Archive for July, 2010|Monthly archive page

Straw vs. Hay: Mulch Happens

In Uncategorized on July 31, 2010 at 10:11 pm

As we learn how to farm at Walker Jones, we are impressed by the fact that organic farming involves a series of practices (continual actions). Compost tea, weeding, seeding/planting, gathering coffee grounds and watering are some of the practices that form what the farm is and how it functions. One of the most important practices we carry out is mulching.

We were lucky to have twenty-five stacks of straw donated from a nearby construction site to use as mulch. Some of us accidentally call the straw “hay”, but hay is for horses and is to be eaten, while straw is used to for mulching. By laying straw on our paths and lightly over our rows we are able to suppress weeds and keep a higher moisture content in the farm soil. On the first day of farming, Coach told us that we couldn’t have enough straw. After two weeks at The Farm at Walker Jones, we are starting to understand the importance of the stuff to keeping our rows of vegetable seedlings from drying out from lack of water or from being pushed around by crab grass.


A Fortnight

In Uncategorized on July 30, 2010 at 12:05 am

It officially has been a two week transition from a vacant lot to school farm sprouting vibrant seedlings. Over the last fourteen days we have made major strides in creating a working urban farm for the students and families of the Walker Jones Education Campus. Our work has included:

. Tilling four 1600 square foot vegetable beds
. Finding straw in nearby lot and mulching with it
. Receiving and planting seeds from Fedco
. Creating a pumpkin bed to continue last years tradition
. Planting beets, chard, collards, beans, and squash
. Setting up make-shift watering system
. Working with surveyors and DCPS on designing water cut
. Collecting and planting herbs and cut gardens
. Building compost bin with pallets from Florida Avenue Market
. Creating Kindergarten farm curriculum and Farm Handbook

As we work on turning a vacant lot into a school farm, a constant conversation as we work is about how we use land in our nation’s capital. The first fortnight of the The Farm at Walker Jones has made us think a lot about land use and how cities and schools decide to use their property. We are excited that Walker Jones has made the commitment to growing food on an accessible and highly visible portion of their campus.

As we think about how to make health and wellness a priority in the District of Columbia and the nation, Walker Jones is taking a strong first step in demonstrating that land use decisions are key in demonstrating dedication to helping children and families create healthy lifestyles. We hope more District landowners, residents and decision-makers join Walker Jones in creating a healthier future for our city.

Cup Gardens

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 7:25 pm

Initially we planned for a sprawling flower and herb bed to the west of our four main beds. After creating the herb bed on Friday, as we worked the soil, we noticed that the bed was naturally creating smaller spaces, which naturally fit into one of our favorite garden concepts, the cup garden. We first noticed cup gardens at Innisfree, a garden in Upstate New York. Cup Gardens are Chinese gardens defined by their borders and surroundings. Their depiction in paintings spread the concept of creating pockets of gardens for various purposes from fruit orchards to gathering areas.

By breaking the garden into emerging cup gardens, the bed organically creates smaller spaces that each class at Walker Jones can adopt and call their own. Each class can map, plan, care for and share their cup garden and therefore have a piece of the herb and flower bed that they can called their own. As we receive more herb donations (we won’t turn herbs like rosemary and lavender down!), we will help classes and teachers create cup gardens that are formed by the existing contours and boundaries of the bed. We are excited about the emerging part of the farm and are excited that students and teachers will be able to impact the farm in this way.

What is a school farm?

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2010 at 1:19 am

There is no accepted definition, but our hope is that through growing with students and their families that we can learn how a school farm can benefit student learning and health. Walker Jones Education Campus made the decision to use a portion of the school’s campus for agricultural production. The over 8000 square feet of beds within six blocks of the U.S. Capitol is an experiment in what happens when a school makes growing food a priority. We welcome people to come visit and grow with us.

We have started to think about the benefits of the farm to our school, campus and neighborhood. The benefits include educational programming, food production, student health and well being, community outreach, farm design, and capital and capacity building.

