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Inaugural Youth Farmer’s Market Delivers Produce, Community Engagement to Deanwood Neighborhood

By Arnesa A. Howell

On the corner of Lee and 46th Street N.E., the Academy of Construction and Design (ACAD) kicked off its first Youth Farmer’s Market and festival in a neighborhood steeped in historic African-America history.

For this summer day, the students transformed the back lot of IDEA Public Charter School into a diverse farmer’s market with displays of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers ready for purchase. At one corner is a greenhouse. Nearby, a garden nurtured by both ACAD and IDEA gardening class students. A tomato plant sprouts from a tire planter, and other fruits and vegetables make assorted reusable bags their home. There are rows of cucumbers, sweet potato plants, chili and bell peppers, strawberries and fresh herbs like basil and mint, which student Abiola Olugbuyi, 16, proudly shows off in a walking tour. Russian kale and garlic are also planted.

“We use coconut coir, a way to grow plants without using actual soil and it retains the nutrients in the water,” says Olugbuyi while standing in front of strawberry plants rooted in the fibrous exterior of coconut. “We all have an opportunity to watch what we eat so we don’t rely too much on processed foods.”

He is among the students taking what is learned at IDEA PCS and creating healthy pathways outside the classroom, which are now being shared with the community through this farmer’s market hosted June 10 by the Academy of Construction and Design.

“We’ve planted and grown everything in the garden from seed,” says Justin Rydstrom, head of school for IDEA PCS, who also teaches the learning lab giving students opportunities to work in the garden with local nonprofit, Cultivate the City. “We started in February and March in the greenhouse and brought everything to life. Now, we’re starting to harvest.”

Tomatoes, Peppers & More IDEA student Abiola Olugbuyi gives a garden tour and shows off his “salsa garden.

A mix of greens, jalapeno peppers and edible flowers on sale came from the school’s garden. However, Ruppert Landscape donated annuals and perennials, live herbs and vegetable plants, according to branch manager Matthew Davidson. “Everything we brought today could be put into a pot. Whether [the person’s] in an apartment or a house, whether they want to plant a garden or do one pot – we brought an assortment of different types of vegetables: tomatoes, kale, eggplant, peppers,and a whole bunch of herbs,” he says, breaking briefly to answer questions from potential customers.

The assortment of flowers – from geraniums and big leaf begonias to salvia and petunias – makes a colorful backdrop to the greenery.

Deanwood resident Phyllis Commodore was drawn to the market by the music, but stayed to buy a variety of geraniums for her flower bed. “I would come back, and next time I would get some greens,” she says.

For the Community
A year in the making, the event is a positive for a neighborhood with limited places selling fresh fruits and vegetables. “They call this area a food desert. When you think about fresh produce and availability in this area, it is very slim to none. The very idea of getting an apple – where do you get that from when the closest grocery store is miles away and transportation is difficult for families?” asks Nicole McCrae, IDEA’s new principal. “I’m really excited that we’re teaching and training our kids about how to grow food and also how to con- nect with others and give back to the community.”

She hopes the market will influence young people and their families to adopt healthy eating habits and continue community engagement. “Students are willing and they have the heart and desire. If you open the door for them, you’ll find there is an interest that hasn’t yet been tapped and it’s our responsibility to create those [opportunities],” McCrae adds.

While some visitors browsed the selection of produce, others sat at the student-built picnic tables – laughing, talking and sipping on the free lemonade handed out by a Boy Scout troop. Students rushed to “Cha Cha Slide” when the DJ spun the song. Tables lined the far end of the lot where students signed up for the summer reading program at the Deanwood Neighborhood Library, the Macedonia Community Church took charitable donations, and representatives from the Metro Transit Police chatted with passersby. Miller & Long Concrete Construction hosted a “You Nailed It” demo where kids decked out in hard hats hammered nails into wooden sawhorses. Also on display, the Academy’s latest project: the still under construction micro house.

“We delivered about 200 flyers by hand, on foot,” shares Shelly Karriem, director of the Academy of Construction and Design. “It made me feel really, really proud.”

As the market winds down, students are still hanging out with friends or talking with lingering neighborhood residents. These young people could be anywhere on a Saturday afternoon, but they chose to come to something that ACAD student Kemah Weldon calls “fun and creative.” But the best part, she shares after a pause: “Seeing the community come together.”