Through his nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud, Christopher Bradshaw has fought food insecurity, economic disparities and even stereotypes.
The mission of the organization is seemingly simple — “to create economic opportunities for the D.C. metro region’s marginalized community members through building a healthy, equitable food system.” But to accomplish this goal, Bradshaw had to develop a system that would address a complex network of social justice issues, and face doubt for choosing to address the issues in underserved urban communities through farming.
“Sometimes you have to just do it,” said Bradshaw, who also sits on the city’s Food Policy Council.
As part of its urban agriculture program, Dreaming Out Loud created a vibrant organic garden and space for agricultural training and food production behind the Southwest Arts Club. It also developed community farmer’s markets to provide healthy food options to consumers, but also to monetize its efforts.
“Necessity is the mother of invention,” said Bradshaw.
Founded in 2008, Dreaming Out Loud was created as a response to the educational and economic disparities in underserved, low-income communities in D.C.
Working in Ward 7, the organization taught children character and leadership development and developed a youth employment program. But consequential issues surrounding food insecurity in the community led to the organization’s launch of a network of farmer’s markets to fight the area’s “food desert.”
Washingtonians who live east of the Anacostia River are more likely than anyone in the city to face unemployment and poverty and, according to a March D.C. Policy Center report, live in a food desert — a place where residents must walk more than a half-mile to get to a grocery store, over 40 percent of the households have no vehicle and the median household income is less than 185 percent of the federal poverty level for a family of four.
The report shows that more than three-quarters of food deserts in D.C. are in Wards 7 and 8, 31 percent and 46 percent, respectively. Ward 7 has just two grocery stores for its more than 73,000 residents and Ward 8 has just one for its near 70,000 residents. Meanwhile, Ward 3 has 11 grocery stores for its 80,000 residents.
Bradshaw said that communities who don’t have equal access to food also typically have economic, environmental and racial-justice issues.
“They’re all interconnected,” he said. “You can’t address one without discussing the other.”
Bradshaw said the city’s farms have a role beyond growing food, but also to be a hub for social justice.
“The real solutions are breaking down the systems that keep people in a state of economic depression,” he said.
The organization is preparing to open the Kelly Miller Farm on two-acres of flat land behind the D.C. public school Kelly Miller Middle School in the city’s Ward 7 Lincoln Heights neighborhood. The food justice nonprofit will partner with the city and a half-dozen other organizations to run the farm in a way that generates revenue while also meeting the community’s unique needs.
The farm will be a hub for organic food production, workshops and classes, farm-to-school practices, the integration of STEM at the middle school and a commercial kitchen for the area’s residents to launch food-based businesses.
“Kelly Miller is the first of several,” said Bradshaw, who hopes construction begins soon so that the farm can be producing by next spring.