Educational Benefits
– Creates hands on experiential and inquiry-based learning environment
– Connections to DCPS math, social studies, literacy and science standards
– Enhances school-based social-emotional curriculum (Responsive Classroom)
– Attached to forthcoming health and wellness educational programming

Food Production
– Farm will produces food and puts over 8000 square feet into agricultural production (more than 5 times the size of the White House garden)
– Growing pumpkins, collard greens, beet greens, kale, green beans, summer squash, and herbs at the request of the school and the suggestion of neighbors.
– Can grow figs, blueberries, raspberries and flowers within the next year

Health and Well Being
– Helps students understand where food comes from
– Allows students to positively impact surrounding environment
– Links to health and wellness initiatives currently administered at the school
– Potential to impact what food school serves students
– Provides example for how students, families and neighbors can grow their own food

Community Outreach
– Farm has potential to be community meeting place and neighborhood landmark
– Community members are involved and have contributed plants
– Teachers have been involved and are ready to incorporate into classroom
– Many neighbors are constantly asking about the farm and are excited about it and want to contribute
– Positive way for school to enhance campus
– Potential for campus to become more useful for neighborhood

Farm Design
– New use of campus to benefit Walker Jones students and families
– Thoughtful farm design made with the school, property and neighborhood in mind
– Input from DC residents and DC master gardeners
– Designed to produce food for school community

Capital and Capacity Building
– Shows that Walker Jones is actively adding new programming and campus improvements
– Project has potential to attract city-wide and national attention
– Can bring more resources and attention to the school and surrounding area
– Allows for school to have the capacity to increasing community programming and educational services

Biodynamic Day

In Uncategorized on July 27, 2010 at 1:53 pm

As Coach helped us set up the farm last week, he asked us if we had run into biodynamic agriculture. The term sounded familiar, but we did not know the specific practices and science involved. The only run-in we have had with biodynamics is through wine that we bought while running Rupperts as many French vineyards and several in Virginia have developed these practices.

Biodynamics was developed by Rudolph Steiner who founded Waldorf Schools and promoted thinking about farms as whole organisms. In approaching agriculture in this way, he and his supporters developed a series of practices that go beyond organic gardening to improve the farm as a dynamic system of various objects working together to create a whole and productive environment. Key to introducing biodynamics to a farm are the soil preparations that Coach brought to us from his friend in Prospect, Kentucky.

Coach provided information on several practices that have helped us think about how to approach our farm as a whole organism that we can help grow and prosper.

Horn Manure
One key soil preparation Coach gave us was horn manure.To make the mixture female cow dung is packed into horns and buried in a trench for nine months. Male manure is not used because it is not as potent as female manure, hence the term Bull-____ as it refers to less potent and less impressive manure. For more information and video on how it is made: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiMMoqngdt0. The use of the manure on the farm increases microorganisms in the soil and helps plants access nutrients.

Vortex and Chaos
To prepare the horn manure solution, we dumped a small bag of the Kentucky gold into a bucket of water that we had let sit over night.
The horn manure requires an hour of stirring the horn manure solution with our arms. We took turns creating an energy vortex (aka whirpool). The stirring creates an order that Coach taught us to disrupt by moving the opposite arm in the opposite direction. This disruption causes necessary chaos that allows the flow to be disrupted to awaken the organisms in the manure water. The process forced us to become elbow deep in the manure and differed greatly from pouring compost out of a bag.

Days before Coach arrived he insisted we bring whisk brooms. Having not used them recently, I brought the large brooms at the the local hardware store. Sidra had to go back to the store to buy new ones that we each used to spread the manure solution over the farm. After an hour of stirring, we walked the half-acre farm with buckets of the solution while using the brooms to scatter droplets over the entire property. The act of walking the farm and spreading droplets made me think of the garden as a whole and how our attention and time can help improve the soil and the farm.

A Little Help From Our Friends: Whole Foods

In Uncategorized on July 24, 2010 at 11:52 pm

You can’t see Coach’s face in the photo above but that is the way he likes it. We know his name but I have yet to hear anyone address him or refer to him as such. He is simply “Coach.” He is a regional farming expert from Whole Foods who is dispatched out to various community garden initiatives to help them realize their dreams through organic best practices. He is an amazing example of Whole Food’s commitment to individual neighborhoods and larger communities where their stores are located, a commitment to not only provide financial support but educational support as well.

