost, paint, hang out, and of course, wedding, which no garden can go without!

The Spring Kick-off represents the garden’s opening for the year, and the beginning of our regular work days. In previous years, we’ve held a variety of workshops, planted, and conducted art projects, all with some funky good tunes playing in the background.

Last year, we won the first micro-grant, Pocket Change, sponsored by the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly and the Southwest Business Improvement District to transform our kick-off into the SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day. Muralist, Eric B. Ricks (@versatilevice), facilitated a garden-themed paint-by-the number mural that sits outside the garden now, then to wrap up, Carly Harvey’s Kiss & Ride band (@carlyhmusic) performed some funky, bluesy numbers to soothe the soul.

This year, among other activities, we’ll have a compost workshop, plant the communal beds, and art activities facilitated by SW’s own, Chris Williams, better known as @crazyuncledc (you may have seen him at the SW Farmers Markets or during the Friday Night Markets). It’ll be a great time and we hope to see you there! You can get in touch with us via Facebook (facebook.com/swgardens), Twitter (@swgardens), and Instagram (@swgardensdc).

2018 Fundraising Effort

Although the garden is closed, today, marks the beginning of our end-of-year fundraising effort. We will have one month, December 15th, to raise as much as we can. We’ve already acquired $200 in gift certificates to Johnny’s Selected Seedsfor signing up with the online platform SeedMoney.

Back in 2015, we did the SeedMoney online challenge for the first time. We were able to raise a total of $1400, with $400 coming from winning a ChallengeGrant. We were the 70th fastest group (out of 75 possible places) to raise $400. This year, the first 50 groups to raise $600 will receive the Challenge Grant, which will be an additional $400.

The funds we previously raised helped us purchase new tools, gloves, seeds, soil, and fund garden projects. Even though we won the PocketChange grant last January, we still splurged a bit to make the paint-by-the-numbers mural happen. To continue our progress in the garden and in the community, we’ll need to continue to raise funds.

If you think our work merits financial support, please donate, or share the link below with your friends and networks:

SW Community Gardens – SeedMoney Donation Page

2018 – Year In Review

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As October nears its end, it’s time to reflect on another year in the garden.

This year, the garden began with a bang — the SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day. Our annual spring kick-off was transformed by a $1000 micro-grant from the SW BID and Southwest Neighborhood Assembly. In addition to our usual communal planting, we had a collaborative mural project, as well as live music. You can read the full review of the event we submitted to the Southwester for their May 2018 issue.

This year we also partnered with Christ United Methodist Church to help build some garden plots on the church’s property. The project was spearheaded by Diana Park, a member of the church. With help from fellow gardeners, 6 plots were built and filled with soil so that members of the church, and other SW residents could try their green thumbs out after Sunday service. This is a great collaboration that we look forward to exploring more next year.

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Throughout the growing year, we grew arugula, corn, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, basil, beets, peanuts, peas, carrots, and collards. Some of our biggest harvests came from the sweet potatoes, corn, peanuts, and cilantro.

Some highlights of the year included eating corn straight off the stalk with farmhands of all ages, learning how much our younger farmhands enjoy eating cucumbers with apple cider vinegar and coarse salt, our 45-pound sweet potato harvest, the “Gelato In The Garden Fundraisier” with Dolci Gelati, and when we brought the bike blender out to make garden-grown basil pesto.

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New this year, was the launching of our compost cooperative. We have composting available to SW residents 24/7/365. During our Sunday work days, we work the compost piles to help the decomposition process occur as quickly as possible. Every Sunday, that wasn’t cancelled due to weather, a small group of SW neighbors volunteered their time and energy to help compost. Nothing says neighborliness like sorting through random people’s food scraps!

All in all, it was another great year in the garden. We welcomed new faces and strengthened relationships with familiar ones. So thankful we have this green communal space to gather! We hope to see you some time!

SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day 2018

Whoa! What a day!

Southwest DC showed up, and showed out for our 5th annual spring kick-off, and first ever SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day!

