Alice Ferguson was an artist, conservationist and philanthropist, for a start. In 1954, her husband, Henry, founded the Alice Ferguson Foundation in her memory. Today, the foundation serves to keep people connected to nature and the cultural heritage of thePotomac River Watershed. Through educational programs, including a hands-on environmental center at Alice and Henry Ferguson's home at Hard Bargain Farm, the Alice Ferguson Foundation helps students and teachers learn to become stewards of the environment.
The four classical elements are water, fire, air and earth. Seventy-three percent of the human heart and brain is composed of water. A person is unlikely to survive more than three days without water. It is essential. And yet, much of our water is polluted and unclean. The mission of Food & Water Watch is very pragmatic: Advocating for "common sense policies that improve the way our food is grown and produced, and make our drinking water safe and affordable." This week's DDG featured org helps everyday people understand the importance of clean water. They organize advocates to protect food and water. They address problems such as fracking, factory farming and food safety, pollution trading and more.
FWW partners with both grassroots and national organizations to protect food and water, including campaigns to label GMO's, end overuse of antibiotics on factory farms, and a program called Take Back the Tap, which works with colleges and universities to promote drinking tap water over bottled, thus reducing waste and introducing less plastic into the waterways. You can support the FWW's goals simply by making some conscientious lifestyle choices, or you can take action through organizing, volunteering or making a donation.
Don't Trash It
You've probably heard the expression "one man's trash is another man's treasure." That's sort of the philosophy at SCRAP DC: They subscribe to the idea of creative reuse -- providing materials that would otherwise be discarded as means for you to create treasures of your own. It's environmentally sustainable, educational and promotes creativity. It's a do-good trifecta. Maybe you're familiar with the term "upcycling." SCRAP DC, this week's DDG featured org, prefers "creative reuse."
According to the SCRAP DC site, "Creative Reuse (also known as upcycling or repurposing), is when the addition of creativity to an already manufactured item brings a new function." So, in a sense, alchemy.
Let's look at the benefits: Environmental -- materials are kept out of landfills. Economic -- Access to inexpensive materials, as well as the creation of jobs. Educational -- Encouraging community members to stretch their creative muscles.
Well, we're convinced. How about you?
Do Good For the Common Good
At Common Good City Farm, more than 5,000 pounds of food each year are shared with the community through CSA's and programs like Green Tomorrows, which provide nutrition education and produce to income-qualifying individuals. In addition to youth learning opportunities, Seed to Table and other workshops provide individuals with knowledge about gardening, nutrition and cooking. Learn about sustainable agriculture and community engagement. Support programs that help ensure food security for our neighbors in need.
If you like to get down and dirty, here's a great volunteer opportunity for you. Dig in with Common Good City Farm in LeDroit Park, a neighborhood where poverty, obesity and health-threatening conditions like diabetes are growing epidemics. Access to nutritious, fresh food can make a world of difference, and you can help! Learn about sustainable agriculture and community engagement. Support programs that help ensure food security for our neighbors in need. Or if you're more of the type to keep your hands clean, check out CGCF's Amazon Wish List.
Make a Difference with SODC
Since 1968, Special Olympics DC has been a part of the greater Special Olympics movement to create a community of inclusion and understanding, not only for people who have intellectual disabilities but for their families, neighbors and classmates as well. Through the platform of sports, Special Olympics DC strives to bring people together and promote understanding.
Founded by Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Special Olympics represents her belief that people with intellectual disabilities can achieve much more than others might presume if they are given proper opportunity. Last summer Demetrius, an SODC athlete, received a bronze medal and a team gold in track and field at the Special Olympics World Games. Learn more about SODC and about how Special Olympics has helped fight stereotyping about people who learn differently.
Special Olympics DC offers incredible opportunities to make a difference. So many different skills, styles and gifts are needed. Are you patient and dedicated with some real time to commit? Coaches are key to helping SODC athletes grow and thrive on and off the field. Do you love to bring positivity wherever you go? Find an event and volunteer to be a cheerleader -- no pompoms necessary (though they probably wouldn't be unwelcome)! Love capturing moments in time? Take photos or video at SODC competitions. Are you super-organized? Pitch in with office work or help keep order at events.
Special Olympics is proof of the power of sports and teamwork to help people who are a little different than the average bear to thrive. They believe people with intellectual disabilities shouldn't be held back. The encouragement given by SODC can help athletes succeed in the classroom, in social situations, at work, and beyond. Be a part of reaching the community of more than 200 million people with ID and their families.
DC IN BLOSSOM:
THE NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
A recent survey revealed that 17 percent of people think the National Cherry Blossom Festival is entirely funded by local government. What many do not know, however, is that the Festival is not just a week of events, it's actually a nonprofit organization.
According to the website, “The National Cherry Blossom Festival, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting the beauty of nature and international friendship through year-round programs, events, and educational initiatives that enhance our environment, showcase arts and culture, and build community spirit.”
