District Groups Unite to Create an Urban Forest

There was a role for everyone at the Farm at Kelly Miller tree planting. Photo: Kat Riascos

On Sept. 22, the DC nonprofit Dreaming Out Loud joined forces with Casey Trees and the District Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to undertake a large tree-planting event at the Kelly Miller urban farm in the Benning Heights neighborhood of Ward 7.

How did these three diverse organizations come together to create a small urban forest?

Dreaming Out Loud was founded in 2008 with a mission to create economic opportunities for the DC metro region’s marginalized communities by building a healthy, equitable food system. It works with the newly established Farm at Kelly Miller, located adjacent to the Kelly Miller school, in collaboration with DPR.

Casey Trees was established in 2002 with a commitment to restoring, enhancing and protecting the tree canopy of the nation’s capital. Its Community Tree Planting program provides trees to local organizations.

Dreaming Out Loud applied for a Casey Trees grant, and the three organizations – Dreaming Out Loud, DPR, and Casey Trees, worked together to organize the tree planting and secure volunteers to help with the work.

Violet King, manager of the Farm at Kelly Miller, led the tree-planting effort of behalf of Dreaming Out Loud. She notes, “The Kelly Miller tree planting was originally designed to include fruit trees and a windbreak and provide some shade for the farm’s youth garden run by our partners at City Blossoms. After meeting with representatives from Casey Trees, we realized that shade trees could be added to the property surrounding the farm. In the end, we planted over 80 trees in the farm area.”

The trees planted include apple, peach, pear, persimmon, pawpaw, serviceberry and gingko. The fruit trees should begin bearing fruit in three to four years. It will take a few more years for the trees to begin to provide the windbreak and shade.

Brendan Durkin, an urban forester at Casey Trees, loves this sort of community outreach work. “The Kelly Miller tree-planting event was fun as it provided an opportunity for all different types of people to come together and plant trees, beautify the farm space. Everyone had a good time and worked hard. The kids in particular had a great time planting trees and plants, painting signs, dancing and playing and enjoying the beautiful day. We at Casey Trees thoroughly enjoyed collaborating with DPR and Dreaming Out Loud on this project!”

DPR is thrilled to see the evolution of the Kelly Miller farm. Says Josh Singer, DPR community garden specialist, “The Kelly Miller farm is part of the DPR Partner Urban Farm program whereby nonprofits can access DPR land to manage education and production farms to benefit the surrounding community. What makes Kelly Miller farm so unique is its multi-partner approach to increase its capacity and accountability to the community. The lead site partner is Dreaming Out Loud, who organizes and manages many programs, including the production farm, entrepreneurship trainings, returning citizen programs and the market programs. But there are also multiple other partners that work cooperatively under mutually developed bylaws to offer youth, school, senior and compost programs. Some of the compost programs in the works range from becoming a part of the DPR Community Compost Cooperative Network to building higher capacity compost systems that could potentially manage organic waste from larger institutions such as the nearby school. Meanwhile, the trees we planted at the farm will help improve the farm’s productivity and create another welcoming urban garden space here in DC.”

Through the tree-planting process, King has become a huge advocate for Casey Trees’ work and trees. “Casey Trees is a great organization to partner with if you are working with a community garden or urban farm that is looking to incorporate trees. And, planting trees in DC is so important as more and more buildings go up. Trees provide beauty, shade, habitat and oxygen for us. They’re a vital part of our ecosystem, and it’s a wonderful experience for people to learn how to plant and care for them.”

Dreaming Out Loud is committed to the Kelly Miller farm, and partnerships play a key role in the farm’s success and work with other local nonprofits, including DC Central Kitchen, City Blossoms, Compost Cab, Beet Street Gardens and FoodCorps, to engage the local community through free programming that will cover everything from gardening, food preservation and composting to nutrition, cooking, carpentry and entrepreneurship. It’s a model urban garden that provides skill-building and food in the heart of DC.


Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, a writer and a blogger for the DC Recycler: www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler. She is also a board member and the conservation chair of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club, but the perspectives expressed here are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.