Gazette: Bladensburg apartment complex may grow a farm

Timothy Sandoval/The Gazette Benny Erez, senior technical advisor to Eco City Farms’ composting efforts, stands in front of the Autumn Woods Apartment complex on 57th street at the site of a proposed urban farm.

 

Bladensburg apartment complex may grow a farm

 

Organizers seek approval for zoning changes

by Timothy Sandoval Staff writer/ The Gazette

If Bladensburg resident David Battle, 39, wants fresh produce, he said he usually walks a shopping cart to a grocery store a little over a mile away.

Battle, a tenant at Autumn Woods Apartments, may not have as long a walk soon if plans to create a farm on a vacant three-acre spot at the complex are approved.

Eco City Farms, an Edmonston-based farm, has already started to enrich and improve the soil at the site, said Benny Erez, senior technical advisor to Eco City Farms’ composting efforts. Autumn Woods’ farm would be similar to the one at the Edmonston site, which has a capacity for food waste composting and on-site hoop houses — polyethylene structures that trap the heat of the sun so that crops can grow year-round, said Erez, one of the project organizers.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” Battle said of the proposed farm. “There is really nothing like that around here. It will be nice to have a place in the neighborhood where you can go that is closer.”

The Autumn Woods project is funded through a $300,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture, with matching funds coming in from Prince George’s County and other sources, said Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, Eco City Farms’ founder and CEO. Eco City Farms also won a $75,000 Community Legacy Grant from the state to be administered through the Port Towns Community Development Corp. for the farm’s construction, she said.

Workers at the new farm site will educate tenants and other local residents on healthy eating and nutrition and will sell produce that is grown at the site, Erez said.

County zoning codes designate the site for residential use only, meaning farmers are prohibited from creating a farm at the site, Morgan-Hubbard said. She said the group will try to work with County Council members to submit legislation early next year to modify the zoning code in the county to allow for farms, under certain circumstances, to be built in residential and urban settings.

Pending approval, the site will be used as a community garden for residents to grow food on, but will not include structures like hoop houses.

While the proposed site is outside his district, County Councilman Will Campos (D-Dist. 2) of Hyattsville said he likes the idea of community gardens, but his support would depend on the project and where it would be located.

“[Community gardens] provide the healthiest eating, which we definitely need in the county and it brings people together,” he said.

Former District 5 County Councilman David Harrington, an Eco City Farms board member, estimated that a change to the county zoning code could take about four to six months, given the amount of public hearings the legislation would have to go through.

“There is a connection with the lack of ability to be able to have safe neighborhoods and access to healthy foods that are [in walking distance],” Harrington said. “This is a change that will help improve health.”

Farm workers have a three-year window to get the project completed under the USDA’s guidelines, Morgan-Hubbard said.

“From my point of view, it will never be that we can’t build something,” Morgan-Hubbard said.

tsandoval@gazette.net