President of the NCBF Diana Mayhew, who has been in the position for 14 years, said both her role and the festival itself is "really about relationships."
The Cherry Blossom Festival, she said, is a wonderful opportunity to provide cultural experiences. "We have this fabulous platform, why not use it?"
While the blossoms themselves, particularly around the Tidal Basin, are perhaps DC’s most beautiful sign of spring, the National Cherry Blossom Festival boasts opportunities for residents and visitors alike to support the troops, enhance the local environment, and encourage children to increase their understand and appreciation of other cultures.
“My biggest wish,” said Diana, “is to make sure the children who live here really appreciate (the National Cherry Blossom Festival), and learn to embrace it to keep the spirit and the tradition.”
She hopes to continue to grow the educational programming of the festival, she said, to teach children about environmental stewardship, peace and international friendship.
“By teaching them about another culture, they finding how they can relate, and it opens up their world and understanding,” she said. “It opens up a curiosity that hopefully they can continue.”
Each year, a group of college students or recent graduates are selected as Goodwill Ambassadors to help plan and lead activities for children, as well as act as cultural liaisons at area schools.
The Festival works in cooperation with Casey Trees and the Arbor Day Foundation to host tree planting programs across the District. Taking part in such events, Diana said, the residents of D.C. can bear witness to, and celebrate, an ongoing sense of growth. They can literally see the seeds they have sown blossom.
“The beauty of the city is interwoven throughout the neighborhood,” she said, “and they are a part of it.”
FIVE WAYS TO DO GOOD AT
THE NATIONAL CHERRY BLOSSOM FESTIVAL
1. Volunteer at a Festival Event
Like cultural experiences? Help out at the Japanese Street Festival on April 11th! More into sports? Spend time volunteering at the annual Cherry Blossom 10K, one of DC’s best races. The annual Parade is also always looking for volunteer help!
4. Spread the CB love to others
Send a postcard to our troops overseas with pictures of the cherry blossoms in all of their glory!
5. Can’t give your time? Donate $$ instead
Your donation helps ensure the celebrations continue year after year.
CLEANING UP THE ANACOSTIA
Student A: “Hey, why don’t we get up early during our spring break and put on hipwaders to spend a morning fishing tons of trash out of a freezing river?
Student B: “Cool, I’m in!”
This sounds like a conversation heard only on Mars (if/when they had rivers), but Anacostia Riverkeeper actually makes it happen on a regular basis. Thanks to the organization’s decade-long partnership with Students Today, Leaders Tomorrow, 180 college students from Minnesota, Kentucky and North Dakota sprang out of four buses on a chilly March morning to help clean up Anacostia tributary Lower Beaver Dam Creek. The students joined community partners such as the Anacostia Watershed Society, Friends of Lower Beaver Dam Creek, Friends of Quincy Run, and Interfaith Partners for the Chesapeake for the first Clean Waterways Cleanup of the season.
Cheverly mayor Michael Callahan (known to constituents simply as “Mayor Mike”) and councilmember Mary Jane Coolen went beyond merely welcoming the volunteers: both officials participated hands-on in the cleanup, proving that Mayor Mike, as Coolen put it, “can work with numbers as well as trash.”
Volunteers extracted cans, bottles, metal beams, a vacuum cleaner, an old computer monitor and a 47-pound tire from the water. Four local children (with adult supervision and excused from school, not to worry) excavated a bicycle that had been completely buried in the riverbank.
ADVOCACY. ACCESS. ACTION
The group’s cleanups have an impact beyond mere beautification. As “Riverkeeper” Mike Bolinder explained, their goal is to provide information policymakers need to make the right environmental decisions for the future: “All of the trash gets sorted and weighed (a process we call characterization) and the data is used for policy making. When somebody asks, ‘how is the 5 cent bag fee working?’ for example, we have data to give an accurate answer.”
Anacostia Riverkeeper is a relatively small group with big goal: a fishable, swimmable Anacostia River. Long-time residents of DC who may be tempted to scoff, take heed: Thursday Night Kayaking and Friday Night Fishing are happening here and now. As of late March, the organization’s Clean Waterways volunteer program has removed 13,696 pounds of trash. Riverkeeper also trains River Watchers, community members who monitor and report pollution in the Anacostia (“River Watcher” superhero suit and cape not included).
The organization’s most striking quality—aside from its cheerful dispatch of endless amounts of garbage—is its collaborative approach. When you speak with anyone from the group, other organizations roll into the conversation like currents in the river: Anacostia Waterkeeper Alliance, Groundwork Anacostia River DC, Earth Conversation Corps and the Cheverly Green Infrastructure Committee to name just a few.
“We work hard to form lasting partnerships with groups that have complimentary skills and assets,” said Bolinder. “The collaborative effect can make one idea grow into literally thousands of volunteers, tens of thousands of hours of sweat equity and millions of pounds of trash being removed from a hurting waterway.”
With its manifold projects, talented staff and committed community partners, Anacostia Riverkeepers is truly living up the mission stated front and center on its website: “Advocacy. Access. Action.”
