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Urban Gardening: Self-Reliance to Combat Food Desert

By Kamilah Tom, Howard University News Service
On November 6, 2017

Urban Gardening with Ward 8 residents in D.C. Photo Courtesy: Derek Thomas

WASHINGTON – Channel 5’s Derek Thomas returns to Ward 8 to conclude his 3-part series of urban gardening with residents of the D.C. community. The final workshop, “Harvest Celebration” will be Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017 at 10:30am outside of the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum.

“In workshop three, participants will be shown the process of harvesting vegetables. There will be discussion on how important fall harvest was in culture to Native and African Americans. Because growing season was ending they had to have produce stored to take on winter months,” said Thomas.

The residents of Washington D.C. are encouraged to attend this upcoming workshop, but specifically residents in Wards seven and eight. “I would love to have them come out so we can initiate and continue the discussion about urban gardening and ways that gardening can help to break the cycle of what they’re now calling food desert,” Thomas said.

A small group from the D.C. community gathered outside of the museum to participate in the first workshop, which was held on Sept. 9, 2017. Participants gained indispensable knowledge and hands-on experience throughout the workshop. The education program coordinator of the Anacostia Community Museum, Linda Maxwell, collaborated with gardening expert, Derek Thomas. “We are doing a garden program to bring people back to being environmental stewards of their community,” said Maxwell.  

The United States Department of Agriculture characterized Ward 8, a low-income community, as a “food desert” which meant there was a lack of access to affordable fresh produce and food. The grocery store landscape conducted by D.C. Hunger Solutions in 2016, uncovered that of all the 49 full-service grocery stores in Washington D.C., there was only one located in Ward 8 for all 70,712 residents to share. The last grocery store analysis by D.C. Hunger Solutions showed there was a decline in the number of stores in Ward 8 from year 2010 to the present. Three full-service grocery stores dropped to one, and result, residents were on track to becoming “environmental stewards.”  Khadijah Ali-Coleman, who was taught by her mother at a young age how to garden, said, “It is important to have this event, because we are disconnected on how to grow our own food and we need to build up self-sufficiency.”

The first workshop of the urban gardening project was led by Thomas, a gardening expert who is also the founder and president of Thomas Landscapes. Thomas, also known as the “garden guy” on WTTG Fox 5 television, led the workshop giving participants a wealth of knowledge. He taught them how to build a container garden that could be used for either vegetables or ornamental gardening, as well as how to properly take care of and prep soil to ensure healthy plants. Thomas expressed how he desired for attendees to gain an understanding of how easy it was, with a little work, in an urban setting to have fresh self-grown vegetables.

“It is outrageous to consider any area a food desert because it is such a preventable thing. If people understand that ‘food desert’ means we don’t have enough healthy food in our communities, we can grow our own food to at least reduce our dependency on processed foods. If we learn how easy it is to plant a seed, watch it grow, care for it and then harvest it we’ll start wanting it for ourselves and our kids,” said Thomas.

The second workshop took place on Sept. 23, 2017. Building off of the first workshop, Thomas explained how to install a fall vegetable garden in a raised planter bed. It was during that workshop that participants received vegetable plants as well as seeds to take home to plant. A Washington D.C. resident, introduced to gardening by her grandmother, Fayola Welsh, said “I will be going to all of the workshops. I desire to create self-sustaining produce where I can control the amount of pesticides in the things I consume. I want to create my own grocery store, ‘produce aisle’, in my backyard.”

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