Growing Gardens, Growing Kids

Guest post by Alison Drucker

At City Blossoms, organic gardening and environmental education meet art and community development. Founded in 2003 by Lola Bloom and Rebecca Lemos, this grassroots nonprofit builds gardens at local schools and recreation centers and uses gardening to build skills and healthy habits among kids.

The City Blossoms model is unique: develop productive, organic green spaces where children and youth are the main cultivators, using gardening to teach about sustainability, health, responsibility, and artistic expression (alongside basics like writing and social skills).

It doesn’t hurt if the project spruces up a formerly neglected urban lot, either – artistic expression and beautification are key pieces of the programming.

Spanning seven years and at least eight different projects, City Blossoms’ activities reach more than 700 kids each week in D.C., Baltimore, and Langley Park.

One of their success stories is the Girard Children’s Community Garden in Columbia Heights – in 2008, the group transformed an asphalt lot into a demonstration garden where children from community organizations now attend workshops and help grow vegetables, flowers, and herbs.

The garden is also home to a free monthly workshop series for families. This season’s bilingual workshops kicks off on April 3 with a session on container gardening; future workshops this year will give kids and parents a hands-on opportunity to learn about herbs, insects, composting, and garden-inspired cooking.

This spring, City Blossoms will be transforming another urban D.C. space into a neighborhood garden, this time on Marion Street in Shaw. The two lots will become home to drought-tolerant, native flowers and plants, along with herb and vegetable gardens, an outdoor classroom, and art spaces.

On Saturday, April 10th, you can volunteer your digging and planting skills to help the Marion Street Community Garden become a reality.

For the D.C. Bilingual Public Charter School and others, City Blossoms has also developed and delivered regular workshops tied to schools’ curricular goals and standards, hosted at the school, another local green space, or the Girard garden. And they create special school-wide events and after-school or summer activities that promote environmental and community stewardship.

Give Back on Black Friday and Beyond

I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do less than fight the crowds at the mall to get a deal on something I don’t need anyway. If you feel the same, here are some ideas for giving back locally today and for the rest of the year.

DC Central Kitchen: Prepare and distribute meals for the homeless.

Food & Friends: Prepare and deliver meals to people living with HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Greater DC Cares: Help restore a park, work at a homeless shelter, help out at an animal adoption center, and more.

So Others Might Eat: Cook and serve food, tutor children, provide a holiday basket for a low-income senior.

If you prefer to spend your time outdoors, consider volunteering at a community garden. DC Urban Gardeners is a great resource for finding community gardens, school gardens, and other outdoor projects in the DC area.

Another local blog, 14th & You has put together a list of DC-area volunteer opportunities as well. Definitely worth checking out.

Lastly, you can search for volunteer opportunities by location and the type of volunteering you’d like to do over at Volunteer Match.

Green October

solar decathlonOctober may be the month known for pumpkins, costumes, and trick or treaters, but it’s also brimming with green events that you won’t want to miss.

Wednesday October 7th

Green Building Policy and Design: Best Practices from Switzerland

A panel of experts will discuss the practical aspects of constructing green buildings in the U.S. and Switzerland.

Cost: Free, but RSVPs are essential (email:
Location: The Embassy of Switzerland, 2900 Cathedral Ave.
Time: 6 pm

Friday October 9th

Extreme Green Gala

The event, which benefits CarbonFree DC, will feature high-profile environmentalists, organic food, a $5 cash bar (beer, wine, whiskey), two live bands, and an environmental art show benefiting WVSA youth art program.

Cost: $25
Location: Mott House, 122 Maryland Ave NE
Time: 6:30-11:30 pm

October 9-13 and October 15-18

The Solar Decathlon

University teams from around the world compete to design and build homes that run entirely on solar energy. The teams ship their partially constructed homes to the National Mall, assemble them, and then compete in 10 contests.

Location: The National Mall

Saturday October 10th and Sunday October 11

The Green Festival

The granddaddy of green events returns to DC with more than 125 speakers and 350 green businesses, as well as how-to workshops, green films, a Fair Trade pavilion, yoga classes, organic beer, organic cuisine, and live music.

Cost: $15
Location: Washington Convention Center, 801 Mount Vernon Place, NW
Time: Saturday 10-7, Sunday 11-6

Thursday October 15th

Planting Empowerment Fundraiser

A happy hour to spread the word about Planting Empowerment, an organization that works with rainforest peoples in Panama to make conservation profitable.

Cost: $5 donation (includes free drink) or $10 (free drink plus an chance to win a $50 forest savings bond)
Location: Chi-Cha Lounge, 1624 U Street
Time: 5 to 8 pm

Saturday October 17th

Urban Composting

Put those worms to work and learn how to recycle your yard and kitchen waste, even if you don’t have a yard.

Location: Greater Goods, 1626 U Street NW
Time: 11 am

Friday October 23rd to Sunday October 25th

Introduction to Urban and Community Food Gardens

Spend a weekend learning the basics of urban gardening, garden design, and starting a community garden.

Location: Common Good City Farm, 2025 Elm Street NW
Time: Friday, 6-9pm, Saturday, 9am – 5pm,  Sunday, October 25th 9-4

Yardshare and Share Alike

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

The rewards of yard sharing. Fresh basil!
The rewards of yard sharing. Fresh basil!

What’s a city apartment dweller with a green thumb to do? Find a neighbor willing to share some yard space.

Sharing Backyards is a national project that connects people with unused yards with others in their communities looking for a place to cultivate something. It encourages urban gardeners to make the most of limited green space, gives people a connection to the land, and expands access to fresh, local food – while uniting neighbors and beautifying urban space.

The D.C. area is full of yard-sharing success stories. One of those is the partnership between Patricia, a Rockville resident with a double lot, and Rebecca, a first-time gardener inspired by Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle to reevaluate her food sources.

Patricia posted her spare space on the D.C. Sharing Backyards Web site and swiftly – within 15 minutes – received an email connecting her to Rebecca.

eHarmony couldn’t have done a better job matching the two. Rebecca found a gardening mentor in Patricia, and each found a good friend. A few patches of squash and tomatoes later, Rebecca had a new source of produce, which she happily shared with Patricia all summer. They didn’t have a formal arrangement for sharing the veggies, though some yard-sharing duos choose to lay down specific terms for who gets what and who supplies the tools, seeds, and soil.

Interested in yard-sharing? Use this online map to find a potential partner. If you’re in search of land, try to find a place close by, since tending a garden may become part of your daily routine – when it isn’t your own yard, you can’t just wander outside in your bathrobe to pull some weeds.