Lessons Learned from Rooting DC

By: Hannah Cather, Member Support Fellow at Food Recovery Network ….. 

static1.squarespaceI’ve killed a lot of plants. The succulents somehow stay alive, but the herbs, those never last more than a month. It’s disheartening to watch a basil plant shrivel up and die. The cilantro, the rosemary, the parsley — all gone. When someone told me about Rooting DC, I realized that was exactly where me and my anything-but-green thumb needed to be. I even registered to volunteer sorting seeds before the forum, hoping to bring some good luck to my gardening.

DC Greens, the forum’s host, stacked the roster with major players in DC’s urban agriculture world. I could spend three paragraphs listing the awesome presenters, or you could just browse theprogram and find those who stand out to you. Many of the presentation notes will also be posted on the forum’s website, which should be super handy for the garden I’m planning. That’s right: I’m going to GROW THINGS! (I’m laughing a little while writing this because it’s potentially an outlandish goal, but I want to give it a shot.)

I was only able to attend Rooting DC’s morning sessions, but they were insightful and inspiring. The first was lead by Amanda Marino of Capital Area Food Bank, and she shared knowledge on starting and improving your garden game with as little money as possible. I learned where to get free compost and that you can save roughly $30 on 10 pounds of tomatoes if you grow your own.

After that, I went to a presentation by Josh Singer, the community garden specialist at DC Department of Parks and Recreation, on growing vegetables. I learned so much! Like the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato plants (can you tell I like tomatoes?) and how to organize a garden bed so that it will produce food all year long. He also told me that there are nutrition in some weeds. It turns out that purslane is full of Omega 3 fatty acids and dandelions taste great in salads!

I’m so excited to sow some seeds and watch things grow! Only time will tell if I’ve turned over a new leaf and can keep them alive. Maybe one day I’ll be able to share pictures of the 10 pounds of tomatoes I grew from seed…


See Hannah’s original blog post plus more lessons learned from the Food Recovery Network community here!

Food for Thought: Something to Chew On

By: Jennifer L. Lumpkin, Consultant at Creative Community Builders ….. 

For some years now, I’ve had this crazy idea about creatively combining technology and urban agriculture. At first I had no idea what this would look like, or if any of my grower friends would join in. I had met so many agricultural entrepreneurs who were agricultural revolutionaries, and I admire them to this day. Working as an organizer for a premier real estate developer provided me with insight on a few issues that kept bubbling up throughout my work in various communities. I was pulled to further address the limitations posed by redevelopment and traditional community gardening. A few of these challenges were:


1) Lack of space for multiple growers in a given neighborhood
2) Cost of community gardening plots
3) Personal capacity of individual growers

I realized that what I had was a forward thinking approach that would address these compounding challenges. I thought, “Hey! This idea can be used as a tool for Community Engagement between community members who may or may not intersect or socialize otherwise.” Creating a mini community-based food system among community members who can grow and sustain a system within their own personal capacity.

As I take the steps to bring this concept into reality I continue to ask myself and others: “What if we could harness our individual power to build something greater than we could ever imagine? What if the future of food systems were right in our backyards, or our balcony, front porch or window sills?” I believe that communities can do something better, more cutting edge, to create a self sustaining system inclusive of all regardless of income and differing social tenets. As I enter my 3rd year attending Rooting DC, it feels great to have grown into an active change agent rooted in something deeper than myself. I’m looking forward to sharing a space at Rooting DC with others who are actively growing as well!

See more of Jennifer’s writing on her blog, Grow DC 2016

How Vertical Farming Would Work in DC

By: Evan Bromfield, Founder at the Urban Vertical Project ….. 

Vertical farming would grow as much food as possible, for as many people as possible, and as close to where they live as possible.

It’s a bright future, tinted green, and it would work wonders for DC. Sustainable DC, the city’s initiative to promote environmentally friendly urbanism, is already pushing us in the right direction. Laws like DC council members David Grosso’s and Mary Cheh’s Urban Agriculture and Food Security Act of 2014 are just the next logical tipping point.
There is going to be a new era of urban ecology. We will have to figure out the best, healthiest way to relate to our cities and vertical farming is key. We won’t need to waste the resources building fantasy high-rises, artificially lit, and pumping out produce. Rather, a more elegant solution is at our fingertips. Rooftop farms like Union Market and innovative design schemes like those proposed by Cultivate the City work within the DC landscape and community to incorporate the principles of vertical farming into our lives.

