Gardens, Gleaning, and Feeding the Hungry

Guest blog post by Jason Silverman

A Plot Against Hunger gardenWalk past the corner of Barton and 10th Street in Arlington, VA and you’ll see an assortment of vegetables growing just outside the fence of a sprawling community garden. These vegetables are part of an area-wide program called Plot Against Hunger, which gathers fresh produce from area farmers, farmer’s markets, and private and community gardens to help feed the area’s hungry.

Inspiration for the idea came to Lisa Crye when she saw the approach a church in California took to feeding the hungry: sell produce from members’ gardens and donate the proceeds to a local food pantry.  At around the same time, the Arlington Food Assistance Center (AFAC) was looking for a way to offer more fresh vegetables to the approximately 1,400 needy families it serves in the County.  So in a brainstorming session in 2007, Crye and Puwen Lee, AFAC’s volunteer service coordinator, hatched a plan that would grow into AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger program.

Plot Against Hunger now provides AFAC with fresh produce from area farmers, farmer’s markets, and private and community gardens.  In its first year, it contributed 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to AFAC’s warehouses.  Since then, the number has grown dramatically, with Crye estimating that all the sources combined have yielded 200,000 pounds of produce each year.

The program’s largest source of produce comes from harvesting excess vegetables from commercial farms in the area, a practice called “gleaning.”  Plot Against Hunger coordinates gleaning events through the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network (MAGNET), which has relationships with area farms. The organization also gleans excess produce from the USDA’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center in Maryland.

Its second-largest source is unsold produce donated by vendors after the weekly Crystal City, Courthouse, and Columbia Pike farmer’s markets that otherwise might go to waste.

Plot Against Hunger also receives donations of vegetables grown in gardens across Arlington. Many county community gardens, such as the one at Barton and North 10th St. have plots dedicated to AFAC, as do gardens at faith-based institutions, schools, and private residences.

Sowing the Seeds of Sustainability

But Plot Against Hunger does more than provide fresh produce to AFAC and, in turn, to the tables of its clients. It also educates Arlington residents on how they can grow their own vegetables.  The food-producing garden at Arlington Central Library, for example, employs techniques that can be used to grow food in a wide range of conditions, such as raised beds, square-foot gardening (using small, densely-planted plots), and roof gardening. The garden at Clarendon Presbyterian Church employs straw-bale gardening, and alone yielded 125 pounds of produce for AFAC last year.

Plot Against Hunger also has a school program.  Several area elementary schools have gardens that contribute to AFAC while also giving students a hands-on learning experience in gardening.  In Crye’s experience, kids who have been exposed to gardening and seen vegetables being grown are more likely to, well, eat their vegetables.  Crye reported an anecdote of a child with a long history of broccoli-hating being mesmerized by an actual broccoli plant.

AFAC and Plot Against Hunger don’t get to choose what vegetables are gleaned or donated. But AFAC operates on a “choice model” – its clients can select the food they wish to receive.  Foods grown through local gardens or commercial farms don’t always line up completely with the food preferences of AFAC’s clients, who hail from a wide variety of backgrounds.  So what to do when trying to place Swiss Chard, or blue hubbard squash – a massive, grayish relative of the pumpkin – with families who have no idea what to do with them? AFAC teaches its clients about these vegetables and how they can be prepared.  Twice a week, AFAC holds cooking demonstrations and offers samples to clients.

Want to get involved? AFAC and Plot Against Hunger are always looking for more volunteers, so whether you’re interested in gleaning, growing, cooking, or just donating produce, you can learn more here.

Pitango Gelato Goes Solar

Pitango Gelato has been committed to eco-friendly practices since the company opened its doors in 2007. Now, in addition to the measures Pitango already takes to reduce energy and minimize waste, the company’s dairy facility in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, has converted to solar power.

The dairy is located on Spring Wood Organic Farm, where a single herd of grass-fed cows supplies all of the milk and cream used in Pitango’s organic gelato. The farm’s new solar panels  are generating enough electricity to operate the farm and the dairy.

Aside from long-term economic incentives, Spring Wood owner Roman Stoltzfoos decided to go solar to reduce the farm’s carbon footprint. “It is a substantial investment for us, but it is clearly the right thing to do to make the farm and the dairy greener,” he says. “We’ll be using much less fossil fuel for what we have to do.”

The farm even uses a solar panel on its high-tech “Egg-Mobile,” which houses free-range hens that provide the daily supply of freshly laid eggs used in some of Pitango’s recipes. The hen house on wheels with solar-powered feeders, lights, egg laying boxes, and doors “delivers all of the modern bells and whistles,” says Stoltzfoos, “with minimal environmental impact.”

