January 3, 2018

A D.C. community built its own urban farm in the middle of a food desert

In Washington D.C.’s Ward 7 neighborhood, where the median household income is just over the federal poverty line at $45,469, many families live without easy access to fresh and healthy food.

Organizations like Dreaming Out Loud want to change that.

Since 2008, the nonprofit has helped cultivate a healthy community and create economic opportunity through urban farming. In October, community members, parents, teachers, and Allstate representatives joined Dreaming Out Loud and its partners to begin building out its latest project—a community farm on the campus of Kelly Miller Middle School, in the heart of Ward 7.

Nestled in the back corner, between the pool and the baseball diamond, volunteers planted hundreds of seedlings that were donated by Allstate. The company also 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.)

Dreaming Out Loud founder Christopher Bradshaw’s food activism began while he was working with students in an after-school program and he started noticing all of the sugary drinks and snacks the kids ate. “They would just bounce off the wall and crash,” he said.

Working with a high school students during a summer youth employment program, they ran a farmers market and got more and more engrossed in the food system and saw that there were opportunities for community health—and wealth-building—through food. “You could grow healthy food in communities that don’t have equal access, start new farmers markets. It just kind of grew in terms of our activism in the food system,” he said about Dreaming Out Loud.

At their new farm at Kelly Miller, the nonprofit 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.

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.

The Renewal Project

The Renewal Project is an effort by Allstate to highlight, support, and celebrate ordinary people creating extraordinary community renewal.