Coach is many things to us and others he helps – organic gardening expert, bull labor with the tiller he hauls around in his truck, development wizard – but he is ultimately an excellent teacher. A teacher that spares the negatives, inspires those around him to succeed through the example of his own hard work and expertise, and pushes so quietly that you barely recognize how you found yourself behind a large tiller.

Coach has already been out to our farm twice and a third visit is coming up soon. Without his assistance and the support of Whole Foods in lending him to us, it would have been exceptionally difficult for us to be on track to welcome the kids back to school with a new garden planted for fall crops. Thanks Coach!

Coffee and Tea

In Uncategorized on July 20, 2010 at 9:22 pm

We are learning that when you are running an urban farm, you have to find ways to improve and replenish your soil. While plants need sunshine and water, soil is also a key component to a productive farm. At the Farm at Walker Jones, right now we are focusing on two key ways to improve our soil, coffee grounds and compost tea.

Coffee Grounds
After a recent soil test, it was clear we needed to increase the nitrogen in our soil. Coffee grounds are a great way to add nitrogen to soil and are loved as a soil amendment by acid loving plants like tomatoes. We are using the grounds we collect to build beds, feed our tomato plants and add to our compost.

If you want to collect large amounts of coffee grounds, it helps to create strong relationships and make it easy for the stores. We have been leaving buckets at local Starbucks on 7th Street and Chinatown Coffee (http://chinatowncoffee.com/) on H Street and collecting it every day. The stores love not having to throw it away and knowing that their waste is going towards making a healthy garden. For the last two weeks we have picked up coffee grounds to add to the soil as we have created our four main beds. Collecting coffee waste from local coffee shops is a great way to meet more people close to school, while improving the nitrogen content in our soil. Special thanks to our local Starbucks and Chinatown Coffee!

Compost Tea
Farmer Coach from Whole Foods has recommended we brew our own compost tea to improve the microbial content of our soil and to make it more productive. We have just started making the tea and are working on improving our recipe, but Coach gave us an awesome and simple way to make a great batch of compost tea.

Compost Tea Recipe


Aquarium Pump (From Riverdale Pets)
Clear Plastic Tubing
Filter stone
5-gallon bucket
Compost (plus worm casings)


Fill up a five gallon bucket with tap water and let it sit for 12 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate. Place compost (we heard worm compost works great!) into stocking, tie and place in bucket. Place tubing attached to pump with filter stone in the bucket. Let pump run in bucket for 24 hours and then spray or soak plants in the tea.

– Braden Kay

A Story

In Uncategorized on July 3, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Life moves so quickly often that it is easy for one to miss out on the stories, the history that informs the new developments that materialize before one every day. For instance, the corner of New Jersey Avenue and K Street here in Washington, D.C. has been a grassy and vacant piece of potential for quite some time, but if you happened by that corner this past Thursday or this morning or tomorrow or any series of tomorrows, you will have the good fortune of seeing something magical develop – an emerging urban farm that will serve the great kids, families, and neighbors of Walker Jones Education Campus, a DC public school.

This is not a project that has developed overnight but one that has been gestating a full year now ever since a group of preschool age summer school students from Scott Montgomery Elementary stopped and knocked on the door of Sidra Forman and John Cochran. They just wanted to see their garden, and they soon had the experience of not only working in that space but eating from it as well and departing with a flower in hand. The reactions of the wee ones were so enthusiastic that it was not long before a friendship was forged between the school and these uber-neighbors. Montgomery’s front yard soon boasted a pumpkin patch in addition to other plantings, and John and Sidra had acquired about sixty new 3 and 4-year old friends through their weekly gardening visits with the preschool classes.

The energy these gardening projects generated drove a dream and a design process for an entire urban farm on the Montgomery campus. When it was announced later that fall that Montgomery would close at the end of the school year, the plans fell by the wayside for one campus and shifted direction to the projected new home for Montgomery’s students – Walker Jones Education Campus.

What you see developing on our small corner in the city is a marriage between practical action to nourish, educate and inspire a community, and a pure act of dreamy and impractical love for both the endeavor and the wonderful children served. You may see stops and starts in the project, times of great action followed by slower paced developments. We are just taking time to write our story carefully, purposefully, and with the help of the community we serve.