by Erica Bacon
June 19, 2010
On one of many cool, rainy June Saturday mornings a few weeks ago, five committed CAGJ members met to carpool to our Teach-out at the Clean Greens Farm. We drove out of the city hopeful that the clouds might lift for our day of farm work; they didn’t, but it did stop raining as we approached Duvall. Just as we were beginning to wonder whether we had driven too far as a result of being mesmerized by what seemed to be a never-ending tract of fields and farmland, we were greeted by the smiling faces of 5 other volunteers (including one grandmother, grand-daughter duo and an exuberant miniature pinscher) strolling in our direction along the dirt drive. As it turned out, we had driven a bit too far but parked in front of the farmhouse and backtracked our way on foot to the area where most of the agricultural magic at Clean Greens takes place.
Clean Greens is operated on 22 acres of land, about half of which is currently being farmed; they also raise chickens and goats. Managed by the Black Dollar Days Task Force, the Farm was developed last year as a response to high incidences of poor-diet related illness and malnutrition among residents of lower income communities. The farm is African-American run and aims to provide fresh, chemical free, culturally appropriate produce to those in need and also sells at farmers markets and offers CSA shares. Tommie Willis, one of the farms managers gave us a short tour of the cropland, noting that progress is slow-moving this year largely due to low temperatures and the fact that much of the land was too wet to plow until the end of June. We spent the morning transplanting lettuce starts from the Farm’s greenhouse. “It’s not rocket- science”, Willis told us as he demonstrated how we should plant the lettuce rows, seemingly indicating in his light-hearted, humorous way that everyone can be a farmer. We divided up the tasks and worked our way down the long rows, digging holes, setting plants, and covering them with soil. We experienced truth in the phrase “many hands make light work” as hundreds of lettuces were introduced to their new homes in less than an hour.
Tommie and a few other volunteers traveled back to the greenhouse to retrieve seedlings for our next transplanting project and we had the chance to chat with Lottie Cross, Clean Greens’ dedicated volunteer coordinator. She told us that this year the Farm’s CSA membership leaped to over 100, from about 30 in 2009. Last year Clean Greens was able to match each paid CSA membership with a membership donated to a family or individual in need. Because membership increased so rapidly, they are not quite able to match share for share this year but are committed to providing at least 50 CSA shares at no cost to low-income residents of the Central District.
Tommie and his crew returned with flats of corn strapped to every inch of the roof of his van, swaying eagerly in the breeze. We spent the remainder of the day planting corn, joined later by two of Tommie’s young grandchildren. After finishing we were sent to take some bok-choi that was ready for harvest home to enjoy (it was excellent!). We also had the chance to meet the farm community’s four-legged residents: the goats, who I am happy to report, are as adorable and ornery as one might expect. On our way out we peeked into the greenhouse, where the next generation of wholesome foods is being nursed to adolescence. Trays of beans, squash and even a few cotton plants (among others) flooded the building. Despite a slow start, Clean Greens’ farmers and volunteers will be swimming in fresh produce within the next few months!