UMD Students Help with NFI Community Garden for Terp Service Kickoff

On Sunday, September 26th, twelve students from University of Maryland braved gloomy weather and giant mud puddles to help out our urban farm at the Mamie D Lee Community Garden in Ward 5. They worked on plots managed by my organization, the Neighborhood Farm Initiative (NFI), a nonprofit started in 2008 to improve access to healthy food, farm and garden education, and under-utilized green space to residents in the District.

Despite being novices to the world of organic farming, the UMD students were enthusiastic and interested. They asked great questions (“Do you release any natural predators onto the farm?” “What nutrients do cover crops put back into the soil?” “Do you really go to the bathroom in the woods?!”) and accomplished an enormous amount in only a few hours.

They helped us transition the land from summer to winter production in plots that were used to grow tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and herbs this summer. This is no easy feat, involving hours of digging the soil, picking out stubborn and thick weeds, turning the soil, and raking it smooth. Then we planted a cover crop (a mixture of buckwheat, peas, and vetch) that will grow and replenish nutrients in the soil for sustained production next spring and summer. The group also weeded plots of lettuces, radishes, bok choi, collared greens, kale, and squash.

The highlight of the day: the students harvested 10 sweet potatoes! Some were as tiny as golf balls, while others could have been mistaken for misshapen footballs. The sweet potatoes, as well as radishes, and peppers harvested by the UMD students amounted to almost 10 pounds of food, all of which was donated to Food and Friends, a nonprofit organization that cooks healthy meals for people with life-challenging illnesses.

I was worried that hours of digging and weeding in light rain and muddy soil wouldn’t be the ideal way for our volunteers to spend a Sunday. But the students said they actually enjoyed getting outside and working with their hands – it was a nice release from the whirl of classes, papers, and all-nighters – and they wanted to come back again. It was a pleasure working with these intelligent, eager, and good-natured individuals and I hope they, and any other UMD students, come back and visit our farm again soon!

–Kat Bawden
Neighborhood Farm Initiative

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