I have had incredible experiences working abroad, first with the Peace Corps and then with Dare To Innovate. Most of that work was geared towards community development, through agricultural extension or youth enterprise support. This work is not limited to international development arenas, however! We have wonderful organizations at home in the US that work on the exact same issues: food security; social justice; urban agriculture; youth entrepreneurship, and community building. Throughout my graduate studies in DC, I got to collaborate with some of those organizations.
My first foray with the warriors and workhorses in this engaging and enterprising milieu was when I started volunteering with The Green Scheme in the spring of 2015, working in the food deserts of Southeast and building gardens in Lincoln Heights, Woodland Terrace, and Congress Heights. A food desert is defined as an area lacking in fresh produce and healthy food availability, usually in impoverished communities, like the housing projects we worked with. Ronnie, the founder, and his crew opened up the entire ecosystem of urban agriculture and green revolution in DC. I attended large annual forums like Rooting DC where all the regional nonprofits, associations, cooperatives, and social enterprises meet and exchange information and ideas. I also had the privilege and pleasure of attending the annual Broccoli City Festival that was set up to celebrate Earth Day, our environment, and healthy communities. It has grown in the few years it’s been around, as you can see here.
Through my work with the Green Scheme I met Chris Bradshaw, the founder and Executive Director of Dreaming Out Loud. He is an incredibly driven individual. Originally from Tennessee, he studied politics and business at Howard University in DC. He travelled to Ghana on an exchange trip, and was moved and inspired by the entrepreneurship he saw in West Africa, ingrained into community culture that centered on securing food security and welfare. That is when he came back and founded Dreaming Out Loud, in 2008. It started with programs focused on training and educating marginalized African American youth in Wards 7 & 8 of DC, where food deserts and high levels of inequality persist today.
Dreaming Out Loud has taken off in leaps and bounds since then. It currently operates 2 vibrant farmers markets in DC, one by the Waterfront metro and another on Minnesota Avenue, near where Benning Road crosses the Anacostia River. I began volunteering at these markets, helping to give out DC government food vouchers to people who qualified for food assistance, which they were able to use right at the markets. It was incredible, seeing the positive response that the markets and program received, and since then the DC government has renewed and appropriated more funds to it. Dreaming Out Loud sells its own produce, grown at its organic urban garden, located in the backyard of a popular music and art venue in Southwest, Blind Whino. Dreaming Out Loud has also contracted with migrant farmers who own businesses in northern Virginia to come and sell their produce as well. Chris was just elected to be a board member on the DC Food Policy Council, and is currently negotiating plans and development of a 2-acre farm in partnership with a secondary school in Southeast. On top of that, he secured a partnership with Kiva to help crowd-fund and provide loans to entrepreneurs that Dreaming Out Loud has identified in the communities they work in! He is looking to make a big impact in DC, and all of his hard work has really paid off.
Needless to say, all my experience volunteering in DC has been filled with satisfaction and inspiration. It is a completely different environment from the ones we work in with Dare To Innovate, and yet the way people interact, the types of problems they face, and the effective solutions used to address those issues all resonate and contain striking similarities. Chris and I have talked for hours, trading stories, comparing notes, and the more we talk the more we realize how similar our work is. It serves as a sort of reminder that whether or not you live in a developed or a developing nation, either in the city or in the country, you will face a lot of the same inequality and policy challenges. I hope to continue to learn more about and help with how DC develops, as I learn more about and help our communities in Guinea and Benin develop. And, maybe, someday soon we will figure out a way to collaborate and create avenues for exchange between these diverse and determined communities.