Responsible Gardening Through the Pandemic

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What a time to be alive . . . navigating each day responsibly has become more important than ever. Three states have ordered stay-at-home orders, and six others have implemented a “shelter-in-place” initiative, which is not a legal term, but nevertheless attempts to curb residents from leaving their homes.

The seriousness of the virus and halting its spread, while not overwhelming our health care infrastructure is no simple task. Thus, it’s important to not act selfishly or recklessly. As gardeners, we know the peacefulness, harmony, and perspective Mother Nature can provide to our minds. Something that is invaluable at a time like this. This is why we are attempting to strike a responsible balance between the two.

But first, the ground rules. The widespread adoption of “extensive social distancing” (physical, not social!) appears to be the best way forward. In short, that means:

  • staying home when sick;
  • maintaining 6 feet of distance between other people;
  • covering your sneeze/cough with a tissue or your arm or elbow; and more . . .
  • Wearing a mask over your face while in public;
  • For the complete list of recommendations, read here.
  • Please review and apply these principles in the garden and at home.

The DC government has prohibited gatherings of 10 or more people. The well-known community garden, Wangari Gardens, is allowing “a small crew of volunteers” to come out during their work days. We will be adopting a similar approach. We will be hosting garden work days on Wednesdays 6-7pm, and Saturdays 12-2pm, between March 28th and April 25th. For each hour, there will be 4 available slots to sign up for using the garden work day spreadsheet.

We will be providing soap, clean gardening gloves, and will wash tools after use. If you have your own gloves and tools, you are welcome to bring them, otherwise, we will ask that you wash the tools after you’re done using them.

2019 – Year in review

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At 6pm on October 27th, the garden closed for the remainder of the 2019 year. The closing of the gates represented the 6th year of crop cultivation in the SW neighborhood. Like every year we’ve had so far, 2019 was unique and full of lessons learned, new and familiar faces, and plenty of fresh produce to share.

The garden year started with our annual spring kick-off. This year’s kick-off consisted of planting the communal beds, processing our 24-7-365 compost system, and gathering ideas and designs for our new garden flag.

The new garden flag made its debut a few months later in June. The flag was the culmination of ideas and preferences of volunteer farmhands and the careful curation of two SW residents and artists, Chris Williams and Sergio Jimenez. The end product represents popular crops that are grown in the garden (tomatoes, carrots, figs, and peanuts), and acts as a beacon for visitors to locate the garden from afar.

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The success of our spring planting came to full fruition right before the official start of summer. In mid-June, we were able to set up a little garden stand in front of Safeway and Waterfront metro station to distribute 30 pounds of produce to our SW neighbors for free. Farmhand volunteers, along with members of the DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, harvested collard greens, kale, beans, and swiss chard to supply the stand.

  • The garden had over 700 visitors this year, averaging about 15 people per work day. 120 of those visitors were newcomers.
  • 13 different crops were grown, producing over 150 pounds of produce.
  • 30 different neighbors volunteered to sift and process other neighbors’ food scraps, which resulted in us producing the best compost in the city (according to the DC State Fair).

A few more highlights from inside the garden, included our annual peanut, sweet potato, blackberry and corn harvests. These crops are a staple at the garden and are grown every year. Volunteers were also able to experience a native treat: to try a ripe pawpaw from one of the trees growing around the garden. Sunflower Alley, a patch of dirt along the sidewalk outside the garden full of sunflowers, was more exuberant than ever. The garden was also featured in an extensive piece on community gardens in the Washington City Paper (you can read about it here).

The final two highlights of 2019 came from outside the garden. In September, at the DC State Fair, the garden obtained first place in the compost competition for best compost in the city! The second highlight came from a partnership with the band, the California Honeydrops, through their Spreading Honey project. In each city the Honeydrops tour in, they partner with a non-profit to help the organization raise money and share their story. The McKinney Farmhands have been fans of their music for years, so when this opportunity presented itself, they made sure it would happen!

In conclusion, 2019 has been another great year of growing produce, connecting with neighbors, and trying to make our community better. We recognize that fresh produce is just one part of making our community better. We strive to be more than just a garden, but a network of neighbors who organize and advocate for other forms of justice and a higher quality of living for all our neighbors. If you’re passionate about these same issues, then join us! Check out our website swgardens.org to get connected!

Spreading Honey & Raising Money w/The California Honeydrops

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On October 15, 2019, the SW Community Gardens had the pleasure of partnering with the five-piece, Oakland band, the California Honeydrops, through their Spreading Honey project. The project, spearheaded by drummer, Ben Malament, features a non-profit in each of the cities the Honeydrops tour in. This allows the organization to raise some funds, share their story, and enjoy the good vibes Honeydrop live shows are known to bring.

Now, if you’ve been to enough of our garden work days, you know we like it funky — whether it’s the funky smell of decomposing food scraps, or the funky soul sounds we play and promote — we are one with the funk. And true to nature, the Honeydrops provide a show you can’t miss. If you get a chance, check them out, and you’ll likely find a few familiar faces!

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

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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

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!