Once home to dilapidated garages and serving as a magnet for illegal dumping of garbage, the lot now known as Columbia Heights Green was a vision that many thought couldn’t happen. The first call to Washington Parks & People for help came in 2006 from frustrated neighbors in Columbia Heights. Chip Fawcett, the late chair of Parks & People and a lifelong champion of DC’s parks, saw the opportunity to transform the site into a lasting community green space.
Thus began the creation of a coalition led by neighborhood residents, Parks & People, and many other partners including Ward 1 Council member Jim Graham. Determined and mobilized, they established a unified plan to transform this blighted vacant lot into an organic community farm featuring 16 raised-bed plots, a greenhouse, butterfly gardens, berry patches, native flowering & shade trees, green job training, and a learning & gathering space. For a while, the effort seemed hopeless due to more than 25 tax liens on the site, miring it in what appeared to be permanent limbo. It took special legislation by the DC Council coupled with massive legal efforts donated by a local law firm to wipe out the tax liens and at last deliver the site to community ownership. Even after community acquisition, the Green still faced entrenched illegal dumping and enforcement challenges, complex storm water engineering requirements, and bureaucratic & permitting hurdles.
Despite the long process, Washington Parks & People and the Columbia Heights community were persistent; this perseverance ultimately led to the successful opening of Columbia Heights Green on September 11, 2010.
As part of the nationwide surge in community agriculture and greening, the Green is a blueprint for communities across the city to undertake similar green conversions of forgotten spaces. Ten years on from that first planting, we have grown from a traditional community garden with individually managed plots to a model of community agriculture where volunteers farm collectively. Everything we produce is weighed and then split; part is divided amongst volunteers and the rest is donated to food distribution organizations such as Martha’s Table. In addition to growing food, we are committed to growing community through social gatherings, education & outreach, and public events.
2019 was a big year: the Green produced over 750 pounds of organic food, and our partners at the University of Maryland AgroEcoLab conducted a study of our crops’ nutritional profiles in connection with dietary surveys (conducted by CHG volunteers) of our food-insecure neighbors. This data informed our 2020 planting plan in order to maximize the micronutrient value of our produce. As we continue to intensify food production, the Green has added a new compost system, four beds for berries along the perimeter, a pavilion and kitchen area for workshops & cleaning produce, and a covered stage for hosting local artists!
Scroll down for more updates and ongoing projects.
There’s a lot going on at the Green— this year, we are working to complete installation of the demonstration farm kitchen, the planned 7500-watt solar array, a new meditation bench, and a program “barn.” We are also hoping to resume beekeeping on the Green for pollination and honey! Year-round programming is also increasing, as we seek to grow community together with food and environmental sustainability. In the past, the Green has hosted service learning and classes of all kinds from elementary through grad school, film screenings, concerts, art exhibitions, job training, and community forums. Finally, we are enhancing the Green’s role as a model and teaching site for community mini-farms across the city by developing more training and videos of the lessons learned in the Green’s food production. We want the Green to inspire people across DC to dramatically expand our urban agriculture capacity to help meet the nutrient needs of everyone with food insecurity.
Columbia Heights Green currently features:
- 7 raised-bed farm areas — all certified organic soil enriched by compost generated on-site
- Hoop house for winter and early-spring crops
- Farm shed
- Orchard featuring figs, persimmon, plum, and juneberries, plus new elderberries, paw-paws, and American pomegranates
- “Spice Lady” memorial healing garden and herb beds
- Berry City featuring blueberries, wineberries, raspberries, blackberries, kiwi, and passionfruit
- Native perennial & pollinator gardens
- Stage and canopy for performances
- Pavilion/outdoor classroom and picnic tables
- 3-part organic hot-compost system
- Fire pit and lawn
- Native-plant rain garden
- 660-gallon rainwater cisterns attached to solar-powered pump
- External “guerilla garden” for public use & harvest