PICTURES FROM THE ANACOSTIA
CITY KIDS WILDERNESS PROJECT, PART 1:
KIDS IN THE WILD
A’Lexus knows she’s not a patient person.
“I’m very blunt,” she said. “I don’t like working with people.”
People, however, are often a necessary evil. Fortunately for A’Lexus, there is City Kids Wilderness Project, a DC-based nonprofit dedicated to enriching the lives of young people though goal setting, environmental education and long-term engagement. Over the course of a multi-year program, participants learn outdoor skills, which teach them important life skills, including goal-setting, social justice, teamwork and overcoming challenges.
“They teach you how to work together,” said A’Lexus, 15, as she ate a sandwich during a lunch break from a City Kids canoe trip along the Anacostia River. “I’m learning to be nicer when I say things.”
Beginning at age 11, City Kids participants take part in activities that include hiking, horseback riding and white water rafting. As the program progresses, the children take on more challenging goals that, in turn, imbue them with more forward-looking skills.
“We’re throwing them into all sorts of crazy adventures,” said executive director Eloise Russo. “There’s this high level of confidence that they can do it.”
CITY KIDS WILDERNESS PROJECT, PART 2:
GETTING BACK ON THE HORSE
Students at City Kids Wilderness Project attend summer camp in Jackson, Wyoming, go kayaking in South Carolina, take bike trips along the C&O Canal, and participate in day trips and service activities all around Washington, DC and the surrounding areas.
Many of the students who are involved, Eloise said, come from high poverty neighborhoods with a lot of instability.
“It’s an opportunity for them to try things that are really hard and to be able to overcome them. If you don’t get it the first time, or the second time, it’s okay.”
Of course, it’s not always easy to get back on the proverbial horse – or the actual one – after a fall.
“I’ll tell you one thing I didn’t like,” said 9th grader Isaiah, “falling off a horse.”
“Did you get back on?” inquired City Kids intern, Claire.
“No!” He replied emphatically.
Isaiah did, however, note that he’d enjoyed white water rafting. Soon, he’ll embark on a white water kayaking adventure, maneuvering a boat alone rather than as part of group. The rafting, Eloise explained, helps teach the kids to be part of a team. Kayaking helps them learn to trust themselves.
“One of the first things older youth say is that because of City Kids, there is no challenge they can’t overcome,” she said. “Building resiliency is one of our key goals. There’s a connection between (City Kids activities) and their every day life in DC.”
CITY KIDS WILDERNESS PROJECT, PART 3:
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
As City Kids students progress through the program, they become more focused on leadership and job training. A’Lexus, who dreams of visiting Paris and hopes to become a child psychologist, chef or lawyer, says she wants to be a JET, a mentor-in-training for younger City Kids students.
A'Lexus is eager to begin working on her resume. Claire, a junior public health major at Johns Hopkins University, offers to help.
“I like anything with the mission of helping kids who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity,” said Claire, noting that lower-income students often lack the opportunities to participate in the same after-school enrichment programs as their middle-class peers.
A Seattle native, she was excited to find an internship opportunity that combined her interests in public health, helping youth and the outdoors.
“I was like, ‘Oh! Sweet!’” she recalled.
Barvona, another City Kids intern, calls the experience of working with City Kids Wilderness Project“exhilarating.”
“Their message and their goal is very strong,” she said.
The extensive framework of the City Kids program allows for positive youth development and the broadening of horizons, Eloise said. As each year presents new challenges, City Kids works with the students to develop skills that are becoming more pertinent to their everyday lives and futures.
The older students, for example, focus more on building job skills and being peer leaders. There is a social justice and service-learning element to City Kids projects. Students do workshops on conflict resolution and get wilderness first aid training.
In Jackson, they explore career interest. Business owners have welcomed the kids to visit and learn.
“The community there is incredibly supportive of City Kids,” Eloise said.
Antoine, a 9th grader, said City Kids has taught him not only new skills, such as swimming, diving and camping, but about himself as well. Nature, he said, makes him feel peaceful.
“I learned that I need to be more aware of my surroundings, be more aware of nature, and get out of the house more.”
INTERVIEW WITH A SYCAMORE
My first interview at the Casey Trees tree planting on Saturday, May 2 didn’t go as well as I’d hoped:
“So, Mr. Tree, how does it feel to be the 20,000th tree planted by Casey Trees?”
He probably just needed more time to settle into its new home…
The rest of the Casey Trees staff and volunteers, however, were much more willing to talk. They were willing to do a lot more than talk, actually: the crowd of 100 volunteers gathered in Fort Dupont Park to plant 350 trees, one of which was the 20,000th tree Casey Trees has planted in its 13-year history.
Washington resident Betty Brown Casey established Casey Trees in 2002 in response to an article in the Washington Post documenting the loss of tree canopy in the city. In the 1950’s approximately 50 percent of DC was covered by tree canopy; by 1999 coverage had dropped dramatically, leaving a wide swath of less than 20 percent canopy in the core. Mrs. Casey founded Casey Trees “[t]o restore, enhance and protect the tree canopy of the nation’s capital.” The organization’s goal is to reach 40 percent coverage in 2035.
