The push for urban agriculture is introduced to Ward 8 with the opening of the Well. (Jordan Barnes/The Washington Informer)
The push for urban agriculture is introduced to Ward 8 with the opening of the Well. (Jordan Barnes/The Washington Informer)

Sitting at a shaded picnic table at The Well at Oxon Run in Southeast, Jaren Hill Lockridge briskly quizzed her 13-year-old son. Meanwhile, Stefan Lockridge II, an ambassador for Ward 8 Water Watchers and a regular gardener at the newly-opened urban farm, cruises through her questions and replies. 

“What’s the body of water that The Well sits on?” He replied, “Oxon Run Creek.” 

“And how big is it?” He replied, “8.4 miles.”

“And what does Oxon Run Creek flow into?” She replied, “It flows into Oxon Cove.”

The rapid-fire conversation continued, demonstrating not just the younger Lockridge’s memory but many of the values his mother, The Well’s director, wants the farm space to embody: family and multi-generational togetherness; understanding of and appreciation for the land; and a commitment to sharing community knowledge.

“There’s the physical wellness, there’s the environmental wellness and the last one is financial wellness,” Hill Lockridge said, describing the three “pillars” that make up the farm’s mission. 

“So, the things that we’re having access to, we’re making sure that our community has access to,” she said. “It’s not just us, it’s not just my kids, it’s not just their kids. It’s our community’s kids. It’s our village, our tribe, it’s all of us together.”

The Well, which sits on Valley Road between 4th and Atlantic streets, opened for its first growing season earlier this month. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Councilmember Trayon White, Sr. and Chairman Phil Mendelson joined hundreds of community members for the official launch on June 4 when the farm opened its gates to the public for the first time. 

The 50,000-square-foot space, operated by DC Greens, remains open Tuesdays through Saturdays. Rows of spinach, kale, lettuce, squash, corn and beans, flower beds bursting with colorful zinnias and an enclosed grove of fruit trees sit on 20,000 square feet of land.

“The food that’s going into my body – where is it coming from? And is it good for me? This is an opportunity for me to actually know,” Hill Lockridge said. “For me to grow my own food, for my children to know how to grow their own food, for our community to grow its own food. For me to be able to feed the community that has fed me for so long.” 

In an area with few grocery stores and healthy food options, urban farms offer residents affordable ways to get their hands on fresh produce. At The Well, food from the harvests will be available for free. 

Liz Jones, a farm assistant at The Well who specializes in food efficiency and culinary arts, envisions having signs throughout the rows of produce featuring nutrition facts and recipe cards. 

“It’s not by chance that this community has been set up the way it is. We all understand the workings of a democratic major city in America,” she said. “But everybody deserves access to real food. The fact you have to do all this advocacy to get a space like this is crazy. But I’m just glad it’s here. It’s incredible.”

The benefits of urban farming and green space go beyond food production. Farm manager Kenneth Bridgers described a more intangible benefit he hopes to facilitate: a sense of connection to the soil and the healthy rhythm of the natural world. 

“When you’re growing, you’re not only engaging in creating an ecosystem, you’re [also] becoming a part of the ecosystem that’s around you,” he said. 

“I’m not going to say this is enough to feed the whole south side,” Hill Lockridge said. “But if we can plant seeds here, that helps shift the mindset from being consumers to being producers. Imagine our Ward 8 tomatoes sold to our Ward 8 businesses that have been the places where we buy our food and we eat from.” 

Alongside the land covered with crops, The Well hosts spaces dedicated to other kinds of growth including a yard with benches where people can gather and an outdoor classroom. 

“The Well is a part-production, part-education farm,” Bridgers explained in an online video tour of the space. 

Programming for people of all ages will start later this summer, with classes on yoga, tai chi and hip hop sharing a schedule with courses focused on financial literacy and exposure to science careers for youth. 

DC Greens built the farm in partnership with several community organizations: The Green Scheme, The Friends of Oxon Run and Soul of the City along with the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. When DC Greens began discussions about opening a new farm in Ward 8, they held a series of meetings to get community input and coordinate with other organizations. That’s how Hill Lockridge first got involved. 

In November 2020, as organizations scrambled to continue their work as the world responded to COVID-19, Hill Lockridge was offered the job as The Well’s director. 

“When the pandemic hit, we really saw the importance of a built, healthy, outdoor space,” she said.

She said The Well’s growth is just starting – the farm’s next addition will be a brood of chickens. Further in the future, Hill Lockridge envisions a massive covered porch for telling stories and sharing company. 

“A lot of times people talk about our communities as the least, the last, the forgotten,” she said. “I say our greatest resources are people. I try to remind people every chance we get that we are great. So, I call us the great Ward 8.”

Kayla Benjamin covers climate change & environmental justice for the Informer as a full-time reporter through the Report for America program. Prior to her time here, she worked at Washingtonian Magazine...

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1 Comment

  1. Wonderful story and extremely informative. Just happened to stumble across it this morning. Unfortunately, I live in the area, has passed this area on several occasions with no understanding of what it was nor the purpose. Just happened be driving by one day and saw a sign in which a friend and I stopped to get some free Kale greens and lettuce. Never knew how to get additional information nor thr the purpose of the area. Now, I know the name and purpose. Unsure of how the information was distributed or public informed of this location. However, I am grateful for the awareness and will seek a way of staying informed. The produce received was delicious, healthy and fresh. Often times I don’t have access to “The Informer”.

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