Like mushrooms after spring rains and pumpkins ready for fall harvest, urban farms have sprung up across Prince George County over the past five years or so.
As the U.S. Department of Agriculture explains, there is no “single formal definition of urban farming,” but it typically generates at least $1,000 a year and contributes to “community gardening in backyards, rooftops, balconies, vacant lots and parks. gardening, [and] Roadside peri-urban farming. Kim Rush Lynch, Urban Agriculture Conservation Planner for Prince George’s Soil Conservation District, explains that for Prince George, this is happening primarily “inside and outside the ring road.” Overall, the county also maintains more than 40,000 acres of traditional farms.
The growth of urban farming in Prince George is the result of deliberate farming through a county government policy that began in 2015. Encouraging urban farms is an investment in the county’s future, as these farms do at least three things to help the people of Prince George’s home. Help the environment and create local jobs.
In 2015, Prince George’s had little urban farming, with the exception of ECO City Farms in Edmundston. In the 20th century, Prince George “faced urbanization and development. [several] According to the Prince George’s Food Equity Council fact sheet, “Looking Forward, Looking Back,” some farms remained, but in communities closer to Washington, D.C., Prince George’s farms were effectively deprived of farming.
For counties with mostly black populations, this fits a broader pattern. Across the United States, for more than a century, black-owned farms have faced multiple challenges, from racism to systematic refusal of government loans, resulting in the loss of more than 13 million acres of farmland. “Food Dessert is the result of a historic failed investment in communities of color,” said Sidney Daigle, director of Food Equity His Council. “I know Prince George County has a history of people being displaced,” Daigle said.
In urban areas, things began to change in 2015 with a coordinated effort by the Prince George’s Food Equity Council in partnership with the Prince George’s Soil Conservation District, other agencies and local urban farmers. It started with passing the tax credit, followed by a series of bills, Rush Lynch explained. The law went into effect in 2016, zoning 70% of residential land for urban farms. The 2018 and his 2019 addendum bills made urban farming even easier.
These policy changes had a dramatic impact. Daigle says there are now more than 40 urban farms working with soil conservation districts. This is the first year his Conversation District has started working with urban farmers, up from 12 in 2017, Rush Lynch said. There are now more than 100 acres of urban farms in the county, she said.
These farms produce a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, lettuce, tomatoes, pumpkins, as well as mushrooms and arcane spices. Other products include flowers, soaps, body care products and hot sauces, Rush Lynch told me.
The county also approves diverse methods of urban farming, such as warehouse farming and hydroponics and aeroponics, allowing more crops to be grown in different locations more often. This local produce means more money ends up in the hands of Prince George residents instead of going to outside businesses.
To bring fresh produce to those who need it most, local activists founded Capital Markets in 2018. While other farmers’ markets have been around for a long time, especially in the Greenbelt, Capital Market targets areas that need it most. Established in response to the closure of the last grocery store in Capitol Heights, the company has begun weekly marketing near the Capitol Heights subway station.
In 2020, the market traded between $25,000 and $35,000 worth in 10 weeks for a total of 40 hours of trading, according to Brittney Drakeford of the Capital Market planning team. The market then added a new venue to Suitland. Ashley Drakeford, also on the planning team, noted that people had long relied on the local Dollar Tree for groceries. Look for foods that are high in cholesterol and high in sodium. “
Fresh fruits and vegetables are very important in counties where food desertification and related health problems are prominent. Ashley Drakeford said the Capitol Heights neighborhood “has emerged as a health food priority zone in Maryland,” adding that it “has a high incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high allergies, heart and health conditions.” He is very healthy,” he said. Notably, according to the Food Equity Council, “In 2013, 71% of all Prince Georgians were overweight or obese.” Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is therefore important for improving health.
Market Farms also works hard to make produce available to those who need it most. “In areas where car ownership is not high, or where there are no safe sidewalks, pedestrian or bike paths, even if there are grocery stores in the area, people who live there will not be able to access them.” Britney Drakeford said. Both his Market Farms locations are accessible by public transportation and are issuing surveys to improve accessibility. Additionally, to compensate for the high local produce prices, Market Farms accepts his SNAP and discounts through his Maryland Market program.
Urban agriculture not only improves human health, but also the health of the environment. The Soil Conversation District works with farmers to develop specific plans for topsoil replenishment, from monitoring nitrogen and phosphorus levels, to composting, no-till farming, and water quality. Urban agriculture also improves air quality, increases green space and mitigates the heat island effect. That also means less runoff during storms, which means less trash and chemicals ending up in local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay, Daigle explained.
Another important mission of urban farming and farmers markets, Ashley Drakeford says, is education about the food system, saying, “We want communities to know that they live in Prince George County and that bananas and lemons don’t grow here.” It’s about being able to understand and infer,” he said. Farmers markets may not have zucchini or tomatoes in early spring, but they have plenty of vegetables, kale, lettuce, corn, squash in August and apples in the fall.
Like a deeply rooted apple tree, urban farming is beginning to become Prince George’s way of life.