While most people spend their Saturday mornings sleeping off the previous night’s misbehavior, or maybe doing a bit of housecleaning, Janna and I found ourselves on an 18th century plantation… picking weeds.
Were we serving off our community service requirement after the inevitable defamation suit from Rachael Ray?
Not yet, at least.
Instead, we were farming, or more specifically, volunteering at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, a groundbreaking organic farm at historic Woodlawn Plantation in Alexandria, VA.
Arcadia has taken a small bit of property once owned by George Washington and made it the closest working farm to the nation’s capital. The team there grows a variety of fruits and vegetables using only organic practices with the goal demonstrating environmentally and economically sustainable models of agricultural and livestock production.
Director “Farmer Mo” Moodie and her team uses the farm as a destination for school and youth groups to teach kids and teenagers about nutrition, the environment, and about where the food they eat comes from, and how that affects the world around them.
Arcadia is more than a working farm though, it is developing three other unique initiative that aim to better feed and educate the public:
- The Food Hub – This is Arcadia’s wholesale market that aims to distribute local produce to schools, restaurants, restaurants, and retail businesses.
- The Mobile Market – A former school bus, now converted to biodiesel, that will deliver healthy food to local neighborhoods while also working with schools to provide educational programs about nutrition.
- The Farm to School Network – This program work specifically to get more healthy, locally grown foods into DC public school meals.
Through these and other programs, Arcadia is working hard to fight the dual problems of childhood obesity and food deserts – poverty-stricken areas that don’t have access to healthy foods.
This brings me back to what Janna and I were doing picking weeds on Saturday morning. While the farm is already yielding beautiful examples of tomato, basil, squash and other vegetables, the process of reclaiming what was a plot overgrown with grasses and weeds will take years of hard work. Much of that work requires constantly keeping encroaching grass and weeds away from the various plots. That is what Janna and I focused on for four hours on Saturday.
Now Janna had some farm experience from attending “farm camps” as a kid, but I all I knew about working on farms came from stories from folks the I knew at Ohio State who did grow up on farms describing to us which animals had the largest, worst smelling poops.
This meant that I actually had to ask Janna a few times whether what I was about to shovel was a weed, or in fact one of the crops Arcadia is so painstakingly trying to grow. Once I got that sorted, I was off and running, digging weeds, pulling out grasses, taking wheelbarrows full of stuff over to the composting pile. All in all, it was a great time and a great chance to get outside and do “some real work” that doesn’t involve sitting at a desk or piloting spreadsheets through the Federal bureaucracy. The folks at Arcadia were great, even providing us with a snack midway through featuring some of their freshly grown watermelon, and basil (turned into pesto) along with cheese, some bread, and cookies from their partners at the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, who increasingly use Arcadia’s produce in their award-winning restaurants.