Casey Trees’ work is multi-faceted and year-round. Staff prepare months in advance for tree plantings: coordinating with the schools, parks, churches, homeowners, and community centers with which they partner; growing trees for transplant at their nursery; and preparing the grounds for planting. They provide everything down to the smallest detail for their volunteer planters: from equipment and safety training, insect repellent and poison ivy salve, coffee and doughnuts—even vegetarian and gluten-free pizza for lunch. And after the plantings, they ensure the trees get regular watering and site visits to check for weeds, invasive vines and other threats (read: hungry deer).
There are as many ways to get involved as there are roots in the ground. One volunteer I spoke with found out about Casey Trees through their tree rebate program, which offers homeowners up to $100 per tree they plant. Another volunteer I met is an active Tree Advocate, empowered by the training and opportunities Casey Trees provides (lobbying days, public meetings) to speak up for trees in her community.
Other opportunities include volunteering, watering trees, becoming a Citizen Scientist or Citizen Forester, or even gifting a tree to celebrate someone special. Casey Trees also offers free classes open to anyone in the public who wants to learn more about trees and the environmental factors that affect them. I’ve taken Trees 101 and Trees 201, as well as the Invasive Species training and Saturday morning invasive plant removal in Rock Creek Park. It was raining that day, but that didn’t slow us down one bit.
And this is perhaps the greatest strength of Casey Trees: the committed people it brings together. The atmosphere at events is upbeat and jovial. People of all ages are excited to work together, from students to retirees—even a 2-year-old tree planter whose vest hung off him like a superhero’s cape.
A former Casey Trees staff member came back to volunteer after only two weeks on her new job because she missed the other volunteers. According to Jim, a Team Leader, “Volunteering is an opportunity to feel good helping the environment and helping to beautify DC.”
Michael, a volunteer who spends his workdays in an office environment, enjoyed the opportunity to take a break from the concrete jungle and get his hands dirty for a good cause. “You can see the direct results of your work,” he said. “It gives you a feeling of satisfaction.”
Visit Casey Trees to find more ways of getting satisfaction out of giving.
Tara Campbell is a DC-based writer of crossover science fiction. She’s currently writing a book about how trees will take over the world. Hint: get on their good side—now.
IT'S EASY BEING GREEN
For Ed Murtagh, environmentalism has been a lifelong journey.
“Over time, I’ve been inspired learning about all the opportunities we have to have to help the environment,” said Murtagh, one of the founders and original members of Green Wheaton, a nonprofit for environmental outreach, education and collaboration.
“Our goal is to promote our community as a model of green and sustainable living,” said Green Wheaton executive director Wendy Howard. “People here are stakeholders in their communities. Everyone wants to thrive. We’ve done some good things on our own, but the greater successes have always been when we’ve collaborated.”
A primary example of such success is the installation of 18 Big Belly solar dual trash and recycling compactors throughout the city of Wheaton. The units send a signal to the local CleanSafe team when they are full, saving both time and energy so sanitation workers don’t have to check each unit every day.
One of the original goals of Green Wheaton, Murtagh said, was to have an organized voice on why sustainability and green living is vital, in the midst of the city’s ongoing redevelopment project. “Green,” he said, can mean anything from buildings under LEED construction standards to energy efficient lighting to actual green spaces – parks and gardens.
“We want people to know this is a community that takes sustainability seriously,” he said.
“For me, personally, a greener Wheaton means there is a walkable place for me to go,” said Howard. “I want to be able to walk to the shopping. I want a place where I can meet my neighbors. I'd like to see a physical green space, a park. I want a place where I can bring my clients. I love to go to local businesses. It's a community that is environmentally friendly.”
GARDENS FOR GOOD
Green Wheaton, said Howard, is a public/private partnership, which works in tandem with both local businesses and residents, and with governmental bodies, including the City of Wheaton, the Department of Environmental Protection and the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development.
“Having an organization is important for influencing elected officials,” Murtagh said.
The organization works to spread awareness of sustainable opportunities such as the emPOWER Maryland home energy audit, and to be watchdogs throughout the city revitalization.
“We are looking forward to (the redevelopment),” said Howard, “but we want to make sure it enhances the community. It’s great to have buildings come in, but we want to make sure we have green spaces.”
Green Wheaton created a community garden with a rainscape to reduce runoff. A rainscape or rain garden, is a garden in a small depression, which can collect rainwater and use it to help plants grow. This not only prevents runoff, it also reduces water waste. Natural fresh water is used for garden plants, rather than from a hose or faucet. Water used inside the house can even be recycled via a sump pump.
“We’re learning to manage stormwater,” said Murtagh, “and trying to get people to use stormwater for gardens.”
