April 2010

Union Square was recently the open air venue for a scene that was part urban agriculture, part art piece.  It brought to mind the Shaker proverb:  “Don’t make anything unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

The exhibit was a wall of Woolly Pockets: flexible pouches, made in the U.S. and comprised of recycled materials, that house plants on vertical surfaces.  An ordinary wall becomes a living thing; watching people walk around it, the verdant sculptures hooked people in.  Tourists took photos.  Some people took bites.  It was easy to the beauty and the usefulness.

But my favorite part was in the necessity of this idea.  For example, for those of us who just finished watching Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, we learned that there’s a problem in our schools:  Students don’t know where food comes from.  At one point, Jamie held up an eggplant before a first grade class and no one could tell him what it was.  Nor could they tell him that the French fry came from a potato.

The people behind Woolly Pockets understand this food illiteracy, so they also use their pieces to educate through vertical gardens.  For $1,000, a school can start a fifty pocket garden, fully equipped with the soil, seed packets, planting and nutritional manuals.  Their goal is to plant their unique form of gardening in 11,000 schools across the United States by 2011.

Perhaps we don’t have to go back to the land at all.  Maybe some of it can come in with us.

Unexpected Sights at Union Square

Pockets Full of Greens

Sunshine as a Basic Ingredient

Woolly Pockets and Their Paparazzi

Just When You've Seen It All, the Avatar Actors Show Up

The Long View of Beautiful, Useful, and Necessary

Before we go one word further, I have a request:  Prepare to think differently about Washington, DC.  Too often our capital city is disparaged for bulky national programs.  But this is a story about something that works beautifully:  Common Good City Farm located at 3rd and V Streets in the LeDroit Park neighborhood.

Continued below

The Community Comes Out for Common Good

Founded four years ago by Liz Falk and other engaged citizens, Common Good recently celebrated the start of the 2010 season.  It’s located on the grounds of a former junior high that ended in a sweep of school closings by Mayor Fenty in 2008.  Of the twenty-six schools that closed, Common Good is the only active space among the vacancies formed two years ago.  The city has plans to create a public park in the area surrounding the farm, so there will be gateway green for people to relax and then discover it.

For many, finding the farm could be the first step in a new life of learning about food.  In addition to growing fruits and vegetables, it’s an educational site, including cooking classes, for the local community.  Soon they will have an outdoor kitchen/classroom on the grounds.  It will be a simple roof structure with cabinets underneath, serving as the anchor in their educational work.

As part of their non-profit, Common Good also runs a program called Green Tomorrows.  Participants work the farm and produce good food, and in return, they earn shares of the harvest.  “It’s like a CSA, but not for purchase,” explained Falk.  Workers can also build hours by attending the culinary and gardening classes.

Falk’s broad vision of the Green Tomorrows program is that the people who receive training will go on to recover other vacant lots in Washington and create their own urban farms.  Looking at the strength of the programs and community at Common Good, it’s inspiring to imagine what such an expansion could like.  This year alone, the harvest at Common Good will include fruit from thirty trees — pear, cherry, paw paw, and fig trees are included in the mix.  According to Falk, “We’re going to grow almost everything you can grow in this region.”

Common Good City Farm Located at 300 V Street in Washington, DC

Classic DC Rowhouse Architecture is a Backdrop for Common Good

Hey, I Know That Shirt! (Kind of)

Playing Catch on a Former Baseball Field