Future community farm in Woodlawn to benefit underserved families, military

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Arcadia's community farm manager Casandra Lawson stands on the gravel pad where the future barn will be installed.

The Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture is preparing to launch a community farm this spring that will provide free growing space for low-income and military-connected individuals and families around the Richmond Highway Corridor. The farm, designed to enable underserved communities to grow their own fresh produce, was made possible by a three-year Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production grant Arcadia received last year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Arcadia’s new community farm manager, Casandra Lawson, said the two-acre farm — located next to the plots used by Arcadia’s veteran farmers at Dogue Farm — will feature a 24’ x 35’ barn, a well, electricity and four quadrants of land that will be activated in phases.

Arcadia’s first priorities will be ordering and installing the barn, setting up an adjacent demo area and installing 44 raised beds in the southeast quadrant. Arcadia hopes to have the beds — which are being built by carpentry students from the Workforce Innovation Skills Hub and a local high school — ready to go by late April, so community members can kick off the planting season.

Depictions of the future barn and greenhouse, as well as the farm's location (Credit: Arcadia)

The reason Arcadia is using raised beds, said Lawson, is because the earth contains a lot of gravel. The ground is also unlevel in many places, making it challenging to traverse, so Arcadia is evaluating solutions for that. They also plan to install wide walkways and elevated beds for people with mobility challenges.

Those qualifying as growers include residents of low income, low food access or disadvantaged neighborhoods in the 22306, 22309, 22060 and 22079 zip codes. Participation is also open to military service members, veterans, caregivers and other military-connected people around Fort Belvoir. According to Lawson, local nonprofit organizations like United Community and county government offices are helping identify potential candidates for the program.

By May, Arcadia hopes to start educational programming and to debut two 100-foot communal beds in the northeast quadrant for growing space-intensive crops like corn, melons and potatoes. The objective is for growers to plant fruit and vegetables that are native to their cultures, said Lawson. Growers will have access to seedlings, supplies, tools and carts, as well as weekly shuttle bus service to and from community centers.

Next year, Arcadia plans to add an entrepreneurial element to the farm, enabling community members to market their produce.

Watercolor layout of Arcadia's community farm (Credit: Arcadia)

Another 44 raised beds will be added to the northwest quadrant of the farm between fall 2024 and March 2025. Arcadia is still figuring out how to best use the southwest quadrant, which potentially could become a children’s garden, rain garden or sensory garden, among other options to be discussed with the community farmers. A greenhouse is also in the works, and Arcadia plans to develop a small orchard and pollinator gardens parallel to Richmond Highway.

For now, anyone from the target communities who would like a garden bed can fill out a form showing their interest. Respondents will be notified when garden registration opens.

The broader community is encouraged to become involved by sharing information about this opportunity and by participating in future open volunteer days. Arcadia also anticipates holding a community event in late May.

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