An overview of the Montgomery County Department of Environmental Protection RainScapes Program, and the importance of good water runoff management practices for a healthy watershed. This video focuses on explaining what a rain garden is how it helps control water runoff, and how to put one in you own yard!
An increasing number of people, he said, are installing rain barrels in their gardens, thanks to the awareness and education being spread by the members of Green Wheaton.
The headwaters of Sligo Creek are in Wheaton, which makes runoff maintenance and creek restoration a vital part of Green Wheaton’s work. Stormwater runoff essentially means that dirty water (water that runs through streets, etc. collecting contaminants), gets pushed into the creek via storm drains. Installation of more rainscapes and rain barrels is helping to prevent runoff into the creek and restore the watershed.
THE GREEN TEAM
Green Wheaton sponsors community events, including public service days, paper shredding days for recycling, or community clean-ups. More than 100 people joined the efforts on Martin Luther King Service Day, Murtagh said. The group hosts a local gathering – Green Drinks – to bring together fellow green-minded neighbors.
“People need an organized effort to engage the public,” he said. “A few dedicated people working together can make a big difference.”
Local artist and photographer Joanne Miller recently received a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County to lead a yearlong series of arts and nature walks in collaboration with Green Wheaton.
For most events, said Howard, Green Wheaton has been able to partner with local business that are working to increase their green practices, including Hollywood East Café. Janet Yu, the owner of the dim sum café, has worked to increase energy efficiency, creating a business that is both more sustainable and more economically sound.
“A new project is to provide a specific resource to businesses, help businesses to make it easy to find out about resources and things they can do,” said Howard. “We're trying to take advantage of the information and knowledge we possess and give it out to everyone else.”
About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director of the Daily Do Good. She, too, enjoys green spaces and loves to go to a local business.
TRANSFORMATIONS AT RED WIGGLER COMMUNITY FARM
In the early ‘90s, Woody Woodroof started an organic vegetable garden at the Arizona group home where he worked. In doing so, he was introduced to red wiggler worms, which are excellent for breaking down compost and transforming infertile soil into something conducive to growing food.
Woodroof was struck by the parallels between transforming soil and transforming people. He knew there was a need for more meaningful, connected, inclusive jobs for the disabled adults with whom he worked.
In 1996, Woodroof launched Red Wiggler Community Farm, a 12-acre certified organic farm in Germantown, in 1996. Sixteen adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities comprise the core crew.
“The metaphor (of the worms),” he said, “is about transforming people through job development, job skills, inclusion in the community - not about people's disabilities, but about what they do, what they produce.”
Today, the mission of Red Wiggler is “to be a sustainable farm where people with and without developmental disabilities come together to work, learn and grow healthy food.”
“Everyone comes to the table with skills,” Woodroof said. “Find out what they’re good at, focus on those things. Here, some people are really good at one thing. We also try to push their edge a little bit by challenging them to do a couple of other things.”
GROWING TOGETHER AT RED WIGGLER
Staff members have yearly meetings with their employees’ vocational helpers and family members to evaluate their progress and to set goals for the following year.
“Each of the growers have some goals for the year,” said Katie Junghans, Red Wiggler’s volunteer and grower coordinator. “Some times it has to do with learning a new tool or getting better at using a certain tool, like a hoe, or learning how to wheel a wheelbarrow.”
The desire to challenge the workers can present its own challenges. One, Woodroof noted, is content to weed all day every day.
“As an organization we’ve had to wrestle with that a little bit,” he said. “We want to focus on people's abilities and what they’re good at and like doing, but is it fair to her to not encourage her to learn new skills?”
VOLUNTEERISM & LEARNING AT RED WIGGLER
Red Wiggler relies heavily on volunteer participation not only for production, but for mutual learning opportunities.
“By having folks working side by side and often pairing people up, they’re both learning from each other,” said Molly McCracken, education and outreach coordinator. “A lot of youth have never experienced working with someone with developmental disabilities and have a lot of different kinds of preconceived notions about what that might be like or what the person might be capable of.”
On a September morning, staff members worked alongside a half dozen volunteers from a nearby engineering firm.
“Through the volunteerism, it’s a very included environment,” said Woodroof. “You often don’t know who’s got a disability and who doesn’t. Our role is to set (the growers) up as teachers and mentors.”
The experience can be especially transformative for the younger volunteers.
Last year, one enthusiastic intern got the National Honor Society at her high school to adopt the farm as their charity. Every holiday last fall, she brought a group of kids out to do some volunteer work.
That young woman is currently studying agriculture at Cornell University.
“She’s really kind of had her whole plan for her life changed from being here,” Junghans said, “It’s just amazing the few that really just take to it so much and kind of adopt us and keep coming.”
About the Author: Terri Carr is a Washington, DC yogi and writer. She blogs at Yoga Soulutions.
ENVIRONMENTALISM AND EMPOWERMENT
The mission of Earth Conservation Corps, said executive director Mafara Hobson, is “pretty powerful.”
“We work with at-risk youth and help them reclaim their lives by reclaiming the Anacostia River and their community.”
