A Response to DC’s Food Crisis

Washington DC- Ward 7 is what some would consider a food desert, but Dreaming Out Loud (DOL), a non profit that addresses food insecurity, has a solution to fight the nutrition crisis.

DOL has begun phase 1 of construction of a farm at Kelly Miller Middle School, located in the Ward. A community meeting was recently held to update residents about phase 1.

The farm will be on two-acres of land, where volunteers and fulltime farmers will harvest a variety of produce. DOL is planning to have an onsite market to directly sell goods. 

The American Nutrition Association website described a food desert as an area that lacks fresh produce and healthy food. Food deserts form because of the limited amount of grocery stores and other marketplaces. According to the DCist, there are two grocery stores in Ward 7 and only one in Ward 8. Both wards east of the Anacostia River and have the highest population of African-Americans within the District.

 In 2013, 13.2 percent of households in the District were considered food insecure and 4.9 percent was said to be “very low food security” and face harsher conditions. Children and adults often cut back or completely skip meals, according to DCHunger.org.

 Starsha Valentina, director of operations and resource development said, the issue won’t be fixed by adding more grocery stores.

“{We} have to change the idea of the food system,” said Valentine.

DOL is aiming to fix this with the project which  will also include a herb and pollinator garden. Community/ADA plots will allow residents to also farm. There will be a youth and sensory garden. The youth garden is designed for Kelly Miller students and other children. The sensory garden will be a unique space for special needs children to be included. The food prep and demonstration area is for produce harvesting and demonstrations. 

Chris Bradshaw, the founder and executive director of DOL, participated in a summer youth program in the Benning neighborhood of Ward 7, where he became aware that accessibility to healthy food was a problem for elementary-aged school children to teenagers. With DOL, Bradshaw dedicated his life’s work to create a better life for marginalized residents in the District. He graduated from Howard University where he studied political science and business that provided him with the skills to create DOL and serve as a member of the District’s Food Policy Council.  

The organization began its mission to change the structure of the food system in Ward 7 by teaching young children how to be leaders and jumpstarted a program for youth-aged from 14 to 21 years’ old, according to the organization's website.

The farm at the middle school will allow residents and especially students to have a hands on learning experience when it comes to the food they consume.

Kelly Miller’s partnership with DOL, is important because students will have a food component to their enrichment block. Students will be able to sign up to learn about how to live a healthy lifestyle, according to Kortni Stafford, the principal of Kelly Miller. 

“Access to healthy food is limited which is the reason we wanted to have a partnership with Dreaming Out Loud,” said Stafford.

Kelly Miller’s partnership with DOL, will allow students to see what they’re eating at school.

Ryan Walker, the physical education teacher at Kelly Miller, said that his students already show an interest in nutrition. Walker and DOL are in discussion about what programs to implement to educate students.

“They will be able to see a full grown farm,” said Walker. “They’ll be able to get their hands dirty.”

 Providing high quality food for residents in the District who live in improvised neighborhoods is the mission, but for Bradshaw fostering a sense of hope has been just as important and rewarding. He’s aiming to provide jobs and support for those who have been denied opportunities.

“Transformative change is actually possible,” said Bradshaw.