The Anacostia Community Museums Garden Programs

The Garden Spot


The Museum at the top of the Hill
The Anacostia Community Museum (ACM) is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As a part of the celebration and in collaboration with the urban waterways research and education initiative at the museum, the ACM has sponsored two vibrant and rich programs focused on the urban gardening experience.

According to research specialist Katrina Lashley, “As the first federally funded community museum, the museum’s work has always been guided by the precept that museums should be reflections of the communities they serve – active spaces in which residents see themselves reflected in exhibitions and programming which, while celebrating the accomplishments of the past, honestly explore the roots and realities of their present.” She adds, “Going a step further, museums should provide tools and resources with which residents are empowered to address issues relevant to their daily concerns and take steps to ensure the development of healthy, viable communities.”

Lashley cites ACM’s community garden and its parallel school initiative, “A Year in the Garden,” as reflections of the museum’s commitment to community engagement and empowerment and the exploration of the many issues at play in the creation of healthy communities.

And so, a seed has been planted in Anacostia, and a garden has started to grow.

The Urban Garden Movement
The urban garden movement is nothing new. Many great gardening minds have spent decades researching intelligent ways to get urban dwellers back to their roots. Numerous books have been written with the purpose of inspiring folks to start digging the dirt. I grew up watching “Crocket’s Victory Garden” and on many Sundays could be found out back of my family’s home digging in the dirt.

Today, with all the urban gardening noise, there are still many people who have never known the joy that comes with planting a seed, watching it grow, and having a successful harvest of homegrown vegetables.

Many urban dwellers feel that the urban environment is not conducive to planting and growing vegetables. Our urban lifestyles are not those of our ancestors, we don’t have the same environments that they enjoyed. Urban constraints such as lack of soil or of time, and an educational disconnect of how easy it is to garden, and even economics, can conspire to keep many of us away from the urban garden movement. We choose to continue to live in a world where growing our food is never considered an option, or worse, considered something out of our realm of reality. We choose to be non-gardeners.

This departure from the land is due in large part to our disbelief in gardening as a sustainable way to make a difference in our own lives. But gardens can change a community and many lives therein, one seed at a time.

A Garden Grows in Anacostia
Wards 7 and 8 have been designated food deserts. The interesting thing about this designation is that it is a very preventable diagnosis. Due to lack of nutritional foods in the community and an overall absence of healthy eateries and nutritional choices, the residents live in a challenging, downward spiral where eating healthy is not the norm. Residents may have to leave the area to get a healthy variety of foods that can enrich their diets.

The garden programs at the ACM are designed to teach and inspire residents that gardening, healthy eating, and healthy living are cohabitants and enrich each other. When the three are combined they help hydrate the food desert and in time make it diminish.

Through the gardening programs set up by the ACM, residents have a forum to enliven their communities and break the recidivism of non-healthy eating. Growing good foods does not have to be a one-off. Learning how to have a home garden is an easy process. Learning that the process of planting a seed, growing a garden, and harvesting it begets the process of nurture is a priceless joy and a positive way to join the urban garden movement for life.

The Urban Garden Bed
If you have visited a schoolyard or even a playground, you may have stumbled across one of those urban garden boxes. They have been springing up like, well, weeds in many of our urban settings. The ACM has designed five unique garden beds on its grounds and has been hosting a series of garden programs this fall.

Participants have learned how to construct an urban garden bed. The second workshop focused on the proper planting of a raised garden bed. Participants have learned important skills associated with the care of an urban garden. During the final workshop, participants will learn the importance of the harvest by participating in the harvest festival on Nov. 18, at 10:30 a.m.

The Programs
These programs were the brainchild of the ACM’s staff, which holds the museum’s mission near and dear to everything they do. They have been a great success. Where we must get behind them is in the spaces in between. The time between each program is the time that makes the next program a success. What tends to be the shortcoming of these urban garden programs is the lack of consistent management. We must, as stewards of the urban garden movement, become committed to adopting these urban oases and start taking the time to weed, prune, nourish, and water these vessels for our growth.

For upcoming gardening programs please contact the Anacostia Community Museum at

Someone once penned a phrase that several decades ago adorned a rock in a garden I once had the honor of taking care of: “An hour spent in the garden puts life’s problems into perspective.” In my involvement with this program and school initiative I have been able to relive my childhood Sunday gardening adventures, while trying to remember that “Each one must teach one.”


Derek “The Garden Guy” Thomas has been nationally recognized for his garden design work. He is committed to the urban waterways movement by teaching and lecturing on the importance of protecting and preserving the waterways of DC and beyond. He plants a garden every year. He runs Thomas Landscapes LLC. His garden segments can be seen on his company’s YouTube channel. He can be contacted at or @thomasgardenguy on Twitter.