On August 16, Slow Food DC and Snail of Approval winning Cultivate the City held an ice cream making demonstration in a slightly unusual location: the rooftop of a hardware store on Bladensburg Avenue! This particular rooftop has been transformed into the home base for an urban garden center and CSA that is changing how we think about growing food in dense urban areas.
Cultivate the City is the work of many people in the community, with Niraj Ray running the show and Dan Weisshaar managing the farm. Their focus is on maximizing growing potential by implementing vertical gardens and building a steadfast volunteer force rooted in existing communities. Cultivate now has 25 gardens throughout the city, a full-fledged CSA program for both produce and seedlings, and they’re always trying out new things including growing plants from the Slow Food Ark of Taste catalog.
For our H Street Farm rooftop garden tour and frozen treat session, Chef/Farmer Dan introduced us to lemon basil and melon sorbet and chocolate mint ice cream featuring herbs from their garden, of course. The delicious cantaloupe melon had been a volunteer that sprouted in the compost pile from last season! We also taste-tested papaloquelite (a common Mexican culinary herb that tastes a little like cilantro) and bitter melon (a fascinating and unusual plant that’s also full of nutritional value) along the way.
Also on the rooftop were three greenhouses and an aquaponics operation: a closed loop growing system featuring basil, tomatoes, and tilapia sharing the circulated water. (Fish fry later this fall, btw.) Niraj emphasized that some people have misconceptions about hydroponics being less flavorful than soil-grown, but this is because the hydroponic tomatoes we usually have access to have been shipped great distances. Produce that is picked at peak when fully ripe and fresh — including hydroponically grown veggies and herbs — and served immediately, locally, has absolutely the best flavor!
One of the major goals Cultivate aims for is to help people understand farming, gardening, and cooking as viable occupations. The H Street Farm aggregates produce from their 25 gardens across the city and distributes it to CSA clients, local restaurants, and locals who volunteer with them. The business also focus on working with the communities around their gardens to help locals learn to grow their own food, offering services such as a home consultation for just $100 or the option to work at the farm for discounted CSA shares and event passes.
The ice cream was tasty, the garden beautiful, and Cultivate the City is truly Good, Clean and Fair! Check out Cultivate’s upcoming volunteer opportunities and events here.