“It’s not always easy being green,” says Pitango Gelato founder and CEO Noah Dan. “A large component of our product is energy, so naturally we think about it all the time. For us, being green is being smart, and finding a path to improve our product and its sustainability is our ultimate goal.”

The shift toward solar on the farm is only one example of Pitango’s energy-efficient practices. Pitango’s custom-made bancone (gelato cases) used in each shop are liquid-cooled by glycol–an energy-retaining liquid derived from corn. Once the glycol is adequately cooled, it requires very little energy to maintain a temperature that is optimal for storing the gelato at the perfect consistency, with each flavor in its own sealed compartment. Dan estimates that Pitango’s bancone consume as little as one-tenth of the electricity of comparable air-cooled display cases. Pitango also uses biodegradable serving cups, coffee cups and gelato spoons.

Pitango matches its eco-friendly practices with a commitment to create a healthier product. The company’s artisanal gelato contains less fat than premium ice cream, while its sorbets contain no dairy products and are vegan and fat-free.

Made with ingredients, from fresh local fruit to organic chocolate, Pitango’s products contain no flavorings, colorings, or chemicals of any kind.

Urban Farmers Fight to Save Community Garden

Guest post by Carolyn Szczepanski

At the Virginia Avenue Community Garden, the buzz of freeway traffic hangs overhead, but the air is thick with the rich scent of basil and tangy aroma of tomatoes. It’s that perfect time just before dusk, when the sun turns the world golden, and Diana Elliott savors the moment.

She ducks under the shade of a plum tree, so heavy with produce the branches sag, and picks one of the purple fruits. “This land has been so good to us,” she says, savoring the juice from the plum and tossing the pit under the tree.

But this land may be paved over for new military quarters.

Nearby, a group of volunteers gather under a wooden pagoda of this four-acre plot in south Capitol Hill. They paint signs and staple small green fliers to plastic bags of vegetable and flower seeds. Among them is Elliott’s son, Eamon Cole, who dabs color on a page that says, “Do not take my garden!”

In September, Elliott and the other member of the Virginia Avenue Community Garden heard the first rumblings that the U.S. Marines needed to expand their residential barracks and, among the proposed sites for construction, was the land currently occupied by the community garden. Now those rumbling have turned into a real threat: The garden is one of the last-standing locations on a shrinking list of development options.

The gardeners don’t dispute the Marines’ need for new barracks and they agree the military has been a great neighbor. But, Elliott says, this community garden sets the table and feeds the spirit of 60 member families. In the six years since this land was cultivated, the love affair with local food has made this plot nearly priceless. Some community gardens in Capitol Hill, Elliott says, have wait lists as long as seven years.

“There’s a huge demand and people keep adding community gardens every year,” Elliott says. “So the idea that they want to take away the biggest community garden around here and they don’t see that as a problem is really, really frustrating.”

In less than a decade, dozens of area families transformed this previously troubled landscape. “It was basically a drug park,” says Nicole Hamam, who’s been gardening here for four years. “Now, people have been moving in because they saw this and not the freeway. The sweat equity that’s in here and what it’s done for the value of this area is something you can’t put a number on.”

So the gardeners are determined to preserve this refuge from the Marines. When the gardeners created a “Save Virginia Avenue Park” Facebook page, it quickly garnered more than 400 fans. Within the first few days of their grassroots campaign, filmmakers from Roadside Organics produced a four-minute movie about their efforts.

“There are no strong advocates for parks,” Elliott says of the city establishment. “People still see parks as space for building and they don’t see the benefit of a green space for green space’s sake. There’s nobody advocating for us, which is why we’re doing this. We have to advocate for ourselves.”

Late last week, the gardeners got their first district council member on board. On Thursday, Council member Tommy Wells signed on to Save Virginia Avenue Park. So far, the online petition has nearly 200 signatures.

“You know, it’s just kind of a Zen place,” Hamam says of the garden. “It’s a place to watch things grow, to take care of things. It’s hard work. It’s accomplishment. It’s a special thing: An oasis in an urban environment.”

3 New FRESHFARM Market Locations

Finding local products and produce just got more convenient for DC-area residents. FRESHFARM Markets is opening three new markets: Crystal City, VA; Bethesda, MD; and at the U.S. Department of Health & Human  Services (HHS) in Southwest DC.

The Crystal City FRESHFARM Market will  open on Tuesday May 18 from 3:00 PM to 7:00 PM, the Bethesda FRESHFARM  Market will open on Saturday, June 19 from 9:00 AM to 1:00 PM, and the HHS FRESHFARM Market will open on Wednesday June 2 from 2:30 PM to 6:30 PM.  All of the markets will be open weekly through the end of October.

