Kaifa Anderson-Hall has an inspiring story to tell. She is the director for the Washington Youth Garden, a forty-year old education program at the US National Arboretum. The Washington Youth Garden is a living breathing classroom for several of Washington’s urban children.
Anderson-Hall was in 5th and 6th grade at a DC public school, Charles Young Elementary, when she was first introduced to the Washington Youth Garden. Raised by a single mom in the low-income Carver Terrace apartments nearby, she says. “The Arboretum was my childhood playground. I remember harvesting the plants at the Youth Garden, and bringing home greens to cook for my aunts.”
Anderson-Hall received her college degree in social work, but in 2005 decided to enroll in a master gardener program at the University of District of Columbia. During that time, she began volunteering as an instructor at the Washington Youth Garden. She says, “That was when I fell back in love with the Arboretum.” When the Youth Garden’s program director retired, the Friends of the National Arboretum (FONA) asked Anderson-Hall to take over the reins. Since there is no federal funding for the Youth Garden, the non-profit FONA organization raises money to keep it operational.
Throughout the school year, Anderson-Hall oversees classes of 3rd and 4th graders from neighborhood schools. Teresa Harris, a teacher from Center City Public Charter on the Trinidad campus in DC, talks about her experiences teaching at Washington Youth Garden: “My students are a hands-on group. They’re not pen and paper children. This type of educational environment is critical for the lessons that come from it.” Harris laughs, “Like being able to identify veggies or learning to eat all the colors of the rainbow! Every moment here is a ‘teachable moment.’ Just when you think they aren’t learning what you’ve taught, they show up here with that knowledge.”
The curricula incorporates understanding soil science, plant identification, developing edible crops from seedlings, deterring pests, and attracting pollinators, like bees or butterflies. The kids also learn food preparation and nutrition from beekeepers and health practitioners. DC celebrity chef Carla Hall is a staunch supporter of the Washington Youth Garden and gives cooking demonstrations. One of the highlights for the students is the day they prepare veggie pizzas with homemade tomato sauce – all hand-picked from their garden at the Arboretum.
This month, students, teachers and instructors are in the throes of harvesting the garden and preparing it for the winter.
The Youth Garden has a blog that you can checkout: washingtonyouthgarden.blogpost.com.
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.