Arlington Urban Agriculture – Look How Far We’ve Come!

At our December 12, 2018, winter meeting, we asked County Board Member John Vihstadt who chaired the County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force 5 years ago, and Kim Haun, Urban Agriculture Coordinator, to give us an update on how far we’ve come since the Urban Agriculture Task Force report issued in 2013.

The County recognizes that we are part of a regional food system, and while they focus on what we can do here in the County, they also coordinate and collaborate with regional partners. A robust and sustainable local food system builds a strong economy and community. A responsible food system supports other values like environmental sustainability, social equity and improved health of the participants.

Community Gardens

There were 276 community garden plots in 2013, and with dividing some larger plots and adding an additional 70, we now have 380, with at least that many still on the wait list. The County splits large plots when the original holder vacates and then assigns to two new plot holders to help address the lengthy waitlists. The County is in the process of automating the waitlist.

There are still 7 community gardens, the County expanded two. Each plot represents at least 3 – 4 people and they feed not only their own families but contribute thousands of pounds of fresh produce to AFAC.

The County built the first ADA compliant community garden plot in the region at the Lang Street Community Garden. This plot features a vertical garden structure, a concrete pad and driveway access, on-street handicapped parking and an in-ground planting border. DPR staff identified and secured a letter of intent with Service Source, Inc., a local non-profit providing services to disabled adults, to maintain the plot. The community gardeners have welcomed them and are including them in communal activities and responsibilities.

Farmers Markets

We have 11 neighborhood supported farmers markets, six of them have robust SNAP matching programs. On a single Saturday in one market during the prime season we may get as many as 3000 people attending.

The County Board approved a special use permit for two new farmers markets in 2018. The market at Arlington Mill Community Center, run by CPRO, serves the west end of Columbia Pike. The community around Lubber Run supported the addition of the County’s eleventh market located in the parking lot of Barrett Elementary School. This market is run by the nonprofit Field to Table.

Arlington Farmers Market at Courthouse, managed by Community Foodworks, Inc., led the efforts through Virginia Fresh Match to collaborate with 4 other Arlington markets and others in the region to win a USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant fund SNAP matching for the next three years. The other markets participating include the Rosslyn, Crystal City, Ballston and Arlington Mill farmers markets. Columbia Pike has other matching funds. For every $1 in SNAP benefits a shopper spends, they receive an additional $1 to spend on fruits and vegetables.

Food Access

AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger Program, a project that seeks to bring fresh produce to AFAC clients from local farmers, gardeners, farmers markets, gleaning organizations and other sources. Since it started in 2007, it has grown to 29 schools, 20 churches, fifteen community-based gardens, eight farmers markets, three CSA (community supported agriculture) groups, three gleaning organizations, as well as numerous individual gardeners. Since its first season in 2007, over 600,000 pounds of fresh produce have been donated to AFAC’s Plot Against Hunger project. In 2018 alone, AFAC volunteers picked up 55,282 pounds of farm fresh produce for needy families in Arlington.

Of the current 11 farmers markets, 6 have matching SNAP benefits. These are dollar for dollar additional funds for SNAP shoppers. These funds are supplied by a collaborative USDA grant and their own fundraising efforts. You can donate to these funds by checking the markets’ websites or stopping by their manager’s tables at the market. This program helps make our wonderful markets affordable and accessible to everyone in Arlington.

Education & School Programs

The many public education classes offered by the Virginia Cooperative Extension and taught by trained volunteers are always well attended. They have 250 Master Gardeners and 143 Master Food Volunteers who teach you how to grow, cook and preserve your food.

Our public schools and libraries have gardens maintained by students and volunteers. Each of these has extensive education programs. For example, Central Library holds free Garden Talks throughout the season at the AFAC demonstration garden. You can also find the Garden Tool Lending Shed at Central Library where you can borrow garden tools with a library card.

Our local universities – Marymount, George Mason, Virginia Tech – have urban agriculture programs and/or extra-curricular activities.

Developing Urban Agricultural Enterprises

Moving forward, there are many opportunities to look beyond the basic community garden/home garden model. Areas for development include rooftop, indoor, and edge gardening. Further encouragement of farm to institutions such as hospitals, universities and schools will help build a commercial demand for locally produced food. Examination of potential barriers to agriculture in our urban community such as availability of capital, regulatory issues and transportation infrastructure may warrant further effort.

Highlights of urban agriculture enterprises in the past year include the following:

  • The pilot rooftop garden at the Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR) Trades building located at 2700 S. Taylor Street had a successful second season. All the hardware required was recycled from previous park projects. A team of DPR Staff managed this garden and learned how the high wind and heat impacts a successful garden. DPR is working to open the rooftop for public visits.
  • Arlington Department of Human Services examined regulations related to inspections for small food producers, such as those found at our farmers markets, and modified county policy to comply with the less restrictive State code.
  • DPR staff supported Zoning and AED to make a determination on a Certificate of Occupancy for an indoor urban farm, Fresh Impact Farms, located on Lee Highway. DPR staff is working with another new business, Urban Farm Greens, that is setting up in Rosslyn.
  • For years, the County has supported the addition of green roofs on buildings. You can see examples at Walter Reed Community Center, DPR’s Trades building, and the Bozeman Government Center at Courthouse Plaza. These installations, that can include vegetable gardens, qualify for LEEDS credits. County staff visited several rooftop gardens and farms this past summer to learn more about them. They saw different design concepts and management models. The staff is going to reach out to local property owners and developers to share what they have learned and to talk about what is possible here in Arlington.
  • The multi-family residential building at 3110 Tenth St N, called Ten at Clarendon is a luxury building offering a rooftop garden and lobby market as amenities. The rooftop design has raised bed vegetable gardens as well as social and entertaining space. The garden is managed by Love and Carrots.
  • A 40 cubic-yard container was installed at the Department of Environmental Service’s Solid Waste Bureau to convert food waste into compost. Food waste is collected from Abingdon Elementary School, AFAC, the Fairlington Farmers Market and Columbia Pike as well as private citizens and County special events. This is mixed with leaf waste and is converted from 16 tons of raw material to 5 tons of compost.

Community Engagement & Outreach

The Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture (FOUA) established its inaugural Board of Directors in 2017. FOUA hosts quarterly public educational events, and in 2018, its first social hour at Trade Roots in Westover. A 30 people attended on a very rainy night. FOUA Board members led informal conversations about what people want to see happen in Arlington to further urban agriculture. FOUA also maintained a website, Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram, and an email list of over 340 names to share information about resources, news and upcoming programs.

For the second year DPR staff and FOUA partnered with Marymount University student club, Food for Thought, to grow basil seedlings, and conduct a giveaway event for metro commuters at the Ballston and Courthouse Metro stations.

DPR staff with FOUA hosted a table at the County Fair, including a demonstration on growing microgreens. DPR and FOUA encourage community gardeners to enter their produce and homemade products in the County Fair’s competitions. This is a fun way to draw attention to all the wonderful vegetables Arlingtonians are growing.