Category Archives: Blog

From food sovereignty to crowned berries: Lessons from Rooting DC

Rooting DC program with seed packets

Rooting DC is an annual urban gardening conference held in a big, light-filled high school in Northwest Washington. The day-long event always leaves me awash with information and floating on good urban ag vibes. The 2018 conference, held on March 3, was no different. Here are a few lessons I learned in and out of workshops.

From “Garden Maintenance A-Z”

Presenter: Josh Singer

Epsom salts aren’t just for soaking feet. You can use the salts (aka magnesium sulfate) to reduce transplant shock. When you plant your seedlings in your garden, dissolve a few tablespoons of epsom salts in water and use that to water them in.

Burlap sacks are a great growing container for potatoes. Washingtonians can pick up free sacks at Compass Coffee’s  Roastery on 7th Street. Start with potatoes (ideally seed potatoes) with sprouted eyes, planting them in a few inches of soil. Add soil to cover part of the plants as they grow. This will encourage the potato plant to send down more roots, which will grow more taters. Just remember to water the bags well, Singer reminded us. The soil can dry out quickly. You can also use a bin with drainage.  NOTE: Sweet potatoes are a different story.
I’m not a weirdo for pruning my tomato plants. Yes, you should prune indeterminate varieties. A good rule of thumb, Singer said, is to snip any offshoots growing below the flowering part of the plant.

Same goes for anything growing in the armpit between the plant and an offshoot/branch. My way of thinking about it: Like trees, tomato plants develop sucker branches that take energy but don’t produce flowers or fruit. So prune away!

From “Discovering DC Food History”
Presenter: Dominique Hazzard

Hazzard is finding and documenting a crucial part of DC food history with her project Food Sovereignty in Black Washington, D.C.: 1950-2017. It is a collection of oral histories full of jewels. Here are a few points that stuck with me from the hour-long presentation by Hazzard and a panel of her interviewees.

A few decades ago, co-op grocery stores flourished in DC, especially in Wards 7 and 8. These were markets owned and operated by community members.

Dennis Chestnut, one of my personal heroes in community-building and urban agriculture, is among Hazzard’s informants. A clip of Chestnut’s oral history painted a mid-century Washington landscape where almost every yard had a fruit tree and a home garden.

One of the co-ops (I believe it was the one at Shepherd Street) had a grain mill on site. This definitely warrants its own item on this list. From writing about small-scale grain supplies here and there, I’ve learned that mills are the elusive final piece of the puzzle for local sourcing and processing.

Interviewee Boe Luther Umar, co-owner of Hustlaz 2 Harvesters, had words of advice on engaging kids in growing food. First off, know words that will resonate with them. “If you say ‘agriculture,’ they don’t know what you’re talking about,” Luther explained during the panel. “If you say ‘farming,’ they know it.” And then, of course, give the young helpers something to bite into. A mouthful of tomato or carrot, fresh from the garden, can make it all click.

Rooting DC fair

From the fair


One of the booths at the bustling fair in the sunny atrium was about Bloom soil conditioner.  Bloom is a compost-like product made by DC Water (yes, the utility that treats our waste water, including the stuff formally called “biosolids”). A handful of Bloom feels like a light, crumbly soil and smells like practically nothing. You can buy enough to fill a flatbed for cheaper than a bag of retail mulch.

DC youth rock, part I: With Mighty Greens, students use products of their school gardens to make tea, salve, flavored salts, and other good stuff.

DC youth rock, part II: High school students took on college-level research on food issues and will present it at the Food Justice Youth Summit

From “Urban Foraging: There is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch!”
Presenter: April Thompson


In this workshop, I learned two general lessons: 1) The weeds and wild berries I eat from my garden and along the side of the road are, indeed, legitimate food sources, and 2) The names I’ve assigned those foraged goodies are totally wrong. For example, what I call  “lemon clover” is actually known as wood sorrel or sour grass. It’s in the oxalis (shamrock) family. The “onion grass” I’ve sautéed into soups and scrambled eggs since I was a teen is really wild garlic. Both are delicious, though, and I encourage you to try them.


