For several generations, the National Children’s Center has been providing vital services to Washington D.C. residents who have been underserved and overlooked, or have developmental disabilities. Their mission revolves around engagement, empowerment, and education. The NCC’s “3E approach” also is central to one of its most popular public programs: the Baby Bloomers Urban Farm & Fruit Orchard.
Located on a side lot at the NCC’s Early Learning Center in southeastern Washington D.C., the Baby Bloomers urban farm engages neighborhood families to take an active role in growing fruits and vegetables along with empowering them to make healthier food choices. Featuring nearly 70 four-by-eight planter beds, Baby Bloomers also serves to educate children about gardens, how food is grown, and environmental sustainability. “We show them how to plant seeds, what the plants need,” Garden Coordinator Rosie Williams explained to the Washington Post. “It’s getting folks exposed to the garden.”
These food and nutrition messages are particularly essential to residents of Wards 7 and 8 in southeastern D.C. These neighborhoods rank among the poorest areas in the District of Columbia as well as being food deserts. Around 150,000 people live in these wards, however, there are only three grocery stores (two in Ward 7 and one in Ward 8). Growing food nearly year-round, the NCC’s farm represents a healthy alternative to the area’s main food providers – fast-food chains, liquor stores, and convenience marts – as it offers a much-needed source of fresh produce in these food-insecure neighborhoods.
The Baby Bloomers Urban Farm contributes in other ways to the community beyond supplying much-needed fresh vegetables and fruits. The food grown onsite, for example, is used in the center’s kitchen. Additionally, the urban farm usually hosts cooking classes and a farmers market for the public. It has launched the Baby Buzzers program, where families can learn about raising honey bees and their importance to the ecosystem.
Baby Bloomers, moreover, represents just one of a network of urban farms and gardens situated on the east of the Anacostia River on the District of Columbia’s southeast side. These urban green spots, called the Bridge Park Plots, are the brainchild of the local nonprofit Building Bridges Across The River. To create this network of gardens, the BBAR partnered with neighborhood groups who have deep roots in their communities, such as faith organizations, public housing associations, and the National Children’s Center. The BBAR also operates the Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus, which – much like the NCC – provides a variety of many vital community programs. THEARC’s southeastern-based facility is home to a theater, workforce center, and more than a dozen nonprofit organizations.
Building Bridges, furthermore, delivers nutritional support to its community by offering a CSA food subscription program. BBAR has teamed up with ten farms (many of them Black-owned) located within 50 miles of Washington D.C. to supplement the over 1500 pounds of food the THEARC farm grows annually. The CSA subscription program typically runs three seasons a year. Low-income subscribers can get their food items at a reduced rate, while families on assistance receive their food for free. Providing fresh, farm-to-table food to these neighborhoods is significant because, as Building Bridges Across the River’s CSA market manager Jahni Threatt told the Washington Post, “The food that’s available (there) isn’t necessarily healthy.”
The National Children’s Center, along with Building Bridges Across The River and other local organizations, not only deliver fresh produce to this food insecure community but also offer residents the opportunity to improve their nutritional literacy and live a healthier lifestyle.