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Growing something out of nothing: The story of D.C.’s Wangari Gardens

wangarigardensOn a clear Sunday in March, Josh Singer and Sarah McLaughlin stood before a bowl-shaped, 2.7-acre lot in Washington, D.C.’s Park View neighborhood, wondering whether their vision for a community garden would ever really come to pass. The lot had been tied up in red tape for months, and no city agency even had record of the land. “I didn't think we'd ever get permission to use it,” admits McLaughlin.

The organizers also needed to raise $700 for a water meter, and though they had been canvassing, flyering, and blogging for some time, they didn't know if anyone would claim the garden beds they were planning, let alone volunteer to build them.

That day, more than 100 sets of hands showed up ready to dig, haul, and hammer. They built two dozen raised beds, a compost bin, and a fence made of wood pallets. The bloc of volunteers was so vast and their buy-in so fierce that soon the garden expanded from the initial planned 25 beds to 60. Soon, the area was studded with fruit trees, a berry garden, colorful hand-painted signs, and a public plot that can be collectively maintained and harvested.

Now, as it completes its first growing season, Wangari Gardens, named for the late Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai, is a good example of the kinds of roller coasters scrappy new community gardens often face -- and the power of persistence.

Read more: Food

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Can’t-miss summer reading for sustainable food fans

Photo by Shutterstock.

Writer-farmer Wendell Berry reminds city dwellers that "eating is an agricultural act." For many, vacationing has followed suit. Whether you’re bed and breakfasting it on the farm, biodieseling to a beach picnic, or touring the eco-vineyards of South Africa this year, you'll need a sustainable food book or two for the journey.

Here we rounded up to a list of some of our favorites -- all released this year and ready for the beach, farm, road trip, or wine trail.

1. In Change Comes to Dinner: How Vertical Farmers, Urban Growers, and Other Innovators Are Revolutionizing How America Eats, Katherine Gustafson goes on what she calls a “hoperaking” tour of sustainable food operations. Gustafson paints with Michael Pollan-esque strokes, managing to extrapolate broad ideas about meat monopolies and consumer appetites from the passenger seat of a school-bus-turned-mobile-farmers-market or the edge of an aquaponic tilapia tank. Casual summer readers might glide past the statistics and commentary en route to the quirky stories of eco-entrepreneurs, but it's nice to know they're there for later reference. This paperback will fit perfectly into a frame pack or beach tote, and the casual tone keeps it light.

Read more: Food

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Small-scale grains: Another piece of the locavore puzzle

Carolina Gold Rice from Anson Mills.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) households know the cries.

“So many sweet potatoes!”

“Tomatillos again?”

But “Oh, man -- more whole wheat flour!”? Not so much. Yet that may be coming.

On the East Coast, Virginia’s Moutoux Orchards is growing and milling wheat and barley to nestle beside produce, dairy, eggs, and meat in its Full Diet CSA. To the west, Windborne Farm of northern California offers a grain CSA featuring not just wheat and barley, but also rare grains like teff and millet raised using a pair of draft horses.

All over the country, small grain farmers like these may soon place the last piece in the local-foods puzzle.

Read more: Food, Locavore