Tear Down That Fence: A Tale Of Urban Farms & The Barriers In Their Way
East Capitol Urban Farm is now embraced, supported, and operated by its community. Removing barriers has afforded Ward 7 residents the opportunity to: plant over 3,600 produce plants; operate 70 garden spaces; engage over 300 D.C. Public School Students
By Dr. Dwane Jones
Special to the AFRO
December 19, 2016
Dwane Jones, PH.D. is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Development and Resilience, a division of the University of the District of Columbia College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Sciences.
Given the large amount of vacant properties and unused space in many underserved urban areas (cities like Baltimore and Detroit come to mind), it may sound easy. But it’s not. Case in point: In 2015, CAUSES leased three acres of vacant property directly across the street from a Metro stop in D.C.’s struggling Ward 7 to construct the East Capitol Urban Farm. A partnership between several agencies and organizations, East Capitol Urban Farm is the District’s largest-scale urban agriculture and aquaponics facility. It’s an ambitious effort to bring healthy produce to an underserved area of the District.
We began planning the project in early 2015. During the University’s initial site visit, the first order of business was to determine how we would actually walk the vacant parcel — considering the 8-foot high chain link fence surrounding it. Residential properties surround the site on the south and west. The Capitol Heights Metro stop is on the east and a vacant parcel is to the north.
That parcel, incidentally, was under construction at the time for use by Wal-Mart. That project was shelved at the lot stayed empty.
What seemed like a straightforward walk through the site became much more complicated since we didn’t have a key to the gate. Searching for a way in, the team eventually climbed over a wall and through a small opening to access the site. But the physical barrier of the fence and our valiant attempts at scaling it led to much deeper questions. What social implications did such a fence have in Ward 7? What was the purpose of erecting it? How was it interpreted or perceived by the community?