Covenant House of Greater Washington

Our Flagship Project

We have partnered with the Covenant House of Greater Washington DC, along with Run Hope Work, to provide a container farm and workforce development programming for the homeless youth and young adults they serve.

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About This Project

What makes Covenant House of Greater Washington an apt place to host an OurFarm project?

Covenant House of Greater Washington had everything we were looking for and then some, including an open mind and a creative spirit. Not only did they embrace OurFarm and our vision, they housed a network of partners, such as Run Hope Work, that were equally as open to exploring creative ways of collaborating to connect the at-risk youth/young adults they serve to new and exciting experiences and opportunities. There was also Bobbi - a smart, passionate and effective project manager for the CHGW’s garden program - who was a dedicated point-person to make things happen from the Covenant House side. It felt like everything fell into place in terms of space, partnership, and people. 

How did you get the container that houses the farm into place? What was that like, logistically speaking?

Preparing for a container farm to be placed requires a level foundation, strong electrical connection, and a water supply. The Covenant House and Run Hope Work had existing relationships with unions, so we chose to partner with them to identify minority-owned and operated contractors. Much of the work was volunteered or union-funded, which helped to keep our costs down. The garden space where the farm was placed was once a playground for a child care program that CHGW no longer hosts. The Run Hope Work workforce development cohort helped by removing the rubber playground turf that was there and clearing the space for us. We then installed two water spigots on the outside of the building - one for watering the plants that will eventually make up the outdoor garden space, and one dedicated to supplying water to the container farm. We then had a team from the Mid-Atlantic Carpenters Training Center help us install concrete platforms so that the farm could be leveled according to our requirements. Finally, Bethel Electrical Construction and the IBEW Local 26 union installed electrical sources near the garden space to both connect the container farm and provide electrical access for when the Covenant House hosts outdoor events. This work not only accommodated the container farm, but also made the garden space usable for the Covenant House’s staff and community.Once the space was prepared, we could schedule the delivery of the container farm. Due to the precarious placement behind the building, we needed to hire a crane that could lift the 8 ton container over the top of the building and place it exactly where we installed the concrete platforms. This was one of the largest cranes that Freight Farms (equipment manufacturer) has ever seen used to place a container farm like this. Once it was in place, it needed to be pitched and leveled per the requirements.Logistically, it was a huge lift and we learned a lot of lessons. We know that this is a huge hurdle that any potential container farmer needs to overcome, and we are able to help navigate it for future partners who want to have an OurFarm project on their campus.

How soon do you expect CHGW and the surrounding communities to see the (literal) fruits of this project?

Seeding for our first harvest began in mid-October. We planted over 1000 seeds of different varieties of lettuces, leafy greens, herbs, and root vegetables. We also planted microgreens, which will be grown on racks inside of the container. We expect to have our first harvest in early December. Typically you wouldn’t see fresh lettuce and greens grown in the cold months in DC, which is one of the many advantages of controlled-environment agriculture technology, like the container farm we installed. We will definitely be celebrating our first harvest, so stay tuned for updates on that!

Is OurFarm local to the DC metro area, or do you cast a wider net?

OurFarm’s mission is to give community organizations and schools access to a source of fresh produce and engage their community around it through educational experiences. We’re starting in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area, but hope to scale much more broadly. We are aiming to make the CHGW project a blueprint for other Covenant House chapters and we’re here to support them in the process.

What was it that motivated OurFarm to create this community-based food-security model?

It truly is a privilege in our economy to access fresh, healthy, and locally-sourced food. Upon seeing the health and socioeconomic data that reinforces this fact, I was inspired to explore creative ways of addressing food insecurity and think about how to bring them to my own community. I quickly learned that there is so much good happening in the DC area, and the country more broadly, in terms of services, programming, funding, and policy aimed at addressing food insecurity. I also learned about modular controlled-environment agriculture technology and became fascinated with hydroponic container farming. I loved how it was resource-efficient, high-yielding, and scalable. In talking with many different stakeholders about how this technology could be applied to address food-security, I learned that schools and community organizations had the strongest appetite (pun intended) for something that could enrich their communities with food and an interactive educational tool.Thus, OurFarm was born to provide just that to as many communities as we can and inspire others to do the same in the process. Our aim is to mitigate the steep financial, logistical, and operational barriers to having a high-tech, high-yield, community-scale farm, and also develop engaging curriculum experiences around it for the communities we serve. We need many things in order to achieve this mission, but critically, we need trained hydroponic farmers. Needless to say, there aren’t many of those on the job market today. With the help of Run Hope Work and other partners we’ve met through CHGW, we will be training individuals facing high barriers to employment to become our fleet of farmers to operate and manage OurFarm’s future projects in the DC area and beyond, as well as help them find employment in the rapidly growing controlled-environment agriculture and related industries. 

What makes you excited about this project?

I believe we can feed people and their curiosity, which feels so essential and beautiful to me. I am most excited to see people from the community engage with the container farm and see what it inspires in them - whether that be a closer relationship to their food, an interest in agriculture and plants, or an innovative way to address food insecurity in their own community. One of the many keys to OurFarm’s success up to this point has been an openness to partnership. As a founder, I am also excited to partner with the entire food and nonprofit ecosystem in DC and beyond to strategically and creatively scale our impact.

Let's grow together!

We're looking for partners in the DC/MD/VA area - reach out if you'd like to explore how we might work together!

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