Since its founding in the early 1990’s, the ECC has strived to engage underserved DC youth in self-empowerment through environmental stewardship.
“We see opportunity between the effort to save the endangered Anacostia River and the need to engage the young men and women who live in the neighborhoods along its banks,” wrote founder and co-chairman Bob Nixon in an open letter on the organization’s website.
Nixon, a film producer, started ECC after coming to DC to shoot a film about environmentalism. He stayed because he saw a desperate need.
“They didn’t just dump trash here,” Nixon told PBS’s Bill Moyers in a 2007 interview, “they dumped people here.”
Despite a rising real estate and commercial business market, the Anacostia neighborhood, and others in Wards 7 and 8, have been plagued by crime and high dropout rates. Unemployment in Ward 8 once measured the highest in the United States. While numbers have greatly improved in the past five years (11.7 and 14.1 percent, as of June 2015, down from 21.3 and 25.2 the same month in 2011), unemployment in Wards 7 & 8 are higher than the District rate of 6.9 percent, and higher still than the U.S. rate at 5.3 percent.
RISING ABOVE, SOARING HIGH
Earth Conservation Corps challenges students to rise above statistics by providing the means and motivation to pursue a brighter future, for the community and for themselves.
“It empowers them to take charge of their own lives, and not just be another unemployment statistic or victim of violence, or someone participating in activities that aren't constructive,” Hobson said. “They can be and do whatever they want to do.”
The members of the Corps, 20 each year, must commit to 1700 hours of environmental work each year.
Earth Conservation Corps programs expand beyond restoring the river itself. ECC has paired with the Environmental Protection Agency on a water monitoring effort, and with the DC Office of Environment and Energy to restore the tree canopy in the Anacostia watershed.
“It helps create an ecosystem in communities where there’s a dearth of conservation,” Hobson said.
Other programs include a wetlands restoration project, and a raptor conservation effort. Nixon and the ECC have been instrumental in reintroducing bald eagles to the District, bringing 16 eagles to the nation’s capital between 1995 and 1998. Today, according to an article from the National Wildlife Foundation, about 6 bald eagles and 16 osprey nest along the Anacostia. A live osprey camera is trained on a nest beneath the Frederick Douglass Bridge.
“That shows the progress on the Anacostia. We want the same for the community members,” said Sarah Nixon, board member and wife of founder Bob Nixon.
MAKING CHANGES, TAKING CHARGE
Sadly, the birds have fared better than some of the young men and women. “There's a wall dedicated to the Corps members who have lost their lives,” said Nixon, “to happenstance of where you live and where your resources are.”
Angered by the manner in which their fallen compatriots were being overlooked by the DC community at large, ECC Corps members, alongside Bob Nixon, created a documentary called “Endangered Species,” about the plight of urban youth.
But other students have been lucky. Rodney Stotts was an early Corps member. Before the ECC, he dealt drugs on the streets of Anacostia.
“You can’t feel good about anything you have,” he told 60 Minutes, “because it was ill-gotten gains.”
Stotts was not available for comment, but both Hobson and Sarah Nixon spoke of him as an exemplary Corps member. Now a master falconer-in-training, Rodney oversees youth programming at Wings Over America, and maintains an active relationship with ECC as a mentor and advisory board member.
“ECC is about taking ownership and responsibility of your community,” said Hobson. “A lot of kids don't feel empowered to take control of their lives. Whatever happens, happens. Through the program, in having a responsibility to the community, they realize ‘if I can make environmental changes in my own community, I can also make significant changes in my own life. If I can make changes in my community, I can also make changes in myself.’”
About the Author: Holly Leber is the editorial director of the Daily Do Good, and a freelance writer and editor.
KEEPING IT FARM FRESH WITH FRESHFARM
On a chilly January morning in Silver Spring, Julie Stinar is making a deal: Beef for bread.
“We do a lot of trading around here,” Stinar, owner of Evensong Farms, said of her fellow vendors at FRESHFARM Markets.
FRESHFARM began as a single farmers market in 1997. Nineteen years later, it’s a thriving nonprofit with 11 markets, including two year-round, and multiple nutrition assistance, education and business development programs. But FRESHFARM’s primary goal is to support the people who make it all possible: The farmers.
“We are all about the supply side in the food movement,” said executive director Mike Koch. “We’ve long been dedicated to providing economic opportunities to farmers and producers.”
A FRESHFARM program that helps provide those opportunities is the Jean Wallace Douglas Farmer Fund, a scholarship program for growers and producers.
Stinar has benefited from the Farmer Fund to attend the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture Conference.
“Every time I learn different things,” she said. “Last time I was focused on business plans related to agriculture, as well as herb production.”
In addition to grass-fed beef, chicken and pork, Evensong offers homegrown herb lemonades three seasons of the year.
FRESHFARM is dedicated to making the public aware of the importance of local food from environmental, food security, health perspective and economic perspectives.
