by Leslie Malone
Urban living and agriculture might seem incongruous, but in fact, they can go hand in hand. Several advisory neighborhood commissioners got the opportunity to see that one recent Saturday.
As part of its research facilities, the University of the District of Columbia has a 144-acre research farm located in Beltsville, Maryland. Muirkirk Research Farm is an agricultural experiment station. Its task: Researching sustainable agriculture techniques that can be applied to an urban setting and help urban gardeners increase their yields despite the smaller land areas available.
On June 28th, UDC’s College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) hosted its first ANC open house at Muirkirk Research Farm. The farm has been open to visitors before, but this was the first official tour for ANC commissioners.
The tour, led by CAUSES Dean Sabine O’Hara and William Hare, Associate Dean of Landgrant Programs, included visits to the aquaponics and hydroponic greenhouses, the recently installed solar well, the microgreens plots and greenhouses, the rice field and the future site of the organic composting facility.
Why invite ANC commissioners? ANCs consider a wide range of policies and programs for their own neighborhoods, including economic development, and Dean O’Hara believed that extending the invitation would present a unique opportunity for the ANCs to see and experience the farm’s growing operations first hand and the opportunities urban agriculture can offer them.
Another benefit of hosting the commissioners is the additional exposure their visit would bring. As the old adage goes, word of mouth is the best form of promotion. Given the CAUSES mission of offering research based academic and community education “to improve the quality of life and economic opportunity of DC’s residents,” ANCs are in a great position to spread word about the CAUSES research farm and its Center for Urban Agriculture and Gardening Education among their constituencies.
“Unless people know about our extensive research and the training programs we offer, they will not think to ask us for help,” said Dean O’Hara. “In turn, we will not know how we can assist them in making their neighborhoods even better, or in creating local jobs, or in providing hands-on scientific experiences that make it easier to learn – or in accomplishing any of their other goals.”
Interest in the opportunities offered through UDC’s land grant programs is definitely growing. Here is what some of the ANC commissioners had to say about the experience:
“The UDC farm is a busy and exciting place. It’s great to see our university playing a leading role in exploring sustainable solutions in urban farming. I especially loved the hot house combining the fish tanks with the irrigation system to water plants. I hope we as an ANC and as the Van Ness Vision Committee can take a more active role in publicizing the good work being done.”
Mary Beth Ray, ANC 3F03 and chair, Van Ness Vision Committee
“There have been many changes to the farm. Several new greenhouses have been built using the latest technology, including solar power, drip irrigation, aquaculture, vermiculture and aquaponics. I’m looking forward to seeing the new composting operation. It was good to see so many volunteers and students learning about urban agriculture. UDC has formed some good partnerships.”
Kent Slowinski, ANC 3D01
“While living in an urban environment, it is all to easy to forget the reinvigorating effect of a rustic setting.”
Timothy Jones, ANC 4C08
Muirkirk Farm is located at 12001 Old Baltimore Pike Road in Beltsville, Maryland.
Leslie Malone is the communications manager for UDC CAUSES.