Bladensburg Gets First Farm On Grounds Of Low-Income Apartments (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Bladensburg Gets First Farm On Grounds Of Low-Income Apartments

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
So you can find a plethora of restaurants, Belgian or otherwise, in a place like downtown D.C. Not to mention all sorts of grocery stores and farmers' markets, food trucks, you know, the list goes on and on. And yet, not too far from downtown you can still find plenty of food deserts. Those are areas with little access to fresh and healthy things to eat. But, in one these deserts, amidst a cluster of apartment buildings, a green oasis is sprouting. Jacob Fenston brings us the story behind the newest urban farm in Prince George's County.

MS. DEBORAH ANDERSON

00:00:38
All right. Let's try to 103.

MR. JACOB FENSTON

00:00:40
It's 9 a.m. on Saturday, and dozens of volunteers are fanning out across the Autumn Woods Apartment buildings in Bladensburg.

MS. LINDSAY SMITH

00:00:47
My name is Lindsay. I’m doing a survey with Eco City Farms.

FENSTON

00:00:51
It takes a few tries before someone opens up.

MS. GRACE SORIANO

00:00:53
Try again?

SMITH

00:00:54
Yeah.

SMITH

00:00:58
Oh, good morning. Sorry to bother you.

SORIANO

00:01:01
Sorry to wake you up.

FENSTON

00:01:02
Volunteers Lindsay Smith and Grace Soriano are knocking on doors to ask about people's eating and shopping habits.

SMITH

00:01:09
The purpose is really just to learn about food issues from the people that live here.

ANDERSON

00:01:12
Okay.

FENSTON

00:01:12
They're with Eco City Farms, which already runs a one-acre urban farm a few miles away in Edmonston. This summer, Eco City is breaking ground on a new farm in this low-income apartment complex. They say it's the first working farm in the country that's on the grounds of a subsidized housing development.

SMITH

00:01:28
Do you know about the farm up on the hill?

ANDERSON

00:01:30
Uh-hum, uh-hum, uh-hum.

SMITH

00:01:31
Okay. Great.

FENSTON

00:01:31
Today they're out to spread the word to residents, and find out what they want from the farm.

SMITH

00:01:36
How often do you do your food shop?

ANDERSON

00:01:37
Once a month.

SMITH

00:01:38
Once a month.

FENSTON

00:01:39
Deborah Anderson says she gets all her groceries about once a month at Shoppers…

SMITH

00:01:42
And you said Shoppers, right?

ANDERSON

00:01:43
Uh-hum.

FENSTON

00:01:43
…the closest full-service supermarket, a little over two miles away.

SMITH

00:01:47
In the past seven days, like the past week, how many servings of fruits and vegetable did you eat every day?

ANDERSON

00:01:54
Maybe two…

SMITH

00:01:54
Two.

ANDERSON

00:01:55
…per day.

MAYOR WALTER JAMES

00:01:55
It's really sad sometimes. You can tell the life expectancy by somebody based on their zip code.

FENSTON

00:01:59
Bladensburg mayor Walter James is a big supporter of the farm. He says right now, there just isn't a lot of healthy food available in his town. What there are a lot of is…

JAMES

00:02:08
Your fast food, your convenience store, your snack places where we want to kind of change it and bring more healthy things to the community.

FENSTON

00:02:15
So for years, he's wanted to start an urban farm in town. One day, he was out riding his bike, and came pedaling up the hill to Autumn Woods.

JAMES

00:02:22
And they had this open space, and I was like, you know, that would be a good location.

FENSTON

00:02:26
A grassy vacant lot, uncommon in these dense inner suburbs. So he started making phone calls. Soon, the Eco City farmers had arranged a rent-free, 15-year lease.

FENSTON

00:02:43
It's a cloudy, muddy morning on the farm and 10 teenagers from the neighborhood are hard at work planting the first season.

FENSTON

00:02:50
It's part of Eco City's free summer youth camp.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1

00:02:53
Well, what I'm doing is I'm picking up compost and stirring it around the plant.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2

00:02:57
I’m planting peppers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1

00:02:59
We've planted squash, zucchini, watermelons, basil, chives.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3

00:03:06
It's hard work. It takes a lot. All this dirt, and especially when it rained yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4

00:03:13
It's a challenge because some people don’t like bugs and the pop up and they just get scared, they want to quit. I'm like that sometimes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #5

00:03:26
On Mondays we get to cook. And I'm into cooking. I like to cook at home. And then we do gardening, which is, you know. I guess you could say it's a new experience because I've never really actually done this.

MS. KIERRA OLIVER

00:03:37
First I thought food came from out of a can and the containers when I saw them in a grocery store. So I didn't know how they really were made until my grandma showed me that they were actually planted.

FENSTON

00:03:49
Those were local teenagers Kierra Oliver, Zola Kayrenden (sp?), Pauline Abasike (sp?), Feyonce Yates (sp?), Jasmine Gray (sp?), and Diego Datise (sp?). They're learning about soil conservation and erosion and composting and also some basics about food.

MS. MARGARET MORGAN-HUBBARD

00:04:02
Most kids know a French fry, they don't know a potato.

FENSTON

00:04:05
Margaret Morgan-Hubbard is the founder of Eco City Farms.

MORGAN-HUBBARD

00:04:09
It's really surprising how basic it is. We were growing eggplants and a kid said to me, "Oh, that's where eggs come from."

FENSTON

00:04:18
Education is one big reason for putting a farm in the midst of all these apartments. It can be a sort of teaching laboratory. People walking home see it and get interested and involved.

MR. BENNY EREZ

00:04:27
And don't be afraid to use your hands because that's what you want to do.

FENSTON

00:04:30
Benny Erez is one of the camp leaders today. He's an expert in compost and high-density farming. He says this little patch of land will produce a lot of food when it's up and running.

EREZ

00:04:41
On three acres, you could probably raise enough food for -- and this is an estimate -- most of the people in this apartment complex.

FENSTON

00:04:50
That's about 1,000 people, one-tenth of the entire town's population. The farmers plan to operate it as a CSA, community supported agriculture. People will be able to buy weekly deliveries of fresh veggies. Those who can't afford it can get a reduced price, or pay by working in the fields.

EREZ

00:05:06
We've got some worms over here, which is good.

FENSTON

00:05:07
There have been some challenges. With hundreds of windows facing the farm, there's no shortage of feedback from residents, says Margaret Morgan-Hubbard.

MORGAN-HUBBARD

00:05:15
Yeah, there will be complaints and there will be concerns.

FENSTON

00:05:18
Earlier in the year, farmers set up a temporary greenhouse to use as a model for teaching.

MORGAN-HUBBARD

00:05:23
We did it on a Sunday, and before we left we got complaints that we were turning this into a shantytown.

FENSTON

00:05:31
But she says, as the farm blossoms, those complainers will start to see it as an asset, not a nuisance. I’m Jacob Fenston.

SHEIR

00:05:50
Time for a break, but when we get back, war over water. The swirling debate about our region's last best creek.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #6

00:05:58
This is an issue that will affect the backup drinking water supply for over three million Washington area residents.

SHEIR

00:06:05
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.

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00:06:08
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