“Everybody should have the right to do a job that they love to do,” said marketing manager Nikki Warner. “Farmers don’t farm because it’s a profitable business; they love to cultivate the soil and nourish their families. That’s their American dream. If there’s no way for them to be economically viable, we have to rely on the industrialization of food.”
“There’s something greatly unfair about those who grow our food and ensure we have a table that’s filled having a hard time guaranteeing they’re making a living,” added Koch.
The FRESHFARM team helps promote this awareness and appreciation of locally grown food from a young age through FoodPrints, a partnership with DC Public Schools that integrates gardening, cooking and nutrition lessons into the students’ curricula.
“The food environment that our kids are growing up in is pretty horrendous,” said Jennifer Mampara, FRESHFARM’s director of education. “If you look at the messages, they’re pretty horrendous. The foods that are being advertised to them are not the foods they need to eat.”
Another issue is access – public school children in DC often come from the city’s so-called “food deserts,” where fresh produce is not readily available.
“So many kids live in neighborhoods where they don’t have access to full-service grocery,” continued Mampara. “It’s so much cheaper to buy a soda and a bag of potato chips. We want to offer a counter to those messages and offer something meaningful and hands-on.”
FRESHFARM also works to help combat the food deserts through gleaning partnerships with other area organizations, including DC Central Kitchen and Miriam’s Kitchen, and nutrition assistance SNAP and matching dollars programs.
“Not only does it benefit the shopper, but the farmer gets sales from a client who would not otherwise shop at the farmers market,” Warner said.
At present, FoodPrints exists in six schools – five in Ward 6 on Capitol Hill, and one in Ward 2 near Foggy Bottom. Next year, two schools in Wards 7 and 8 will be added. FoodPrints began with a $5000 donation from a market customer who requested only that an education program for school children be established.
The FRESHFARM staff members say they observe children who have a chance to help grow vegetables and create healthy meals appreciating fresh food in a way they might not otherwise, even if they begin with a sense of apprehension. Mampara recalls one child who confided that she was “allergic” to the kale salad the class was making.
At the end of class, Jennifer said, “I looked over and she was gobbling it down, and she said ‘it turns out I’m not allergic to kale anymore!’”
(Unless otherwise indicated, all photos have been provided by FRESHFARM Markets.)
About the Author: When Holly Leber isn't running editorial for the Daily Do Good, she enjoys spending all her money at farmer's markets. More publishers should pay her to write stories about said markets, so she can continue to support the farmers.
THE FRESHEST FARE
Marc Grossman’s first experience working on a farm was in Ohio, when he was in his early 20's. Although he loved to cultivate the land, it didn’t seem like a viable career option. Fast forward a couple of decades, and Marc is the co-owner of the Farm at Our House, an organically-certified vegetable farm that harvests fresh produce in Brookeville, Maryland.
The 12-acre farm, which started in 2002, is located on the property of Our House, a residential job-training center for at-risk teenage boys. The farm provides produce to local restaurants and members of its Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
Marc believes that local farming is a win-win for farmers and consumers: “Local farming provides people in the community with a sense of hope," he said. "People are looking for ways to grow food in a more ecological manner, while enjoying the benefits of fresh, local foods.”
CSA members are able to participate in special harvest celebrations and to volunteer on the farm along with the farm’s staff and the young men from Our House.
“Farming is something that people can come together around. It’s not just about learning how to farm, or working really hard,” Marc asserted. “It’s about having a common goal and doing something really tangible and really productive.”
The farm has three harvests throughout the year—in spring, summer, and fall. Produce pick-ups run from May through November.
BOYS TO MEN
If nature is therapeutic and hard work transformative, then Our House is the ideal place for young men in Brookeville, Maryland who want to transform their lives. The residential facility boasts rolling hills, a pond, swamp, and a host of wildlife—including a beehive and volunteer beekeeper. The residents, who come from social service agencies and correctional facilities, seek to redefine themselves and gain the skills necessary for life-long success.
Over the course of their stay at Our House (which ranges from a few months to a couple of years), the young men receive job training, professional counseling, life skills workshops and GED preparation. But they don’t just receive; they give back. All residents volunteer in their local community to deepen their sense of responsibility and connection to it.
In alignment with Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, OH seeks to “begin with the end in mind.” Residents maintain a strict schedule to develop discipline, a solid work ethic, and can experience the fruit (literal and figurative) that comes from working consistently and diligently over time. The Farm at Our House, a separate entity, offers residents the opportunity to learn how to plant and harvest fruits and vegetables.
“It was real rough going at first,” explained Ed Gould, the long time OH volunteer who started the farm. “They were not too enthusiastic—you don’t get a return for several months—but eventually there was enough land tilled and ability to grow things that the guys made a few hundred dollars.”
Gould argues that the farm and the house provide space for transformation to take place. “When some guys are there because they assaulted someone and are there to deal with their anger, they are going to do that. That they are willing to reveal that to me—that admission is the first step toward their own healing.”
