October 31, 2017

Allstate and urban farmers come together in a D.C. food desert

A $5,000 donation will help this community garden flourish—and feed its residents

Christopher Bradshaw of Dreaming Out Loud is presented a check by Allstate agent S. Kathryn Allen at the Dreaming Out Loud Kelly Miller Farm. Photo by Mikhail Klimentov

Nestled in the back corner of Washington D.C.’s Kelly Miller Middle School, between the pool and the baseball diamond, is a large open field with 10 wooden planters and a small shed. It doesn’t look like much now, but with the community’s help, it will be source for healthy food in one of the District’s worst food deserts.

Dreaming Out Loud, a local nonprofit, is building an urban garden on that plot in an effort to connect the community with healthy food options. This past Saturday, Allstate donated $5,000 to Dreaming Out Loud to help their progress and contribute to the development of a healthy food ecosystem in one of D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods. (The Renewal Project is made possible by Allstate.)

Kelly Miller Middle School is located in Washington D.C.’s Ward 7, which has the unfortunate distinction of having a huge food desert problem. According to the D.C. Policy Center, 31 percent of Ward 7 is located more than half a mile from a grocery store or supermarket.

This weekend, community members, parents, teachers, and Allstate agency owners joined Dreaming Out Loud and its partners to celebrate the donation and Dreaming Out Loud’s expansion into Ward 7.

In time, the space will flourish because of the work done by the community. Volunteers planted bulbs and seedlings on the perimeter of the plot. Volunteers assembled raised beds, and kids and older community members painted colorful signs together to demarcate different sections of the farm: the community garden, the gathering space, and the youth garden. D.C. Central Kitchen, which also prepares lunches for Kelly Miller Middle School, catered the event.

Volunteers paint signs at Kelly Miller Middle School. Photo by Mikhail Klimentov

The day kicked off with attendees sharing their food stories. Christopher Bradshaw, the founder of Dreaming Out Loud, described feeling inspired by his grandfather, who would work on the weekends helping out around the community, and then relax at the end of the day by tending to his garden. Another community member talked about food disparity in Ward 7, and how one of the few grocery stores in Ward 7 served old, expired produce. “They should have shut it down,” he exclaimed, to nods of approval from the crowd. Dreaming Out Loud’s new urban garden, he continued, would help people better take care of themselves.

Bradshaw hopes to address these kinds of concerns with the new farm. “First we’ll create an opportunity for people to be able to purchase the produce that’s grown here through a farm stand,” he said. “You’ll have closer neighborhood access to even fresher produce that’s of a higher quality and served with love and care that people deserve in the neighborhood. And it’ll create neighborhood-based employment, and a lot of neighborhood cohesion.”

After all the signs had been painted, the raised beds assembled, and most of the bulbs planted, people gathered for the final presentation, as local Allstate agent S. Kathryn Allen presented Dreaming Out Loud with a $5,000 check to further support this important initiative.

Looking forward, Bradshaw has ambitious goals for the space. Behind the main field, Dreaming Out Loud plans to build hoop houses, a greenhouse, and refrigerated storage. The infrastructure “will let us grow year round, and also store and distribute produce across the ward so we can get healthy food out to the neighborhood,” Bradshaw said.

Dreaming Out Loud already operates in other parts of D.C. For several growing seasons, Bradshaw and his team have been working in smaller gardens in anticipation of opening this larger farm in Ward 7. “I think there are a lot of different layers of the benefits of being able to grow the food together and having people come around in a space like this,” he said. Now that the farm is finally open, Dreaming Out Loud can really embrace the community they’ve been fighting for, and integrate them into their work of developing a more equitable food system.

Mikhail Klimentov

Mikhail Klimentov is a contributor for The Renewal Project.