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The Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum works to create constantly innovative programming to support the Ward 7 and 8 communities it has served since its 1967 founding. This Saturday, April 22, the museum will continue this mission with the launch of its new Center for Environmental Justice.
Along with the CEJ, the museum has partnered with FRESHFARM, a nonprofit focused on building a sustainable and equitable food future in D.C. through the farmers markets it runs across the city. Together with the museum, FRESHFARM will launch a direct-to-consumer farm stand in Ward 8, where it will be the first of its kind in the ward, according to a press release. The museum will launch the two inaugural enterprises during its Earth Day celebration this weekend.
The museum’s catalog of projects includes exhibits, public programming, and preservation initiatives, each unique in scope and subject: from the rise of Black churches to reggae music and African American inventors. Within its collection, museum director Melanie Adams tells City Paper that ACM has consistently sought to focus on the environment and its intersection with human life. One of the first exhibits the museum displayed was The Rat: Man’s Invited Affliction, which covered the significance of rodents and the risks they pose to urban communities—an issue that still plagues D.C. today. More recently, in 2018, the museum launched its Women’s Environmental Leadership project, which spotlights women of color leaders in environmental justice and recognizes their accomplishments.
The museum’s more than 50 years of environmentalism have led to the creation of the new Center for Environmental Justice, Adams says, as a way for ACM to continue its advancements in the field of environmental justice. Addressing the effects of climate change, Adams says, is a holistic effort, and the CEJ will work to create pathways for community-based environmental action.
The Center will function as a research hub, but with a greater focus on open, public engagement. It will house informational exhibits that position scientific data in approachable contexts. To ensure community involvement, the Center says in its press release, staff will organize symposiums, panels, fellowships, and an Environmental Justice Academy for young residents to get involved in the museum’s efforts to combat systemic environmental injustice. More information on specific events and exhibits will be announced in the coming months.
“It’s been a long time coming. Our focus on the environment is becoming more and more important,” Adams explains, referencing the current state of human-made climate change. “The museum’s new center ties into [the concept of] life on a sustainable planet and the larger strategic initiative of collecting data on our changing planet.”
The Anacostia Community Museum was founded as a tool to serve and connect with the Black communities in Wards 7 and 8. Adams says one of the best ways to do so is by prioritizing environmental initiatives. Today, she says, “there are so many pressing issues at hand, but what you have to think about is that the environment impacts all of them.” In a city, “people often think they have to leave their neighborhood to get to the ‘environment,’” but, Adams says, “stepping out their front door is engaging with the environment.”
A recent symptom of the critical environmental state, Adams says, was evidenced by the pandemic. Communities with large populations of people with underlying health conditions, due to issues such as poor air quality or a lack of clean drinking water, suffered from more severe bouts of COVID. The museum wants to ensure the communities it serves have a clear understanding of the environment and where it intersects with day-to-day life.
The pandemic also solidified the need to address issues of food security in the community, with the number of District residents suffering from food insecurity rising more than 50 percent in 2020. In response, ACM partnered with D.C.’s Feed the Fridge to install a refrigerator on-site, stocked with free meals for local residents to come and collect as needed. The museum also ran the exhibit Food for the People: Eating and Activism in Greater Washington from spring 2021 to fall 2022, which worked to educate the public on food inequalities in the city. The new FRESHFARM farmers market is the museum’s latest project in this mission, and a collaboration that has been in the works since before COVID.
“How can people be excited about the environment if they’re hungry?” asks Adams.
FRESHFARM Executive Director Hugo Mogollon says the organization has been working in Ward 8 for many years, but this will be their first direct-to-consumer project. Currently, only one vendor, Barajas Produce, will be stationed at the new stand. Barajas, he says, is a small family farm with a good social justice commitment—an important factor when the museum and FRESHFARM were deciding who to bring into the project.
“To operate a farm stand you need the trust and understanding of the community,” Mogollon tells City Paper. He explains the thought that went into developing the project in Ward 8, a historically underinvested space. According to Mogollon, “There’s a history of these communities being promised things and then people not delivering on those promises.” When preparing to launch FRESHFARM’s new stand, he knew it would be important to see the market as a partnership with the neighborhood, and Barajas was the vendor he believed would match this approach, and FRESHFARM’s commitment to the community.
“They always bring the best food they have and when people come and ask questions, Barajas is really eager to help and engage,” he says. “We want to make sure that when we go into a new space, we’re making a long term commitment to be here. [The new stand] is a multi-year commitment that we’ll be there as a place for [residents] to get the best food, connect with the community, and use the museum’s assets. We’re not going to go away.”
The Anacostia Community Museum will open its Center for Environmental Justice on Earth Day, Saturday, April 22, the same day the inaugural FRESHFARM market launches.
Honor Earth: A Celebration of Earth Day takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 22 at the Anacostia Community Museum, 1901 Fort Pl. SE. anacostia.si.edu. Free.