There was food, art, and wonderful energy at the Girard Street Children's Garden on a recent sunny Sunday for their "Eat-In" (co-sponsored by Slow Food DC). It was a celebration of the garden and the kids and community groups who make it happen, under the inspired direction of Lola
Bloom and Rebecca Lemos. This is but one of 9 children's gardens they've created since launching their nonprofit Cityblossoms back in
2003, and I can report that bringing their love of art to the garden has made this one a pretty magical place. (Lola teaches art at a bilingual charter school and both studied art in college.) Other cool elements of the garden include
workshops about growing food, harvesting, and cooking, all coordinated with what the kids are learning in school. But fun is key, so there's lots of singing while gardening.
Now juxtapose this vision with the one painted by a local newspaper, whose reporter sees the garden only as a crime-fighting measure. She writes that it's intended to "restore calm to this often deadly stretch of Columbia Heights," which she calls "one of the most
notorious crime areas of the city," then sprinkles her story with juicy news of recent killings in the area. Makes me wonder if she ever ventures into the city at all. (My friends just a block away love it there.)
But let's get back to the garden, shall we, because the story of the how it came into being is pretty cool. Lola and Rebecca
lobbied the developer-owner of what was for decades an unused patch of asphalt to donate the space for a garden
and – proving that even inner-city landlords have a heart and who could resist these inspiring young women? – he said yes. AND paid to remove the asphalt and create raised the planters. Then all sorts of neighborhood groups stepped up to do the planting, maintaining, and harvesting, proving once again that gardens grow not just plants but community.
I asked Lola and Rebecca if they had anything to say to GardenRant readers and yes, they sure do.
Lola writes, "I think that it is important that we are integrating
gardening into children's lives in a way that is youth-empowering and not just
focused on one aspect of gardening. We invite children into these spaces to
learn about the obvious themes of food production, become enviro-conscious, and
understand scientific concepts but also care for their communities and express
their playful personalities and curiosities through creating safe greenspaces
that everyone can enjoy and explore. My favorite part of our
gardens is that children independently and enthusiastically participate and come
up with games as if they were playgrounds. Although we always wish we had more
adult volunteers and that we could afford more staff, the fact that the spaces
are largely kid-made and maintained is super-important in sustaining them and
keeping them relevant to their particular communities."
And Rebecca adds, "We work predominantly with kids because we love to work with them but also
because we feel strongly that teaching kids to feel empowered enough to
physically change their environment will help them grow up into active citizens
willing and able to improve their surroundings."
Top photo includes Dionte Lewis, an almost constant presence in the garden and my guide that day. Lower photo: Rebecca Lemos on the left, Lola Bloom on the right. Click to enlarge.