The day started with volunteers coming into the garden to help weed, plant, and paint. Weeding needed to be done along our food fence area, a space we designed for passersby to enjoy blackberries, rosemary, and lavender, and amongst the garden beds. While some volunteers weeded, others planted a variety of crops: lettuce, arugula, spinach, radishes, carrots, peas, peanuts, and beets. For those that weren’t ready to get their hands dirty with soil, they could choose to get them dirty with paint! Volunteers painted garden related signs, and helped with our new garden mural, designed by artist, Eric B. Ricks (Instagram: versatilevice).

The mural is a must-see. The artist naturally includes geometric shapes and nature in his artwork, and the garden mural is no different. There’s a subtle homage to SW as well, but you’ll have to visit it and find it for yourself. Ricks implemented a paint-by-the-numbers approach which invited collaboration, and was accessible to participants of all ages and skill levels. The mural serves as a welcome to not only the garden, but to Lansburgh Park in general.

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As 1pm approached, weeds had been pulled, seeds had been planted, and paint had been used to artistic ends. It was time for a little reprieve. Violent King, an herbalist, who works with the non-profit, food justice oriented organization, and fellow garden-neighbor, Dreaming Out Loud, lead a mini-workshop on herbs, how to use them, and their many medicinal benefits.

It was then time for lunch. Sweetgreen donated half-salads, and Cava donated pita chips, breads, and dips. Additionally, fellow SW neighbors, Kate and Debbie, contributed a variety of healthy food options, and spoke with people about their simple recipes.

As 3pm rolled around, an untold amount of weeds had been pulled, several hundred seeds had been planted, and the mural was nearing completion. It was now time for the music! The music was delivered via the soulful, bluesy vocals of Carly Harvey, with ample support from her band, Kiss & Ride, and fiancee, Sol Roots. The band played an hour long show of original songs and covers, ranging from a bluesy version of, “Crazy,” to Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie,” all the while keeping a steady groove, and listeners deep in the pocket. 

All in all, it was a great beginning to the gardening year. It’s a beautiful thing when the community comes together, and this event was a testament to that. We had nearly 100 volunteers. This event would not have been possible without the work of our initial crew of 14 volunteers, as well as the lead volunteers, the generous donations from restaurants and businesses, the Southwest Business Improvement District for funding, equipment, organizing, and staffing, the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly for co-sponsoring the event, Mercy Hill Church for always being supportive, and the brilliance of artists, Eric Ricks, Carly Harvey, Sol Roots, and the whole Kiss & Ride band.

Now, that we’ve kicked things off, our regular work days will commence. You can join us in the garden every Wednesday 6-7pm, and Sunday 4-6pm until late October. Feel free to reach out to us via email, swgardensdc@gmail.com, or any of our social media profiles. Hope to see you in the garden!

SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day – April 14th!

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Due to inclement weather, the event is being re-scheduled for Saturday, April 14th, 11am-4pm

Artist, Eric B. Ricks, will hosting a paint-by-number mural project. The design will include nature, geometric shapes, and an homage to SW. You can check out more of Mr. Ricks’ artwork via his Instagram page: Versatilevice.

Velo Cafe and Sweetgreen will be donating coffee and half-salads for volunteers as well.

You can RSVP and stay in touch with all the details here: SW Earth, Arts, and Music Day.

SW Earth, Arts, And Music Day

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SW friends and neighbors, we’ve been invited to present our proposal for a SW Earth, Art & Music Day at this event for a chance to win $1000 to make it happen!

Attendees are asked to make a $5 donation, listen to proposals, then vote for their favorite over a meal. Save the date and make it if you can!

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To get a head start, you can read our proposal here.

That’s A Wrap For 2017!

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Friends, the garden is now officially closed for the year. Thank you for following along, and joining in on our journey!

What a year it’s been! To put it in some perspective, here’s some data we’ve collected:

  • This year, we had a total of 813 visits — an increase of 158 from last year.
  • Of the total visits, 155 were folks visiting the garden for the first time — an increase of 75 from 2016.
  • We harvested a little over 150 pounds of produce — an increase of 13 pounds from the previous year.

More isn’t always better, but it’s exciting to see that the garden is still growing. We’re always looking for ways to deepen the impact and relationships we create through the garden, so please let us know any suggestions you have for the future.

As spring emerges in 2018, we’ll reach out to you all again to start planning for 2018. We hope you’ll join us!