More Songs About Buildings and Food


In Washington, D.C, there are 58 community gardens. I’m lucky to have one of the 1,800 plots available. The National Cathedral is visible from my plot.

More songs about buildings and food is what my husband says to me periodically when some new agriculture + urban design discovery brightens my day. Finding ornamental kale planted on the streets of Washington, D.C., is enough to put a spring in my step. (If that’s not nerdy or goofy enough, how about a tour of my wee community garden plot and the best pizza in DC for the first person who knows that pop culture reference?)

I’m an urban planner and for the last four years, I’ve consulted on a range of food and agriculture projects in metro Washington, D.C. I’m currently consulting with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG), a voluntary membership association of 22 local governments working together to ensure a well-maintained regional transportation system, safe and healthy communities, a vibrant economy, and clean air, water, and land.

lsmith-1On the Virginia side, COG’s members include 9 jurisdictions in Northern VA, such as Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties. Together with the District of Columbia and some of the largest jurisdictions in Maryland, about 5 million people call the region home.

In metro DC, we’ve got it all: urban, peri-urban, and rural agriculture. I could not be more thrilled about the ballooning interest I’m seeing in local food. My hope is that the more people inside the Beltway become excited about gardening and urban farming, the more curious (and supportive) they’ll become about farms and producers in our rural communities in VA, MD, and beyond.

I grew up in southwest Michigan in an old farmhouse on a hobby farm. While that childhood experience did not translate into lasting farming skills, it is one reason that my personal passion and professional interest in food and agriculture has been growing since my mid-twenties. Most of what I’ve learned about agriculture has been through working as an urban planner in rural communities, farm visits (mostly in the U.S.), some classes, sustainable agriculture conferences, and a lot of reading.

I applied to the VALOR program to help build a deeper understanding of agricultural issues in VA, and to develop a broader and stronger network of producers interested in selling healthy food into metro DC. National data shows that the markets for local food and for organic food are growing every year. In my work, I’ve talked with a range of buyers who want these products. My job, at COG and as a part of USDA’s inaugural Food LINC cohort, is to build the connections and relationships that will result in more opportunities for regional farmers to sell their products closer to home.

I believe that our supply chains in metro DC for getting local food from farm to market are not fully developed, particularly when it comes to scale appropriate infrastructure for small and medium-sized farmers. Further, several studies from the Mid-Atlantic indicate that local food production can only satisfy the tiniest fraction of regional demand.

I’m incredibly grateful and humbled for the opportunity to join the VALOR program. With a mission to develop leaders who can effectively engage all segments of the VA agricultural community to create collaborative solutions and promote agriculture inside and outside of the industry, I’m thrilled that the program welcomes a diverse set of interests and leaders.

Certainly, so many farmers, community members, business leaders, and others in the Commonwealth continue to work to develop the market for local food. We would not be here without them. But with demand for local food continuing to grow, we need more leaders, experts, and advocates who are poised to help “move the needle” on how much we produce and consume in the region. I’m excited to see how I can use my VALOR experience to contribute to this challenge and opportunity. And I’m elated that I get to take part in this with 12 impressive and interesting new colleagues working in different ag-related industries around the Commonwealth.

My garden plot last Sunday after the VALOR III Class orientation. A great recreational past time, it’s a nice but modest supplement to shopping at the farmers market and the grocery store.


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