A Ride on the Green Roads Express: Reflecting on Journeys in Agriculture, Gardening and Growing Foods

August 16, 2013

Author: Neighborhood Farm Initiative

Category: General News Stories from the Garden

A few interviews in and I’m still amazed at how a total of 1 hour and 45 minutes of rich, gardening histories and experiences, over a span of 60 years or so, can open your mind to a world unlike your own and teach you more about plants and their relationship with people.

Henry Womack

In my first interview with Henry Womack, he gently takes me back 50 years to a warm, yet unfamiliar time in Northeast DC – an area I have come to know very well since I moved here. A place I have only known to attribute (most of) its hustle and bustle to McDonald’s and a number of carry-outs and restaurants, small retail shops, large chain grocery stores, and new and developing luxury condo apartments – used to be a place where families and locals could come to pick, weigh and buy vegetable and flower seeds for 5 cents.

Fannie Hamilton

In another interview, Fannie Hamilton gives me glimpses of DC in the Spring of 1976, where after putting in rows for her garden, ongoing rains caused an unknown, nearby stream to swell, therefore destroying all her rows, seedlings and plants. That incident of nature allowed the opportunity to experiment with raised beds, then eventually to an immaculate, tiered container garden laden with many herbs and vegetables – all nestled among fruit trees, near where the passing stream (which flowed from Rock Creek Park to Blair Road) is no more.

Packed with so much history and information, gardening facts, tips, and demographic scenes of how this city once was, these interviews afforded me a ticket on what I would call “Green Roads Express” – a personalized, agricultural history ride back in time. So far, after each ride I’ve learned that as time changed, the land changed… and so did the food. I saw how heirloom seeds gave way to hybrid seeds. How life-flowing waters dried up and gave way to streets and homes with manicured lawns. How eating from home and community gardens gave way to processed and canned foods, which became a form of status. However, by the end of these verbal travels, I realized these “special kind of people” (gardeners) continued to keep their connections with plants and growing food alive. They’ve still held a constant connection to nature even in inconstant circumstances of change. Their memories still hold insights of sustainable ways of living – ways that the world is again recognizing.

Reflecting on these first interviews, I’ve captured a number of gardening experiences and memories that reach all across the globe and stop here – in my own back yard. These diverse recounts and knowledge have ultimately helped sketch the large picture of DC’s Gardening History – a gardening history as diverse as the people that inhabit it. All in all, it’s been a knowledgeable and surprisingly exciting ride to take with such gracious gardeners. Through these interviews (and the future ones), I hope to receive more insight to this place I call home and about the helpers and friends we call plants. It has already proven to be a worthwhile discovery!

Until We Meet On the Next Green Road,

Mia Hawkins

Oral History Project Interviewer

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