Shielded from the rest of the world by century-old townhomes lies a roughly quarter-acre plot in the heart of Columbia Heights, D.C. For years, the dirt beneath this plot was abused. Forgotten screws, used needles, and tiny glass pieces riddled the ground. Oil and grease that had once dripped from the underside of rusty old cars suffocates the soil below leaving it tainted with lead.
Roughly twenty years ago, new money began to pour into Columbia Heights. High-dollar developments replaced rundown townhomes, boutique shops and hip restaurants lined the streets. From the outside, Columbia Heights was flourishing. But for the longtime residents, who for generations called Columbia Heights home, a different reality was setting in. For most, the notion of prosperity in the old NW D.C. car park-turned courtyard seemed unimaginable. But, in 2010, Washington Parks and People had the opportunity to salvage the then abandoned lot and transform it into a place for the people. A place for life, personal expression, and community -- a place to thrive. In 2010, Columbia Heights Green was born.
Over the next nine years, and countless hours of volunteering that have followed, Columbia Height’ers have transformed the abandoned car lot into a thriving urban farm producing food from the people, for the people.
How We Operate
On most days, the Columbia Heights Green is quiet (aside from construction workers demolishing the surrounding old townhomes). Passersby often stop to peer over the Green’s fence and appreciate the little garden oasis that’s tucked away in this D.C. alleyway. Aside from the occasional watering, the green quietly chugs away, growing food as we go to work and school. But on Saturday mornings, the Green truly comes to life. Members of the community come together to tend to the plants, pick weeds, erect new structures, and transplant, harvest, and share the communally grown food.
Columbia Heights Green operates a little differently than your normal community garden. Instead of allocating specific plots per community member or household, everything at Columbia Heights Green is grown communally. Not only does this model of community farming allow the farm to be nearly six times more productive than the traditional plot-per-person model, but it also aligns the collective farming knowledge of all the residents together, allowing for better problem solving and management on the farm.
Since employing the collective community model style of growing, we’ve been able to produce a lot more food. In the heat of the growing season, we will usually grow more food than our community volunteer members alone can eat. In these instances, we donate our food to local food banks including Miriam's Kitchen, Martha's Table, and the Sacred Heart Church Dinner Program.