This article looks a bit more into what vertical farming is and what it does, but the potential is endless. We could design apartment buildings that produce their own food, or office buildings that clean their own air. We could change food deserts to areas of fresh abundance and empower a new green collar workforce. We could curb pollution and tackle health problems like obesity. It’s all possible when you adapt a food system to the local environment.

The Urban Vertical Project looks into these issues more, and provides real world data about what different vertical farm initiatives are doing. You’ll get exclusive access to vertical farming developments that you can’t find anywhere else, and as DC continues to blaze forward in sustainability, they will only become more important.

Local Gardening Resources Inform New Nutrition Curriculum

By: Andrea Lindsay, AmeriCorps VISTA member at The Campus Kitchens Project ….. 

TG cover photoOne of my first projects as an AmeriCorps*VISTA with The Campus Kitchens Project was to develop a garden-based nutrition education curriculum, pulling together best practices from Campus Kitchens around the country as well as my own experience and research on student gardens around the country. The Campus Kitchens Project is a national organization that empowers student volunteers to fight hunger in their community by transforming unused food from dining halls, grocery stores, restaurants and farmers’ markets into meals that are delivered to local agencies serving those in need. Each Campus Kitchen also goes beyond meals by using food as a tool to address the root causes of hunger and poverty, and many Campus Kitchens have developed innovative garden programs. Some partner with on- or off-campus farms to glean healthy produce for their meals; others work with younger students to show them where their food comes from and empower them to make healthy choices; some are even building accessible planters to give older adults the chance to grow their own food.

After talking with Campus Kitchens in Boston, Washington, Texas and Minnesota about their gardening and nutrition education programs, I began exploring local resources here in DC to learn more about garden education. Connecting with the Growing Garden Teachers network as well as organizations like DC Greens and City Blossoms was a great opportunity to learn from experienced garden teachers and observe experiential outdoor education in action. Combining best practices from all of these sources, as well as my own experiences starting a campus garden and working with various garden education nonprofits before my time with The Campus Kitchens Project, I developed a set of six lessons as well as a teaching guide and a guide to starting and maintaining an educational garden space.

The combined curriculum, “Sowing Seeds for Healthy Kids,” inspires kids to make healthy choices by helping them discover where their food comes from and explore the food system from seed to plate. While it was designed for older elementary students, it can be adapted for younger or older audiences. Each of the six lessons in the curriculum includes an integrated discussion of gardening and nutrition topics and a variety of additional resources. Take-home recipes and family newsletters for each lesson provide an opportunity to reinforce the lesson concepts at home and try fun new snacks or activities. Elements like the newsletters and lessons focused on the food environment and food traditions emphasize that healthy eating and food access are issues that students can address on a community level as well. The teaching guide not only provides additional activity and resource suggestions, but also emphasizes core teaching principles like experiential learning and engaging with diverse cultural backgrounds.  “Sowing Seeds for Healthy Kids” also comes with a pre-test, post-test and guide to evaluating your program. We welcome adaptations of the lessons, activities, recipes and newsletters to suit your particular community, and we hope that anyone who uses the core elements of “Sowing Seeds” will send their outcome evaluations to info@campuskitchens.org. We look forward to hearing how you put this curriculum to use!

Winter in the Garden

By: Laura Nelms, Greening and Nutrition Committee at Lafayette Elementary School ….. 

What happens to plants and animals when winter arrives? This was a question Lafayette kindergartners investigated out in the garden in February.

LES-garden1Students first learned about different strategies that plants and animals have for dealing with the change in seasons (adaptation, hibernation, migration).  Outside, the students discussed what had changed since our fall outing (it’s colder, the leaves don’t have trees, there’s lots of snow!). Working in pairs, they then went on a winter scavenger hunt to search for animal tracks and other signs of animal activity, evergreen leaves and bare trees, cocoons and empty nests and other evidence of LES-garden2how plants and animals can deal with the change in weather.  A highlight of the hunt was the discovery of a praying mantis egg sac attached to the bottom of a laurel leaf, waiting for the warm weather to arrive.

