Kingman Park Rosedale Community Garden

A Success Story

Harvest celebrations and birthday parties are held in the garden. Photo: Bob Coomber

Kingman Park Rosedale Community Garden representatives happily paid the DC government $1 at a March 19 signing ceremony and received title to a quarter-acre vegetable garden that has become the heart and soul of the unusually large interior block bordered by D and E streets NE, between 20th and 21st streets. It took years, lots of community organizing, and hard work to reach this milestone, the first such land transfer in the District. Now nearly 100 gardeners of all ages, races, and incomes can continue growing food, knowing their patch of land won’t become a parking lot.

On Feb. 19 the Friends of Kingman Park (FOKP) hosted a celebration at a local church (http://www.capitalcommunitynews.com/content/community-celebrates-their-garden%E2%80%99s-success). Cosby Washington, current president, explains that FOKP, now a nonprofit 501C3 organization, is an arm of the older Rosedale Citizens Alliance. Washington says the two groups are devoted to bringing the community together and enhancing this precious green space. 

Kingman Park History

A 1903 District of Columbia map shows only blank paper where this super block is now located. To the east is the Anacostia River, and East Capitol Street ends at the river where RFK Stadium now stands. Prior to 1928 when the first Kingman Park houses were built, the western shore of the Anacostia south of Benning Road consisted of mudflats near the city dump. Malaria and yellow fever were feared.

Between 1898 and 1928 the future of this wetland was debated by Congress, the Army Corps of Engineers, and other national and local entities. In much the same way that Kingman Park Rosedale Community Garden was slowly formalized, a host of government entities spent years creating what is now Anacostia Park, clearing the way for a new neighborhood.

Construction of homes on the vacant land that is now Kingman Park began in 1928. One reason the community garden is so large is that 21st Street NE veers off toward the east, while 20th Street runs north/south. When you walk through the alley into the interior of that block the size of the space is striking. If it hadn’t been in the run-down condition it was in the early 2000s it would probably have been paved over long ago. Knowing that 21st Street was an early part of this building campaign could explain the astounding double row of enormous willow oaks lining those blocks between D and F streets. Nearly 100 years old, they are easily the largest willow oaks I’ve seen on a city street and well worth a visit.

In 2001 the Ward Redistricting Act split Kingman Park, shifting 1,840 homes into Ward 7, moving this ward west of the Anacostia River for the first time. Unsuccessful lawsuits ensued, and although the change was upheld one concession was that Kingman Park residents receive prized Ward 6 parking stickers. See Wikipedia for more history: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingman_Park

Kingman Park Rosedale Community Garden History

Ten years ago the garden site was a vacant lot littered with junk cars and just plain junk. Residents envisioning a garden started organizing in 2005. They received generous support from three community and city organizations: Washington GROW, Washington Parks and People, and the Capitol Hill Community Foundation. What started out as five raised beds has now grown to 43. Current soil tests show safe, fertile ground. For more on the history including photos over time, see http://kprgarden.org

As nice as the new garden was, the threat of development loomed, especially as real estate pressure mounted following the 2008 recession. Rosedale Citizens Alliance and Friends of Kingman Park joined forces to protect what had become a vital community resource. The city owned the land on which the garden was located, but a larger adjacent parcel was privately owned. This piece, still a green open space, went on the market in 2008-09, but FOKP was unable to come up with the purchase price. The new owner now leases the land to the civic group while its future is explored. If developed this could literally cast a shadow on the garden. Hopefully a solution will evolve in the next few years during the current lease.

Bob Coomber moved to the neighborhood in 2009 and by all accounts was instrumental in crafting the land transfer from the DC Office of Tax and Revenue to the citizens’ group. Now an ANC 7D01 member, he has a legal background that is an asset to the garden. He reaps what he sows in more ways than one: his family tends a garden plot and participates in gatherings and cookouts that occur in the space.

Kingman Park, initially an African-American real estate development, is now multiracial as the city’s population is redistributed. FOKP President Washington is quick to point out that fears of displacement due to gentrification caused initial blowback against the garden. Now, he proudly says, “we’re moving forward with continuity and togetherness. We’re so blessed that we came through and the garden is now part of the community.”

How the Garden Grows

Garden members pay annual dues plus a one-time application fee. There are detailed bylaws, and new member applications from the immediate neighborhood are given priority. See the garden’s blog for more information. About a quarter of garden members receive reduced membership rates or full garden plot scholarships due to low income. For these people the garden is a valuable and healthful supplement to their diet.

According to Bob Coomber the space has also been an incubator garden for local school groups, who have since moved on to create gardens on school grounds. It is a great way for younger gardeners to learn from more experienced ones. When you see what tasks others do throughout the growing season it’s easier to get into the gardening rhythm.

Last week, as the signing ceremony took place, the garden was quiet. A number of beds had been cleaned up for spring. Onions, parsley, chives, and fresh strawberry foliage were in evidence. Photos showing the garden in full regalia reveal tomatoes, peppers, beans, herbs, and many other edibles. 

The group now plans to improve the space further by removing some weed trees, completing fencing around the perimeter, and arranging for water sources. For this they are consulting with DC’s RiverSmart Homes program as the space is in the delicate yet recovering Anacostia watershed.

Two picnic tables in the garden have brass plaques commemorating members who have passed: Linda Hamilton Gilbert, garden founder and 40-year neighborhood resident, and Danny Hollander, who was beloved and “the embodiment of the transformative power of gardening,” according to his plaque.

When real estate development is parachuted into a transitional neighborhood by outsiders strictly for profit, it shows. Kingman Park Rosedale Community Garden isn’t like that. It is literally a ground-up neighborhood development that has already attracted infill homes to its perimeter. Some realtor’s listings now show the garden as an amenity. But it is a neighborhood asset and green space that is helping feed people, unite people, and clean the Anacostia River, making it so much more than a simple vegetable plot.

On the first day of spring, onions and parsley emerge from a cleaned up garden plot. Photo: Cheryl Corson
Later in spring the beds are planted and paths are covered with cardboard and mulched. Photo: Bob Coomber
Blue sky with a lovingly hand-painted garden sign. Photo: Stacey Barton
Long-time 20th Street resident Robert Gregg with Midnight enjoy the garden and may have a plot someday. Photo: Cheryl Corson

Cheryl Corson is a licensed landscape architect practicing on Capitol Hill and beyond. She finds great beauty in vegetable gardens and encourages everyone to grow something from seed this season. www.cherylcorson.com


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