Going To Market: Urban farm brings fresh produce from farm to fork

Lead Farmer of ECO City Farms, Deborah Wren, discusses weekly selection with farm share member Abby Wilkerson. Photo by Lindsay Myers.

LindsayMyersHeadshot (1)BY LINDSAY MYERS — At the end of Crittenden Street in Edmonston sits a tiny 1.25 acre urban farm. Small tract houses with minivans and ten-year-old SUVs in the driveways neighbor the property, and a white fire hydrant with a green top stands like a sentinel outside of the swinging iron gate. Inside the tall chain link fence marking the perimeter of the farm are several large white “hoop houses,” semi-circular plastic tunnels used to protect crops from the elements. ECO City Farms is not is not your typical farmstead. Yet, this small patch of earth supplies thousands of Prince George’s county residents with produce and is working hard to ensure that all those who want to eat fresh and local, can.

Started in 2010 by Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, ECO City Farms is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing affordable, fresh, and locally grown produce to the Prince George’s County community. The organization uses sustainable farming techniques to grow year round and offers educational courses on farming, cooking, and nutrition. It also works with local governments to write policy that supports urban agriculture.

The employees of ECO City Farms see urban agriculture as the future of farming. Lead Farmer Deborah Wren said, “Eighty to eighty-five percent of our population lives in urban areas, so why don’t we bring the food closer to them?” In particular, ECO City Farms hopes to address issues of food scarcity in the county, which is home to several “food deserts.”  According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an urban food desert is an area in which at least 20 percent of people live in poverty and at least 33 percent live over a mile away from the nearest supermarket. Organizations like ECO City Farms cater to residents in these areas, selling affordable produce at farmers markets or as part of a weekly “farm share.”

Farm shares allow participants to purchase 22 weeks of fresh vegetables for less than $500 a season. Although most members pay up front for the season, those participating in federal nutrition assistance programs can pay on a monthly basis. Members pick up a bag of fresh seasonal produce once a week at certain locations around the county.

Amanda West, operations manager at ECO City Farms, said farm shares are becoming more popular in urban areas. “The farm share as a concept has been around for a while, but it’s a whole new concept for Prince George’s County. What we’re doing is saying, ‘Here’s another way you can get your food. It doesn’t have to come from a grocery store,’” said West.

Abby Wilkerson, a Prince George’s County resident, participates in the ECO City farm share for “sustainability purposes, social justice purposes, and because the food is just fantastic,” she said. Wilkerson particularly enjoys the diversity of produce in the farm share. “I’ve learned to love things that I wasn’t so familiar with, and it’s just fun that at certain times of the year — that’s when you’re going to get asparagus, and it’s going to be just the best asparagus you’ve ever had,” said Wilkerson.  

ECO City Farms’ mission extends beyond growing high quality produce. “We’re working on growing food as sustainably as we can because the whole idea of health is the whole eco system,” said Wren. “To have healthy eating you have to have healthy soil, and to have healthy soil you have to be growing properly and composting. It’s this whole big cycle we that we’re really trying to push.”

For operating out of such a small space, ECO City Farms has brought big changes to the dinner plates of many county residents.

Check out ECO City Farms at the Riverdale Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.