In addition to the scavenger hunt, students also used thermometers to take both air and ground temperatures.  Even with the snow, the ground was warmer.  Students learned about how snow can be like a blanket and provide insulation and warmth for the hibernating animals and plant roots growing below ground.

Despite the cold weather, students didn’t want to head back inside—especially those who hadn’t been able to mark off all the items on their scavenger hunt list!

Working Towards a Healthy, Hunger-Free DC

By: Melissa Roark, Americorps Anti-Hunger VISTA, DC Hunger Solutions ….. 

Lauryn ready for EITCRight here in our Nation’s Capital, nearly one out of seven households struggles with hunger, with uncertain or limited access to, or ability to buy, nutritionally adequate and safe food.

Founded as an initiative of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) in 2002, D.C. Hunger Solutions seeks to create a hunger-free community and improve the nutrition, health, economic security, and well-being of low-income District residents. Our three-pronged strategy includes: maximizing participation in the federal nutrition programs, strengthening and supporting policies that promote the health and economic security of DC residents, and educating the public about the realities of hunger and the solutions already at hand. Two current projects highlight some of the work we do in the community and ways volunteers can get involved in addressing hunger.

We just kicked of our annual SNAP/EITC Campaign that helps low-income wage earners benefit from these two effective anti-poverty and income support programs. From now until April, our volunteers will be at six tax preparation sites across the District educating the public about SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), screening clients for benefits, assisting eligible clients complete SNAP applications, and connecting residents with other nutrition resources in D.C.

We are also excited to be partnering with the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) and FoodCorps to place volunteers at 15 D.C. Public and Public Charter Schools across the city each month. Volunteers help FoodCorps members conduct taste tests in the cafeteria at participating schools where students sample the Harvest of the Month recipe and get excited about the healthy school lunches.

Working with our partners to connect eligible residents to SNAP  and students to the healthy meals served in the cafeteria are just two examples of how D.C. Hunger Solutions is working to create a healthy, hunger free D.C.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Melissa Roark at mroark@dchunger.org.

Eating Local All Year Long

By: Nikki Warner, Markets and Communication Manager at FRESHFARM Markets ….. 

You eat kale, you cook healthy meals, but do you know where you food comes from? If you shop at producer only farmers markets in our area, not only will you have access to healthy food, but you’ll have the opportunity to talk with the folks who grow your food. Knowing where your food comes from is just the start of a conversation you can have with a farmer, week in and week out, at a producer only farmers market.

FRESHFARM Markets prides itself in being DC’s largest network of producer only farmers markets, including our Dupont Circle farmers market which is open every Sunday, year-round. When you shop there you can be sure that everybody who is vending either grows, raises or harvests their produce themselves. Additionally, all prepared foods are made from scratch and include locally sourced ingredients.

BeingApples a non-profit organization, part of FRESHFARM Markets mission is to educate the public about food and environmental issues. In teaching others about the benefits of eating local at the markets I manage, I’ve learned tons about the practicality of eating local all year round. The concept of being a “locavore” can be confusing and intimidating. You don’t need to stop eating avocados, spend more money, or invest in expensive kitchen equipment to get started. There are things you can do right now to incorporate local foods into your diet that will reward you with better flavor and nutritional value. Eating local all year round is about being willing to try new things. It’s about learning that real foods have a seasonality — sorry, no strawberries until May! It’s also about shifting your grocery budget (gradually) from large food corporations to small farmers in our region. Doing so is great for the environment, great for the economy and especially great for your health.

At our Rooting DC workshop, we will tell you the ways in which your garden plan can complement your desire to eat local all year round. We will arm you with market tips, tricks and hacks to save you money, time and rocket you into a full year of good food, good health and lots of happiness. See you there!

