AAPDEP DC Starts Community Garden Work

AAPDEP DC finally breaks ground on the Ivy City Community Garden. AAPDEP DC members thought they found the perfect African community to start a garden. This community suffers from numerous vacant lots and dilapidated buildings; seemingly AAPDEP Member Jaleel checks for water at abandoned houseforgotten about in the City’s plans for development or so we thought. During the months following our “discovery” of this location we were able to indentify that almost all the vacant lots were owned by the city and thus had made great efforts to gain DC government’s permission to use any of the 12+ vacant lots that currently existed in the area. Initially we were met with the possibility of using at least one spot but that slowly dwindled to a complete shutdown, by the City to use any city-owned vacant area in the community, citing that these areas were slated for development. Although, the website indicates that the plan is to build affordable housing by claiming vacant lots and old buildings using the power of “eminent domain, acquisition and disposition” our historical reality is that usually we are pushed out of our neighborhoods to make way for “affordable” condos and townhouses, a tactic known as gentrification. We spent months speaking with several offices of the DC government and actually had an advocate working for us, however all that it amounted to was disappointment when we were told to look elsewhere. However, we felt we had a responsibility to the community and so we moved forward to adopt the area through the city’s Adopt-A-Block program which allows for organizations, in conjunction with the community, to conduct quarterly block clean ups.
 On April 3rd AAPDEP DCVolunteers and members gather at the conclusion of the cleanup conducted our first clean up in the area with volunteers from local colleges helping out. It was successful in that we were able to clean all of the streets that were in the Adopt –A – Block area and get some good feedback from some of the residents Although we did not  ofget the amount of community participation we would have liked we continue on with each action to conduct outreach, by knocking on doors and handing out information, as a means to get the residence of the area to participate in their own community revival. We need the community’s involvement because this is not “our” project this is a project for the community and has to be spearheaded by the community; we are just there to act as the catalyst hopefully opening their eyes to a different reality based on self determination and self-reliability.
After our first clean up we stood around the area and just couldn’t leave knowing that our capacity would just be to be street cleaners. So we decided to move forward with the project and to deal with the city whenever they decided come. And so with that we made plans for the following weekend to begin the garden by starting slowly and see how it is received by the community.
No trespassing signs put up by the City in all of the vacant lotsOn April 11, 2010 we began digging out areas to place our containers for intended container garden. We decided to do container gardening as a way to teach the residents how they can do this in their own homes. In an urban area like Washington DC, where space is limited, we have to learn ways to grow food even if we don’t have a backyard. While some members started in the garden area others went around the community knocking on doors to explain our presence there. Africans opened their doors with scowls on their faces but when we talked to them about the garden those scowls turned into welcoming smiles and even invitations into homes to discuss how they could be a part of the work .  One sister even donated her bag of potting soil to the project, which we quickly made use of. As Africans walked by the area looking at us digging holes we approached them and explained what we were doing handing them information about our organization. Some Africans felt the need to warn us about the safety of the neighborhood and asked how we were going to “protect” the food. When we replied, the food doesn’t need protection it’s for the community anyone can just pluck it off (a concept that seems foreign to us in a capitalist system) the eyebrows raised in surprise at our answer. Another African passed by and said that “you should plant tomatoes” to which the reply was given that this is not “ours” it yours and whoever else is in the community. With all the open spaces in the area this community could grow this idea into one that will sustain itself. Instead of paying $2.39/lb for tomatoes we could grow them right where we live.  We found that this outreach was even more of a success than the one previous. Although participation was still nonexistent we understand that Africans are use to big talk and no action so we have to show the community Action and it seems that it was well received. Even the little ones contributed their skills. If they can do so can you! 
One AAPDEP members noted that “there were no supermarkets or grocery stores” in the area, it’s virtually a food desert and “while we were doing clean up all we saw was junk food wrappers” which tells what Africans are relegated to eating when not provided with healthy options. It’s also important to note that this area is practically isolated in that it isn’t on any major metro line and the buses that travel out this way run intermittent schedules where a person can be waiting for at 45 minutes to an hour just to catch the bus.  So accessibility to better food is not as easy to get to if you don’t have a car.
While we recognize that this project is still in its infancy we can see the incredible potential that this holds for Africans of Ivy City and in other African communities in Washington DC and across the States.  
Self Empowerment, Determination and Reliability for African People! Uhuru!
To see more pictures from AAPDEP Projects visit our gallery.
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