Giving Peace a Chance

An Anacostia Garden
Photograph By
Rindy O’Brien

The Peace Garden and the MLK Senior Garden share open space donated by Andrew Cho behind his grocery store in the heart of Anacostia. Photo: Rindy O’Brien 

The summer of 2016 has been a scorcher, one of DC’s hottest ever. In July and August more than 38 days exceeded 90 degrees, with several heat advisories for temperatures over 100 degrees. Not the ideal conditions to start a new garden, but when you have the motivation of activist Hanin Ahmed, a little heat isn’t going to stop you.

The Peace Garden is located at 2410 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE. Long-time Anacostia business owner Andrew Cho, who owns the land, plans to develop the space into housing in a few years, but for now he is happy to lend it to those who want to garden. Cho has fenced the area and wants to work with organizations that will turn the vacant lot into an urban garden. “I think Hanin put a lot of energy into the garden,” says Cho, “and I think he learned a lot of lessons along the way.”

A Garden with a Mission

As Ahmed explains it, the Peace Garden grew out of a quest to give back to his neighborhood. “I am a walking example of the saying, it takes a village to raise a child,” says the DC native. At age 12 he found himself alone on the streets. Linda Greene, whom he calls his mom, came to his rescue, along with other folks in Ward 8. “I was mentored by wonderful people in this community,” says Ahmed, “and the garden is one of many projects I have going to give back.” 

Ahmed says his gardening background comes from learning first-hand from Greene’s mother in the Newport News area. “When I was a kid, I loved getting out of the city and seeing what was growing in Virginia. I still have hens and chicks, which is a succulent plant from her garden that I have kept going for over eight years.” Ahmed is one of those gardeners blessed with a green thumb.

The Peace Garden took kids of all ages from the neighborhood that needed somewhere to go and something to do. They spent the early part of the summer planting and tending to the jobs of the garden. “As the summer got hotter, there were many days it just was too hot to have the kids in the garden,” admits Ahmed. “I still came and sweated through the work, but it cut short some of the plans.”

The garden needed to be tilled and the soil improved, but despite its shortcomings the kids were able to produce tomatoes, 20 eggplants, and peppers. Watermelons were the last crop left as the garden project closed in mid-August when the kids returned to school. The produce is distributed to the student gardeners, seniors in the area, and the broader community.  

The Peace Garden is truly a community project. There is no formal structure or nonprofit organization. It is all managed by volunteers. Just as Cho donated the land, other businesses like Mamma’s Kitchen and Pizza provided support as needed. Mark Holler, owner of Gingko Garden, provided most of the plants this summer. Frager’s Garden Center also helped. “Most of the work came from our digging with a shovel, and pretty elementary equipment,” says Ahmed, “but I am so thankful to everyone that helped whenever we asked.” 

Asked what the kids took away from the project, Ahmed says he hopes he inspired them to feel like they are a part of their own community, and that they can see there are people who really care about them. Clearly the Peace Garden measures its success not from the number of ripe tomatoes or watermelons on the vine, but from the human connection it brings the young gardeners. 

Looking to the Future

With the summer over and the kids back in school, the Peace Garden is evaluating options for the future. Ahmed has big dreams for someday having an indoor space where the kids can be involved with growing their own food year-round. “Teaching the kids good sustainable skills is really important,” he stresses, “because we really don’t know what we might need in the future.” He thinks that next season the garden may be located in a different site, and should that be so, Cho hopes another neighborhood group might come and use the space. 

It is a testament to Ahmed’s tenacity, the power of a dream, and the generosity of a young man that the Peace Garden graced the Anacostia neighborhood this summer. It demonstrates that good things can happen when everyone pitches in for the sake of doing something good. Ahmed’s dream is to see the garden kids walk across the graduation stage, and with the seeds he helped plant this summer there is a good chance that it will be a bumper crop.

If you are interested in getting involved in the Peace Garden contact Hanin Ahmed at 202-812-1919.

The last summer crop in the Peace Garden is the watermelon, plentiful on the vine.
Anacostia activist Hanin Ahmed founded the Peace Garden to connect kids to the earth and their community.

Rindy O’Brien has been involved in community gardening on the Hill for many years. For more information contact rindyobrien@gmail.com.