Five Reasons to Love the East Capitol Urban Farm

The University of the District of Columbia CAUSES brings fresh food access and environmental education to Ward 7

A full view of East Capitol Urban Farm, a multi-functional, three acre farm located in Capitol Heights and includes community garden plots, an aquaponics system, community art, stormwater retention elements and a plays pace for children.

There's lots of green popping up around the intersection of East Capitol Street and Southern Avenue. That's because a new urban farm opened in May. The space was a vacant lot in 2015. Many partnerships and months of development later, 5901 East Capitol Street NE is now a thriving community farm.

East Capitol Urban Farm (ECUF) is one of several food hubs created by the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). The goal is to irrigate this food desert a little by providing opportunities to produce, prepare, and distribute local edibles. CAUSES is also working to manage food and water waste in the process.

Urban gardens and farms offer many benefits including reducing food transportation, gaining access to the freshest produce at its peak, reducing harmful runoff, and producing more shaded areas. They provide jobs for community members as well as giving students an opportunity to learn about the environmental. Not to mention that urban farms add curb appeal to landscapes that were once destitute and dry.

The East Capitol Urban Farm has the same benefits for residents, with a few added touches. Here are five reasons why it is an excellent addition to this corner of the District.

Interactivity

The three-acre, leaf-shaped park is not just for show; it's for work, play, and relaxation. The garden is more than just plants. There are 73 trees planted on the site with a walking trail. The bottom portion is a community plaza with two stages that can be used for demonstrations as well as for concerts or movie nights. A nature discovery area has tree logs and messy materials for children to interact with and develop tactile senses.

Harris Trobman, project manager for ECUF and green infrastructure specialist of CAUSES, says many hands went into creating this space. “We had 1,300 partners help build the site. We had people from DC Housing Authority to the Arts Commission to Bradley Site Design work on this project. We even had a local DC artist put up a mural in the parking lot area. It's really a hybrid of a park and a farm. It has a park feel to it. We hope people will use the walking trail for exercise. Maybe even have some Saturday yoga classes.”

Grow Your Own

You too can be a gardener. There are 80 garden plots available for Ward 7 residents, churches, and school groups to lease for free (non-residents pay a fee). Soil and seedlings are provided for the novice gardener. Residents gain more control and access to sustainable produce. The site is Metro accessible. There is also a storage and a bioretention area.

Education for Students

Youth engagement is vital to continuity for ECUF. Local school groups are involved in the maintenance of the farm. Schools such asthe Maya Angelou School for Young Adult Learning and River Terrace Education campus have ongoing partnerships at the farm. A program will train 30 kids out of Woodson Senior High School for green infrastructure and urban agriculture.

Trobman says, “We want to engage the students in green infrastructure and introducing urban agriculture. With the growing population and the four components of our model – food production, food preparation, food distribution, and composting – those are all economic opportunities.” Many careers or “green collar” jobs are available for those skilled in urban agriculture, from designers to farm managers to plant scientists. According to payscale.com, salaries in agriculture can range from $58,000 to $85,000 annually.

Aquaponics!

Aquaponics is a process that uses waste from farmed fish and other aquatic animals to supply nutrients to plants that are grown in water. On the ECUF site several plants are being grown hydroponically (using water, not soil). The water is also home to fish. The aquaponics system uses an aerator with no moving parts called a Flo-Vex, which keeps the fish healthy by maintaining proper oxygen levels. “It's a commercially viable system so we can lease it out to a local entrepreneur to grow food,” explains Trobman.

Farmers Market and Food Trucks

Don't feel like growing your own produce? You can come to ECUF every Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m. to purchase food. Vendors will be on hand to sell their goods from now until the end of November. WIC checks, Get Fresh checks, and SNAP benefits are all accepted. Food trucks are on hand to distribute food but they offer more than just a bite to eat. “Our food trucks are more than just food trucks,” declares Trobman. “They are more like education-mobiles that distribute the food and also show how to cook it. It's another way to have a complete food hub at the site. We'll be taking that throughout the community.”

This is only the start. Want more classes on gardening and waste management? Need more fitness ideas? Have an idea about landscape additions? Harris Trobman invites your comments at Harris.Trobman@udc.edu. For more information visit www.udc.edu/college_of_urban_agriculture_and_environmental_studies/college_of_agriculture_urban_sustainability.

District Department of the Environment Director Tommy Wells and UDC CAUSES Dean Sabine O’Hara stand in front of the new educational food truck.
UDC CAUSES volunteer David Hu surveys a local resident about the addition of a farmers market to the neighborhood.
A vendor from the National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association brought an array of produce for purchase to the Ward 7 food desert, where the closest grocery store is three miles away.

Candace Y.A. Montague is the health reporter for Capital Community News.


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