Just north of the Barracks, in the shadow of the 695 off-ramp, on the south-eastern edge of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is a little patch of green. You can see it as you head east, into Anacostia, just along Southeast Boulevard, bright green, with flecks of red and blue, with lofty, towering sunflowers. It’s a massive community garden, with 60 plots of dirt, built for families in the neighborhood.
Community gardens are not exactly a new phenomenon. The District had community gardens well before it was even called the District. There’s evidence of farming communities living in Rock Creek, before the federal government muscled them out to create a park. The city grew, and grew, and people slowly forgot about the joy of growing their own herbs or flowers. The gardens are currently making a comeback. And what’s special about the community gardens that have cropped up in the past ten years is how much they thrive, almost in open defiance of modern development.
In the past ten years, D.C. has seen an overwhelming amount of change. Longtime residents are fond of telling the new transplants that U Street was a very different place a decade ago. Eleventh Street was almost a no-man’s-land for non-residents. “NoMa” would have been considered gibberish in polite conversation. Now, thanks to unchecked development and gentrification, the city has a brand new face. 14th Street has restaurants that rival some of New York’s or Chicago’s selections. They’re even putting in a high-rise apartment building on the old site of the Central Union Mission. Hey, at least they kept the name.
But one of the better things to come out of the District’s rampant change in the past decade is the resurgence of the community gardens, sprouting up all over the city. Columbia Heights has one just behind El Chucho. There’s another along Irving at North Capitol. But, perhaps the most curious of these new gardens is nestled just a few blocks away from the Anacostia River.
No one could pass by this place easily. It’s not near a major thoroughfare, and only plainly visible for a split second, as you peel off 695. It’s the perfect place to grow a patch of tomatoes, or kale, or mustard greens… 60 plots of potential are laid out in the sun. There’s a spigot and hose to water your patch, and a pergola, overgrown with morning glory vines and tendrils. All it takes is a quick turn away from the abject development of the city, and getting on your hands and knees in the dirt to grow something beautiful.