SWEET APPLES: A VOLUNTEER’S PERSPECTIVE
Three years ago, a neighbor recommended that Amie Myers join the CSA program at the Farm at Our House. Eager to go organic, Amie joined and began to volunteer just a year later. Today, she volunteers a few hours a week, in exchange for the opportunity to pick fresh produce for the week, free of charge.
“I feel so lucky to be able to volunteer at the farm,” Amie beamed. “Once I get there I’m always happy, and then I go home with a bounty of local, fresh organic food. You just can’t beat it!”
Amie shared her top eight reasons for why she prefers the farm fresh fare:
- The greens are deeper.
- The apples are sweeter.
- Everything is so fresh. It may have just been picked that day.
- Things are able to ripen on the vine, instead of being picked early and shipped.
- It prevents a lot of carbon emissions. It’s important for me to reduce my impact.
- I cook, every day, with fresh food.
- I like to make pretty easy things. I have a whole basket of six different varieties of squash right now. I’m enjoying thinking of all the things I’m going to do.
- Every week, the food is amazing!
About the Author: Chanté Griffin is a writer. In her dreams, she is a certified organic specialist who harvests all of her own veggies in her backyard, but in reality her solitary rosemary plant died. Tweet with her: @yougochante
BIKES FOR THE WORLD: GOING PLACES
Have you ever seriously considered how you would get to school, work, or the grocery store without a car or public transportation? Would you walk? You could ride your bike… but what if you couldn’t afford one?
For many people living in developing countries, this problem is one that they must face daily. Luckily, Keith Oberg and Bikes for the World are working to create a solution.
Keith realized the importance of reliable transportation when he worked in Central America in the ‘80s, where he was involved in a number of bike efforts, including Bikes Not Bombs. “I saw people walking miles to get where they needed to be, and realized that bikes were an affordable option that really made a difference in people’s productivity,” he said.
Keith noticed that many people in the U.S. had bikes that were sitting unused in their garages and homes—bikes that could be put to use by those who needed them.
When he returned to the DC area, Keith started collecting bikes and started Bikes for the World in 2005. BfW’s first independent shipment occurred in April 2005, to Sri Lanka, Central America, and Ghana. More than 5,000 bikes were sent overseas. Since then, the organization has broadened in both size and scope.
BfW’s mission is to “make quality used bicycles and parts affordable and available to lower income people and select institutions in developing countries, to enhance their lives and livelihoods through better transport.”
At first, the organization was sponsored under the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. It became a nonprofit in 2011. Bikes for the World now operates as the nation’s largest bike reuse program.
“Every time you dispatch a container, you learn and hear stories about what has helped certain partners,” Oberg said. “For example, in Panama bikes are sent to the Goodwill there, which provides vocational and educational training for people with special needs—they help fix up the bikes and then sell them at Goodwill. In the Philippines, bikes are given to kids to incentivize them to stay in school and help them get there. In this instance, the schools bought in to the program, and the kids get the bikes when they graduate.”
BfW’s operating model is simple, yet effective: The organization crowd sources bikes and bike part donations from individuals, bike shops, and churches across the DMV, breaks them down, and packs them into shipping containers that travel across the globe. The bikes are received by community partners in various countries, who ensure that the bikes make their way to those who need them most at a low cost.
Allowing international community partners to sell the bikes at an affordable price lets them reinvest the proceeds they receive in their own community. Since 2005, BfW has shipped more than 14,000 bicycles to FINCA Costa Rica, a micro business support organization, which helps low-income individuals achieve financial autonomy. FINCA then distributes the bikes to other associations in the country, and the proceeds are reinvested in the credit enterprise
“Costa Rica is a great example of how a community organized itself to receive the container and divide the bikes amongst themselves,” Keith said.
Bikes for the World has an impact beyond affordable transportation in the communities it partners with. Re-assembling and reconditioning the bicycles also creates jobs in the receiving country, and can function as a training program. Additionally, bikes can be converted to capital (Costa Rica) or used as a method of getting an education by providing a way to get to school. Finally, BfW helps the environment by removing bikes from the landfill cycle and also promoting a sustainable and environmentally ethical method of transit.
In addition to its main focus on international partners, BfW also works with local organizations. One of those organizations is Gearin’ Up Bicycles, a bike shop in DC founded in 2002 that trains youth to fix up and refurbish old bikes.
With only four full-time employees, BfW relies heavily on the efforts and manpower of its volunteers, who come out to prep bikes or load containers. Volunteers can also sponsor their own bike collections to help the organization.
“I’m encouraged by the amount of people out there who want to give back and make a contribution, showing up time after time to do work that isn’t always a ton of fun, and sometimes is dirty,” said Jim Mitchell, who has been volunteering with Bikes for the World for nearly a decade. “People really enjoy the camaraderie and they want to give back where they can, and show an appreciation for the level of comfort we have in the States.”
As of the end of 2015, Bikes for the World has donated more than 111,000 bikes and has no plans to stop anytime soon. Plans for the future include building on their relationships with community partners, getting even more donations, and expanding nationally across the United States.