Not Going Condo: The Farm at Walker Jones
There’s a lot going on around the corner of K and New Jersey Avenue. Sandwiched in between NoMa and Mount Vernon Square, it’s seen tall buildings sprout up on all sides, along a busy thoroughfare eight blocks north of Congress.
Through all that, about a half acre of land has sat grassy and fallow, lending the corner an almost pastoral feel, with the low rise of the Sursum Corda complex in the distance.
About two weeks ago, though, shovels disturbed its vacancy. Plowed rows appeared. And now, tiny seedlings have poked up above the dark soil, the first of what is to become a well-tended jungle of productivity. Come fall, tiny children will descend on the beds and learn how plants grow. It’s not just a garden—it’s an urban farm, meant to teach as well as fill peoples’ bellies.
The farm is a project of Walker Jones Education Campus, the new elementary and middle school constructed alongside the Northwest One library and recreation center directly north. Last year, the administration at Scott Montgomery Elementary several blocks north on P Street learned that their school would be closing and merging with Walker Jones to make a 400-student, pre-k through eighth grade campus. But they had recently planted a garden there, and the District’s unused lot on the corner seemed like a perfect spot to start another.
More factors converged to get the farm started. A pair of local restauranteurs, John Cochran and Sidra Forman, had helped with the Montgomery Elementary garden. Back in January, sustainable food icon Alice Waters connected them with her assistant Sarah Weiner, another pioneer in the slow food movement and director of Seedling Projects, a “do-tank” for the food movement.
With that expertise, partnerships kept forming. Whole Foods donated the time of their regional farming manager—known to all as “Coach”—who introduced the crew to biodynamic agriculture, which involves mixing cow manure in water by hand. Starbucks and Chinatown Coffee donate coffee grounds to make fertilizer. Home Depot chipped in gardening implements, and Kaiser Permanente has agreed to fund a permanent farm director when the project is up and running.
When it does, the farmers expect they’ll be generating a lot of food—enough to share with D.C. Central Kitchen as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. Walker Jones’ 22 classrooms will each have their own small bed, with herbs and perennials to start out. The large beds will be filled with eggplants, tomatoes, beans, beets, collard greens, and fruit trees. When fully built out, there will even be an outdoor pizza oven, with a “pizza garden” to supply the toppings. In a few years, the school hopes to supplement lunches with their fresh crops, while tying the farming experience into science curricula.
Frances Evangelista, Walker Jones’ director of community outreach, can’t wait to see her students learning what happens when you plant a seed and come back later to see something grow.
“It is the happiest, most positive and joyful thing you can imagine,” she said. “It’s a real sense of accomplishment.”