In an effort to reduce food insecurity, and address a prevailing problem in several D.C. communities, Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Southeast recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the expansion of its highly touted urban farm initiative.
The Garden of Eden, a fixture within the church’s McKinley Crudup Outreach Center, counts as one of seven urban farms created by Building Bridges Across the River. Each venue is included among the Bridge Park Plots — a consortium of faith-based and nonprofit organizations located in Southeast.
The inspiration for The Garden of Eden, with 15 raised beds and 14 fruit trees, points back to the same-named biblical story featuring Adam and Eve. Organizers say the purpose of this expansion remains to both help to solve the food insecurity crisis in the District and to assist senior residents in better accessing more nutritious food.
The new garden beds at Allen Chapel AME were created in collaboration with Howard University engineering students working alongside Engineers Without Borders, National Society of Black Engineers, the Society of Hispanic Engineers, and the American Society of Civil Engineers.
Cheikh Badiane, an engineering student at Howard University, serves as a member of the design team that used the opportunity to give back to his school’s neighboring community. He said it helps him understand the importance of engineers conferring with the people who will be impacted the most by their plans.
“It’s about putting all of the engineering stuff away and first being human,” said Badiane, a native of Senegal who grew up in Kenya, adding that “this experience has opened his eyes to the injustices in D.C.”
“It was interesting in the sense that I was able to see issues that I didn’t think existed here,” he said.
“The thought of famine and food deserts is a massive thing where I’m from in Senegal as well as where I grew up in Kenya but I didn’t think it was a problem in D.C.,” Badiane added. “But now I realize that food deserts and the possibility of famine can exist anywhere.”
The food grown in the garden contributes to the church’s food pantry which remains available to residents living in the area. In the future, Engineers Without Borders hopes to develop an irrigation system to provide water and other nutrients to the garden beds.
According to Scott Kratz, director of 11th Street Bridge Park, the Bridge Park Plots program serves nearly 500 families throughout the year who receive fresh produce from “the food web we’ve created.”
“Removing more barriers so seniors can come and get engaged with the soil and with the farm is really critical because it’s not only the food and the herbs they’re taking and making teas with or [using] for medicinal purposes, it’s feeding both their minds and bodies,” Kratz said.