BY SCARLETT SALEM — On a windy yet sunny afternoon, about 300 people visited ECO City Farms for a Food Day Festival. Held on October 26, the free event included a farm tour, face painting, music, cooking demonstrations, hula hooping and ECO’s famous smoothie bike, featuring a bicycle-powered blender.
“For us, it’s like a harvest festival[,] a celebration of what the earth gives us and what we give each other,” explained Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder of the nonprofit urban farm in Edmonston.
It was one of an estimated 4,000 events held nationwide on or near Food Day (October 24), an initiative started three years ago by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The Washington, D.C.-based CSPI is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization focusing on food safety and nutrition. Executive Director Michael Jacobson saw a national Food Day as a way of promoting “healthy, affordable and sustainably produced food and a grassroots campaign for better food policies,” according to the CSPI website.
That was a natural fit for ECO City Farms, which has been rapidly diversifying its plot of land, just over acre along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River, since breaking ground in early 2010. One of the farm’s primary goals is agricultural education, which is evident in the permaculture (ecology-based gardening), vermiculture (using worms to compost), hoop houses (a type of greenhouse) — even the processing kitchen, which is made from a new shipping container.
ECO is primarily grant-funded and pulled off the Food Day event with a $5,000 grant from the Port Towns Community Health Partnership.
Morgan-Hubbard says that many areas in the Port Towns — Bladensburg, Edmonston, Cottage City and Colmar Manor — are considered food deserts, which the USDA defines as urban neighborhoods and rural towns without ready access to fresh, healthy, affordable food.
“Seventy percent of Prince George’s County [residents are] overweight and obese,” she said, in part because “mostly fast food is available. We want to show people that food can be fast and good as opposed to fast and greasy.”
The festival food reflected that philosophy, with chai tea, homemade pumpkin pies, and other healthy snacks on the menu instead of typical fair food like soda, cotton candy and hot dogs.
On the late October afternoon, small groups gathered for vegetable-cooking demonstrations while about 60 people toured the farm with its manager, Christian Melendez, who highlighted all the various agricultural activities.
Still other attendees browsed information booths that tied into the theme of the day. The Prince George’s County Health Department booth featured giveaways promoting its new website, www.mypgchealthyrevolution.org, aimed at helping residents get and stay healthy. At the Riverdale Farmers Market booth, Market Coordinator Jim Coleman wanted to get the word out that the market now accepts SNAP and WIC. “We can help have access to foods they can’t get at the grocery store,” stated Coleman.
Among those foods: produce from ECO City Farms, which is regularly available at the weekly market.
“It is important to reach out as much as we can to the people who live, work, and study here and show them what is possible,” said Morgan-Hubbard.
For more information on ECO City Farms, visit www.ecoffshoots.org.