Arcadia completes new hoop house at Dogue Farm


Arcadia's hoop house as viewed from Richmond Highway in Alexandria

The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture has finished construction of its new hoop house, which it acquired with a U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reimbursable grant awarded last year.

The hoop house, which differs from a greenhouse due to its flexible exterior, passive solar heating and in-ground planting — is around 5,000 square feet in size and is situated on Dogue Farm, close to where Richmond Highway meets Mount Vernon Memorial Highway. On March 20, the structure will be assessed by officials from USDA; if it meets certain criteria, the USDA will compensate Arcadia for its purchase.

According to Pam Hess, executive director at Arcadia, the hoop house will help extend the farm's growing season and protect the crops grown by participants in Arcadia's Veteran Farm Fellowship program from insects, birds and the harsh effects of climate change, like hail. Dogue Farm is situated on low-lying land that tends to pool with water during downpours, so the farmers-in-training will learn how to grow delicate crops like tomatoes and berries within the structure. The crops will get regular doses of water from irrigation lines that Arcadia plans to install.

Laying down tarp in the hoop house (Credit: Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture)

The growing season will officially kick off this weekend at Arcadia with the return of open volunteer days at Hilltop Farm, located on the grounds of Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House
at 9000 Richmond Highway. Community members who are interested in learning about sustainable agriculture can work alongside Arcadia staff and farmers on property that George Washington once owned.

Arcadia has one additional milestone to celebrate this week — Hess’s tenth anniversary as executive director. Upon her arrival in 2003, Arcadia had five full-time staff members, a one-half acre growing space at Hilltop Farm and one mobile market with $66,000 in annual sales. In the past decade the organization has added a second farm, started the Veteran Farmer Program, doubled its full-time staff and added 30+ part-time/seasonal employees, cultivated nine school and community gardens around the Richmond Highway corridor, and expanded to two mobile markets with cumulative sales and distribution of nearly $2 million, according to an Arcadia news update.

Plants growing at Dogue Farm (Credit: Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture)

Hess’s accomplishments have not been lost on her colleagues, including leaders at Woodlawn.

“I came to Woodlawn & Pope-Leighey House in the fall of 2021 partially because of Arcadia’s amazing work under Pam’s leadership,” said Shawn Halifax, executive director at Woodlawn. “I’ve worked and consulted at dozens of historic plantations, and none repurposed fields once worked by enslaved people in ways appropriate for their history. Not only is Arcadia’s work appropriate, it contributes to repairing the societal damage caused by slavery in the local community, which has become part of Woodlawn’s purpose.”

For her part, Hess, a former journalist, considers her role at Arcadia the “greatest job” she’s ever had.

“It's a privilege to wake up every morning to figure out how we are going to make sure everyone in the region has easy, affordable access to good food, and that farmers are paid appropriately, and the soil is cared for, and so are the wild things and people who live here,” wrote Hess.

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