“FRESHFARM Markets is delighted to bring more  farmers and artisan producers to neighborhoods in our greater metro DC  area,” said Bernadine Prince, co-director of FRESHFARM Markets.  “This is a win-win for consumers who want to eat seasonally and locally and for our farmers who bring the freshest farm-raised foods to our producer-only farmers’ markets.”

The new markets will showcase the best seasonal products that local farms in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Pasture-raised meats, eggs, artisan cheeses, yogurt, fresh fruits and vegetables, breads  and baked goods, fresh flowers and plants will be available.

Each week the markets will also host chef demonstrations using products from the market. The demos will illustrate the health benefits of eating fresh, locally grown foods and will inform shoppers on how to make simple recipes using seasonal ingredients.


Crystal City FRESHFARM  Market
Dates: Tuesdays,  May 18 – October 26
Time: 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th  Streets
Opening Day Chef at Market: TBD

Foggy Bottom FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Wednesdays,  April 7 – November 24
Time: 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Location: I Street, NW between New Hampshire  Avenue and 24th Street, NW
Opening Day Chef at Market: Steve Badt,  Miriam’s Kitchen, 4:00 PM

Health & Human Services FRESHFARM  Market
Dates: Wednesdays, June 2 – October  27
Time: 2:30 PM –  6:30 PM
Location: 200 Independence Avenue, SW
Opening Day Chef at Market: TBD

Penn Quarter FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Thursdays,  April 1 – December 23
Time: 3:00 PM – 7:00 PM
8th Street, NW between D and E  Streets
Opening  Day Chef at Market: Bryan Moscatello, Zola Wine & Kitchen, 4:00 PM

FRESHFARM  Market, By the White House
Dates: Thursdays, May 6 – November  18
Time: 3:00 PM –  7:00 PM
Location: Vermont Avenue, NW between H and I Streets, NW
Opening Day Chef at Market: Jaleo/Think Food Group GIANT PAELLA, 4:30 PM

H Street  NE FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Saturdays, May 1 – October 30
Time: 9:00 AM – 12:00  PM
Location: 625 H Street, NE (parking lot across from H Street Self Storage)
Opening Day Chef at Market: TBD

Silver Spring FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Saturdays,  April 3 – December 18
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Location: Ellsworth Drive between Fenton Street and Georgia Avenue
Opening Day Chef at Market: Pedro Matamoros, 8407 Kitchen & Bar, 11:00 AM
The April 3 market will be held in Gateway Plaza at the corner of Colesville and Georgia Avenue due to an event at the regular location.

St. Michaels FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Saturdays,  April 17 – October 9
Time: 8:30 AM – 11:30 AM
Location: Muskrat Park in the  harbor
Opening Day Chef at Market: TBD

Dupont Circle FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Sundays,  April 4 – December 26
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM
Location: 1500 block of 20th Street, NW between  Massachusetts Avenue and Q Street and in the adjacent PNC Bank parking lot.
Opening Day  Chef at Market: David Varley, Bourbon Steak, 11:00  AM

Annapolis  FRESHFARM Market
Dates: Sundays, May 2 – November 21
Time: 8:30 AM – 12:00  PM
Location: Donner  Parking Lot in downtown Annapolis
Opening Day Chef at Market: TBD

Grow Your Own

This post was written by Going Green DC contributing writer Alison Drucker.

Sometimes city life can leave you aching for fresh air – and fresh dirt. Not that grimy, stuck-to-the-bottom-of-your-shoe city dirt, but clean-smelling, produce-cultivating countryside dirt.

Get your hands dirty at Clagett Farm, a sustainable vegetable farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, owned and operated by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Any able-bodied person can sign up to volunteer picking produce on the farm on Tuesdays through Saturdays. At least four hours of labor will get you the same full weekly share of fresh, local vegetables that a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member receives.

The workshare is perfect for anyone who isn’t ready to commit to an entire season’s worth of harvest through a CSA membership, or who just wants to go learn about sustainable farming on a beautiful fall morning. Clagett Farm isn’t certified organic, but follows organic standards and doesn’t use genetically modified seeds.

In addition to doing good for the planet, the farm does good for the community. Almost half of Clagett Farm’s produce is distributed free or at a reduced cost to low-income DC communities in cooperation with the Capital Area Food Bank, expanding access to the fresh, healthy foods we all need in our diets.

Visit the Clagett Farm Web site to learn about participating in a workshare. Saturday workshares require calling ahead to sign up. Call 301.537.3038 between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. a couple of days before the Saturday you want to work.

There’s still time to volunteer this season – September, October, and November bring broccoli, kale, cabbage, butternut squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, salad greens, carrots, turnips, collards, chard, spinach, and more.

If you’re adventurous in the kitchen and willing to explore new recipes as different fruits and vegetables are in season, purchase a 2010 CSA membership. Email to be notified when shares are available, and join the farm to get weekly batches of the season’s harvest.