Give a Little Bit

By: Margi Fineran, Foodprints educator, School within a School @ Goding ….. 

photo“The most important thing in anyone’s life is to be giving something” – Ginger Rogers

December 2014, SWS Goding, our youngest of students were learning about Giving. With the talk of special holiday treats and surprises set aside for a little while, the 3 year old class learned how to give our red wiggler composting worms an appropriate environment in which to live and work. They were excited to cut up bits of old lettuce leaves and kale stems. Little fingers love tearing up bits of egg cartons and newspapers. They were concerned the worms not would be warm enough in the cold weather and so covered them up even more with their newspaper blankets. As we left the worms to settle in, students worried the worms would be lonely over the winter break.

One of my goals at SWS is to have a worm composting system in every classroom. The worm bins in some classrooms have become part of their center time activities. The student observe them, draw pictures and tell stories about the worms and all the decmposing action taking place. In the end, they learn what a treat the worms are giving back to the earth and our garden with their end product and a little help from us.

Healthy Alternatives at DCCK!

By: Erica Teti, Associate Director of Communications at DC Central Kitchen ….. 

Screen Shot 2015-02-02 at 1.32.26 PMScreen Shot 2015-02-02 at 1.32.47 PM

DC Central Kitchen’s mission is to use food as a tool to strengthen bodies, empower minds, and build communities. With nearly 200,000 DC residents living on city blocks where the closest healthy food retailer is at least three times farther than the closest fast food or convenience food store, it’s more important than ever that our meals are not only dignified, but packed with healthy, wholesome ingredients, too.

Last summer, we took our efforts to provide healthy meals a step further with the opening of our new Baking Corner. The concept was brought to us by DCCK production manager, Will Ferrell, who came to DC Central Kitchen in 2010 after being released from prison. Will was a student in our Culinary Job Training program and now serves on staff at the Kitchen. With a long held passion for baking and a personal interest area for culinary growth, Will realized he could make our snacks for afterschool programs more nutritious and less costly by doing more baking on-site and relying less on packaged, processed foods. Will creatively uses ingredients such as natural sweeteners and avocados to make traditional favorites, like banana bread and cheesecake, much healthier.

Today, Will, his team, and the more than 15,000 volunteers that work in the Kitchen each year can also come together in the Baking Corner to create new, innovative snacks and healthy meal concepts for our partners.

At this year’s Rooting DC Forum, DC Central Kitchen will serve up samples of another healthy alternative, our “Better for You Brownies.” This new addition to our Healthy Corners program are made with black beans, cocoa powder, oats, chocolate chips and maple syrup and have 115 calories per serving!









Protecting Our Pollinators

By: Laura Vogel, Adult Education Program Manager, Brookside Gardens ….. 

Montgomery Parks salutes RootingDC and its goal of bringing people together in the name of growing a healthier food system. Who can argue with that? It is obviously of critical importance, however what may not be as obvious are some of the factors that contribute to this cause and how human interaction may be interfering.

Pollinators play a big role in our ability to grow healthy food. In fact an astonishing 80% of the world’s plant species require a pollinator to reproduce: this includes plants that feed and shelter us as well as those essential to Earth’s ecosystems. The relationship between flora and fauna is being challenged on all sides by habitat loss, pesticides, invasive species, and more.

Montgomery Parks’ Brookside Gardens is delving deeper into this issue at our annual Green Matters Symposium, “Protecting Our Pollinators.” The all-day forum takes place February 27 at the Silver Spring Civic Center and will bring together a variety of experts on this topic.


Dr. Ari Novy, Executive Director from the U.S. Botanic Garden will open the conference with a session on the importance of pollinators.

Stanton Gill from the University of Maryland Extension will look at how to best protect and encourage pollinators in the landscape.

A panel discussion on bees will feature:
o Sam Droege, the head of the United States Geological Survey Bee Monitoring Lab
o Allison Gillespie, author of “Hives in the City: Keeping Honey Bees Alive in an Urban World
o Timothy McMahon, president of the Montgomery County Beekeepers Association
o Jim Fraser, Montgomery County Beekeeper
o David Heisler, Owner and Grower of Comus Market

Dr. Krissa Skogen, Conservation Scientist at the Chicago Botanic Garden will present on Hawkmoth pollination.

The conference fee is $99 and includes access to all sessions. For an additional $25, participants can attend a buffet lunch with pollinator experts from around the country. For more information please visit www.BrooksideGreen.org.