A stretch of roadside along Branch Avenue, once covered with concrete, will soon be filled with fruits and vegetables for its community members to share.
Managed by this university’s Maryland Small Business Development Center, the Branch Avenue in Bloom project will create an urban garden where community members can grow their own plants and food. The project will beautify the area between the Naylor Road Metro station and the St. Barnabas Road commercial corridor in Prince George’s County near southeast Washington. It will also implement a farmers market to provide affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables and allow people to sell the food they grow.
The small business center gave the garden $45,154 in funding as part of the Green Streets, Green Jobs, Green Towns Initiative — a collaboration of the Environmental Protection Agency, the state Natural Resources Department and the Chesapeake Bay Trust — with the goal of improving the Branch Avenue area, parts of which are classified as a food desert.
”This is a great chance to take something unsightly, something that hasn’t been paid attention to in decades, and to transform it into a functional piece of property that serves many purposes,” said Jennifer Funn, the project director and program coordinator for the small business center. “Allowing the community to have affordable … fresh produce, as well as addressing the stormwater runoff … to keep those pollutants from running to the watershed.”
Funn has worked for nearly four years on the project, which started when she approached Prince George’s County Councilwoman Karen R. Toles, a university alumna, regarding the issue. Funn told her about the section of Branch Avenue that was unsightly and in need of fresh produce, prompting Toles to support the initiative and spread the message.
Toles said she will continue to support the project because she believes it can bring people in the community together and promote healthy eating among citizens through the availability of more organic foods.
“There is a great chance this will be sustained,” Toles said. “I believe in it, and it’s the right thing to do for the health of the community.”
Also involved with the project is Kelley Oklesson, a 2010 university alumna and program manager for the Neighborhood Design Center, which is part of the Branch Avenue project.
“They came to us with the vision of taking this vacant, dead-end street … and turning it into an active and productive community space,” Oklesson said. “At the time, the dead-end road was attracting garbage. People were dumping on sight, people were also changing their oil … so it was quite an eyesore.”
Funn also encourages anyone interested to volunteer, she said. So far, the project team has created designs and plans for the garden and removed concrete to reveal the soil. There is not yet a projected date for the garden’s completion.
“This is a wonderful opportunity that shows how the Prince George’s County community … can come together with a common goal that’s really beneficial for everyone,” Funn said.