June 3, 2018|By Josephine Chu| Food and Farms
Nestled in the heart of our nation’s capital, Common Good City Farm is more than just a farm. It’s an effort to create a real gathering space for our community and to increase access to and education around healthy food for low-income residents. In a neighborhood with a diverse population, our programs promote a sustainable, local food system that bridges race, class and age to ensure food security for all people.

Each year on our half-acre farm—situated on a former elementary school baseball field—we grow 6,000 pounds of fruits, vegetables and herbs for the surrounding community. Since beginning in 2007, Common Good has provided more than 10 tons of fresh produce to the community, and engaged more than 2,700 adults and 4,500 youth in educational programs. Feeding our community is vital, considering one in seven District households is struggling against hunger, and access to affordable healthy food is a challenge for many District residents.

6 4 18 Common Good City Farm DC FMPP c Dagny Leonard 1531Photo by Josephine Chu.

The great thing about working on a farm in the middle of Washington, D.C., is that we can see the impact we are having right away. In addition to selling our produce through local farmers market and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs—which SNAP, WIC and other assistance programs support to make our produce accessible to low-income families—we host community events, hold workshops on healthy eating and engage community volunteers to help us grow the food. It’s gratifying to help people understand where their food comes from and to expand their horizons around what they eat. For example, a kid might not have been willing to try a radish before seeing one (or helping to grow one), but now they’re willing to try it, learn how to prepare it and bring that knowledge home to share with their families.

6 4 18 Common Good City Farm DC IMG 5393Photo by Josephine Chu.

Like any farm, it is important for us to have access to multiple revenue streams. What we don’t sell to individuals through our farmers market and CSAs, we sell through our Small Enterprise Program to restaurants and food producers to help sustain Common Good City Farm’s many programs. It was through this process that I was first introduced to Good Agricultural Practices, or GAP. GAP is a voluntary audit that verifies that fruits and vegetables are produced, packed, handled and stored as safely as possible to minimize the spread of foodborne illness. Many restaurants and retail stores require GAP, and wholesalers exclusively require it. When we first approached a local grocer that works to source from local farms about selling our produce, they wanted to know that we had a Food Safety Plan and that we intended to get GAP certification for our products.

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Photos by Josephine Chu.

Every farm has its own reason for wanting to be GAP certified—primarily, it makes products more marketable. For us, the ability to sell our produce in a retail store open seven days a week would allow us to reach a wider array of people beyond those who buy from our farmers markets and CSAs. Attaining GAP certification opens up new markets and generates income to maintain our vital community programs.

We quickly realized that GAP certification can be a daunting, and often expensive, process. That’s why we were excited to find out about free trainings offered by The Conservation Fund and Virginia Cooperative Extension through funding from the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Farmers Market Promotion Program. The goal of the Farmers Market Promotion Program is to increase domestic consumption of, and access to, locally and regionally produced agricultural products and to develop new market opportunities for farm and ranch operations serving local markets.   

6 4 18 Common Good City Farm DC IMG 1514Photo by Josephine Chu.

It was important for us to have the training and resources available to us at no cost. As a nonprofit, we have limited funding and resources, and having these training and expertise at our fingertips allows us to stretch our dollar and have a bigger impact on the farm and in the community.

The training we attended involved a “mock audit” of GAP requirements like worker health and hygiene, safe irrigation methods, post-harvest handling, traceability and more. It helped me better understand the big picture, and what resources are available. The program also provides ongoing technical assistance to make sure farmers are ready to host the GAP inspection on their own farm.

Armed with the technical knowledge we gained from the training, we plan to have our on-farm audit in 2018 in order to achieve certification, which will make us one of the first urban farms in the District of Columbia to achieve GAP certification. This will not just open new markets for our products, but will support our goal to ensure food security for our community. We want to model best practices in urban agriculture, and that means making sure we are providing healthy food that is safe for consumers. Our farmers market customers might not require GAP certified products, but there is an understanding that they expect their food to be safe, and this third party certification shows that when we connect our community with our food, we are thinking of all aspects of food safety, and holding ourselves to the highest standards.

6 4 18 Common Good City Farm DC IMG 5643Photo by Josephine Chu.

Common Good is seen as an oasis within the community. It gives people a chance to be active and to connect with nature, their food, and each other. With help from groups like The Conservation Fund and programs like the Farmers Market Promotion Program, we’re excited to take this next step as we demonstrate the transformational potential of urban agriculture.

It’s all part of our mission to connect—to food, to nature, to people—to create a local food system that bridges race, class, and age to ensure food security for all people in our nation's capital.