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Is there hope for food justice in an urbanizing City? displacement of historical urban populations and their food

On the corner of K St. and New Jersey Ave. in Northwest Washington, D.C., sits an urban oasis known as the K Street Farm. The K Street Farm serves as a home for biodiversity in the city as well as a demonstration site of how to productively conserve urban green space.

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

Nowhere else in the urban sprawl of D.C. can a place as magical as this be found — and sadly it is soon to be lost.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

The K Street Farm started about 8 years ago as a youth education garden on city-owned land led by DC Greens, a non-profit with the goals of educating through experience with nature and advocating for food justice in their urban community. According to DC Greens, food justice involves “shift(ing) power and knowledge to community members so that they can exercise their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food at all times” where food provided to the community is “fresh, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate."

(Courtesy DC Greens)

Originally in a local food desert, the K Street Farm grew to work with and serve the community providing more than 150 different types of herbs and seasonal vegetables distributed to school garden markets, food insecure households, local restaurants, and soup kitchens in the area on its 5,000-square-foot plot, according to DC Greens.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

The K Street Farm even had three organic, egg-laying chickens that were fed the food scraps from the farm and provided a small supply eggs for area residents.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

Unfortunately, despite the beauty and benefits the K Street Farm brings to the Northwest community, the farm is being displaced due to heavy urban development, according to DC Greens Farm Director Kate Lee.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

The story of this development begins in 2015 when D.C. took part in a land deal to acquire land to build the DC United soccer stadium. To pay for this deal, the city sold the land where the farm is located to Pepco, a local energy utility company, according to a Washington Business Journal article. Farm Director Lee stated that ever since the deal between D.C. and Pepco, DC Greens was aware Pepco was planning to build an energy substation on the land, but Pepco allowed the farm to continue operation until the energy substation needed to be built.

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

Originally, low-income and senior living housing surrounded the K Street Farm, but in recent years surrounding plots have been acquired, closed off, and developed into residential high-rise buildings. One poignant example just two blocks away from the Farm is the Sursum Corda Cooperative Apartments with 199 low-income townhomes according to a Zoning Referral made by the National Capital Planning Commision. According to a Medium article, Sursum Corda was a unique low-income community in that it “allowed residents (to) build up equity by owning their units.”

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

While promises were made to renovate the apartments for the low-income tenants, it has been sitting boarded up for almost a year and, according to a Washington Business Journal article, the site was sold earlier this year for $60 million to developers to create a 1,100-unit mixed-income apartment complex where 136 units are reserved for former residents. Meanwhile, more than 100 low-income families moved out from the complex in search of affordable housing elsewhere. If they do end up coming back, the neighborhood likely will be much different and the cost of living, beyond rent, likely will be much higher.

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

To keep up with the creation of high rises, like the planned development of the area of Sursum Corda fueled by the influx of high-income professionals, the local energy supplier needs to create more infrastructure for energy distribution. To build this energy distribution infrastructure, Pepco is planning to start developing the plots of land surrounding the Farm into an energy substation and use the land upon which the K Street Farm sits as a staging area for the development beginning in 2019, according to a Pepco Report.

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

As a result, the K Street Farm held their farewell celebration on Oct. 20, 2018, where community members, volunteers, and other stakeholders celebrated the farm’s rich eight years at their K street location.

(Courtesy Allison Swift / DC Greens)

Locals left in the area who relied on the K Street Farm will still have some affordable, healthy food options given the existence of the local farmers market where DC Greens’ Farmers Market Brigade distributes $10 vouchers twice a week to low-income DC residents to spend on produce according to DC Greens.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

But the story isn’t over. According Farm Director Lee, DC Greens plans to take their perennial plants and nutrient-rich soil to a new location at Oxon Run Park in southeast D.C., where they can continue to serve low income households.

(Deepti Bansal Gage / George Washington University)

The Southeast neighborhood has the highest rate of poverty in D.C. at 38% in 2015, according to NeighborhoodInfo DC, and a DC Department of Health study also reports three times higher rates of diet-related chronic illness than other areas of the city. Some of the residents of Southeast had been pushed out of the downtown area due to urbanization similar to the K Street Farm. The working title of the new farm is “The Valley at Oxon Run” and farm leaders plan to cater to the needs of area residents while working with park officials, local businesses, and the D.C. government.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

Community engagement will likely increase significantly at the new Southeast location due to the larger population of under-served residents who have limited access to healthy, local food. While exact plans for the farm have not been set, DC Greens plans to hold its first community meeting on Nov. 28, 2018, where the public can have their voice heard in the planning process to make the new farm a community-led initiative.

(Courtesy DC Greens)

Despite DC Greens and historical communities being pushed out of Northwest D.C., the organization is resilient in pursuing its goal of food justice in a different area of D.C. where it will continue to cater to historical communities.

(Deepti Bansal Gage/ George Washington University)

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Deepti Bansal Gage
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Credits:

Deepti Bansal Gage, DC Greens, and Allison Swift

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