Bread for the City
Each month, Bread for the City provides more than 10,000 vulnerable residents of Washington, DC, with comprehensive services, including food, clothing, medical care, and legal and social services, in an atmosphere of dignity and respect. All of our services are free. We have two facilities -- one in Northwest DC and another in Southeast DC.
Every month, Bread for the City provides more than 10,000 of DC's most vulnerable residents with food, clothing, medical care, legal assistance and comprehensive social services. For an organization dedicated to meeting so many urgent immediate needs, "going green" can seem like a daunting prospect.
Yet even the smallest seed can grow into great bounty. So we've been innovating with "green" in unusual places -- most prominently, right on top. On our roofs.
Our Northwest Center is currently in the process of expanding to be more than twice its current size. The new building will allow our medical clinic to more than triple its capacity -- and it will allow us a brand new rooftop on which to develop the first largescale rooftop agriculture site in the metro DC area.
In the original plans for this roof, we planned to plant sedums (sturdy, low-growth plants), but as the expansion moved ahead alongside a separate initiative to overhaul our food pantry's menu and develop nutritional education opportunities, we reconsidered the potential for a full vegetable garden above our new center. Upon consultation with DC Greenworks, we realized that our building's plans could support the additional weight of a true garden with up to 1,000 plants. This prospect was too exciting to pass up.
The 3,500 square foot green roof will feature between 40 and 60 raised beds growing a seasonal variety of fruits and vegetables. The plants will be anchored in an 8 inch soil base, specially blended for the elevated environment, atop layers of drainage, protection, and filter fabrics. A team of volunteers and green roof specialists will tend to the crops, ensuring a healthy yield for Bread for the City's clients.
Most exciting of all, we will involve clients themselves in the design, building, cultivation, and management of the site, developing a shared ownership over the garden and its yield.
While the volume of food harvested from this "intensive" rooftop will not compare to the thousands of pounds of produce we acquire through our gleaning program (in which we send volunteers each week to visit regional farms and collect tons of surplus produce), we expect that this garden will serve its own unique purpose as a site of experiential education.
That said, we see similarly great potential at our Southeast Center, which doesn't currently have the opportunity posed by structural redevelopment. Indeed, Bread for the City's rooftop garden program started here, with just a few pots and plants.
Previously, the roof was known as a great place to get locked out on. But in the past season, volunteers and staff collaborated to develop a small experimental container garden, including radishes, tomatoes, and several types of herbs, including parsley, mint and oregano.
This garden is already the inspiration for lots of inter-generational learning, as well as "some darn good cooking," according to Sherita Evans, our southeast community resources coordinator and all-around superstar.
Sherita sees this new project as a logical next step in the evolution of our services to the community. "We lack these kinds of green spaces and educational places here in the community," she explains, referring to the historically underserved community east of the Anacostia river, which our Southeast Center predominantly serves. "We're hungry down here-- not just for food but for nourishment of the mind and the spirit. And here at Bread for the City, we're not just feeding people's bodies--we feed souls."
Sherita adds that the recent loss of Bread for the City's longtime Food Program Director Ted Pringle has motivated her to redouble commitment to the garden project. "As a site of rebirth and growth," she says, "this is a proper memorial to Ted."
Though its productive capacity will be limited, the garden can produce ample herbs to complement the food from our pantry, which will be especially great for our new cooking workshops. This makes it a special complement to our Nutrition Initiative: an opportunity to demonstrate the cooking process from start to finish. "We want to show clients that growing your own food isn't hard even in small spaces like balconies and window sills," says Sharon Gruber, our Nutrition Consultant. "And the results are that much better!
Despite the small scale of the project, we see big implications -- like the opportunity for parent-child gardening classes, which could bring families closer together while bringing them closer to the food they eat. Recent research has show childhood fruit and vegetable consumption doubles when children are exposed to the process of growing and preparing their food.
Towards this end, the garden has already been a community effort -- supported by staff in their off-hours, volunteers from the community, and local hardware and gardening businesses.
To take it to the next level, we want to enhance the entire rooftop of our Southeast Center, ensuring that it's both technologically green and prepared to evolve along with our innovative gardening program. We will need help to realize this potential, but we believe that the result -- a pair of green rooftop agriculture sites, experimenting and growing at the same time -- will be inspirational and transformative. We are excited at the opportunity to partner with Cole Roofing, and look forward to the next phase of this journey!