MS. REBECCA SHEIR
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
All right. Let's try to 103.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
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
My name is Lindsay. I’m doing a survey with Eco City Farms.
It takes a few tries before someone opens up.
MS. GRACE SORIANO
Oh, good morning. Sorry to bother you.
Sorry to wake you up.
Volunteers Lindsay Smith and Grace Soriano are knocking on doors to ask about people's eating and shopping habits.
The purpose is really just to learn about food issues from the people that live here.
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.
Do you know about the farm up on the hill?
Uh-hum, uh-hum, uh-hum.
Today they're out to spread the word to residents, and find out what they want from the farm.
How often do you do your food shop?
Once a month.
Once a month.
Deborah Anderson says she gets all her groceries about once a month at Shoppers…
And you said Shoppers, right?
…the closest full-service supermarket, a little over two miles away.
In the past seven days, like the past week, how many servings of fruits and vegetable did you eat every day?
MAYOR WALTER JAMES
It's really sad sometimes. You can tell the life expectancy by somebody based on their zip code.
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…
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.
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.
And they had this open space, and I was like, you know, that would be a good location.
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.
It's a cloudy, muddy morning on the farm and 10 teenagers from the neighborhood are hard at work planting the first season.
It's part of Eco City's free summer youth camp.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1
Well, what I'm doing is I'm picking up compost and stirring it around the plant.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2
I’m planting peppers.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
We've planted squash, zucchini, watermelons, basil, chives.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3
It's hard work. It takes a lot. All this dirt, and especially when it rained yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #4
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
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
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.
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
Most kids know a French fry, they don't know a potato.
Margaret Morgan-Hubbard is the founder of Eco City Farms.
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."
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
And don't be afraid to use your hands because that's what you want to do.
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.
On three acres, you could probably raise enough food for -- and this is an estimate -- most of the people in this apartment complex.
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.
We've got some worms over here, which is good.
There have been some challenges. With hundreds of windows facing the farm, there's no shortage of feedback from residents, says Margaret Morgan-Hubbard.
Yeah, there will be complaints and there will be concerns.
Earlier in the year, farmers set up a temporary greenhouse to use as a model for teaching.
We did it on a Sunday, and before we left we got complaints that we were turning this into a shantytown.
But she says, as the farm blossoms, those complainers will start to see it as an asset, not a nuisance. I’m Jacob Fenston.
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
This is an issue that will affect the backup drinking water supply for over three million Washington area residents.
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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