I was right about the name for Juneberries (which I also know as mission berries. The Internet has yet to catch up with me on that one). I identify them by their bush-like trees planted in public landscapes and their red-purple berries. The berries have a crown, like a blueberry. What was new to me: According to Thompson, a crown indicates that a berry is safe to eat. You should still double check with an experienced forager before you go eating any random berries, though.


On another note, if you want to grow an edible and prolific berry, leave the finicky blueberries to the experts (like Mother Nature, who grows them beautifully in the mountains… or the people who run Frog Eye Farm). It takes much less fuss to grow gooseberries or forage for the aforementioned Juneberries.


This note leads me to my final piece of advice, which I found woven throughout the conference.

The piece of advice is: Instead of trying to beat ’em, join ’em! In other words, spend your energy finding crops that grow well in your climate and in your soil. You may love the idea of fresh ginger from your back yard or a coffee plant on your porch, but are they worth it? With half the work, you can grow bushels of basil, tomatoes, okra, and squash. And yes—gooseberries, too.

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Winter growth at the Leichtag Foundation

leafy low tree with single red pomegranate

A pomegranate lasts into January in Leichtag’s food forest

In January, I grabbed the chance to visit the Leichtag Foundation — and, as it turned out, munch the most delectable fruit I’ve had all year.

The window of time was small. It was early 2018, and my husband and I were ending a honeymoon/family visit to the West Coast. The next day, we would fly the 2,700 miles back to our work and lives in Washington, DC. Continue reading

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A Year of Meditation

screen shot of meditation tracker statistics

The stats from Insight Meditation Timer give a little motivation.

This past year, I’ve meditated every day. First thing in the morning, for 5 to 16 minutes, I sit with hands on knees. I breathe.

I’m sure that meditation and mindfulness top many lists of resolutions for 2018. So I figured for my last post of the year, I would share a little of my journey.

This turned out to be a good year for grounding in meditation. I had barely turned the first page of the 2017 calendar when I closed on my first home. I was a homeowner! Two days later, my boyfriend David proposed. Seven months after that, we got married. Now we’re celebrating our first holiday season as partners.

Somewhere in there, we both moved into the new place, David planned a wedding and found a new job, and I hurtled through a demanding semester.

What I learned

Something I read over and over is to come back to the breath. Another one is to erase the word “wrong” from your meditation vocabulary. You may struggle, you may notice things, you may learn. But there’s no wrong way to meditate.

A natural addition to that last rule: Don’t beat yourself up. Truth be told, I missed a handful of days. I would get on a roll with 20, 30, or 90 days straight and then I would miss one. I had to let go of the string and pick up a new one.

For newbies or intermediates, try this rich, practical source of guidance: FAQs from teacher Tara Brach.

Websites and apps

Here are a few I tried and liked. – Website of teacher Tara Brach. She is the first source I used for my early guided meditations (sessions with a voice and/or music guiding you through a meditation). The website offers guided meditations, mindfulness resources, a calendar of events (most in the DC area), and more. Free. Donations encouraged.

Insight Timer – This is what I used to track how long I had meditated and geek out on stats. App with guided meditations, adjustable timer that tracks your meditation data, and discussion groups. Free. Donations encouraged.

Headspace – A friend recommended this and I went through two of its programs. It’s an app with sets of 10- to 30-day guided meditations, plus one-off rescue sessions for anxiety, focus, and so on. Cute videos, too. First 10 days free, paid after that (currently on sale).

If you want to add “oms” to your 2018, I hope this proves helpful. If this made you think of your own journey, feel free to share by email.

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I was featured in the Washington Jewish Week

Well, I’ve had my day in the sun. This month, the Washington Jewish Week featured me in their “You Should Know…” section. I got quite a rush (and had more than a few nervous moments) at the thought of sitting on the other side of the interview table. The reporter, Hannah Monicken, put me at ease. The result is a laid-back conversation that touches on my passions for teaching and Jewish farming.

Click below to check it out:

Photo by Hannah Monicken, taken in the Gallaudet garden!

“You Should Know … Rhea Kennedy,” Washington Jewish Week

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What I’m Consuming: Women on Screen, Part II

Continuing on from Part I, I give you:

Good Girls Revolt

In the Amazon series Good Girls Revolt, it’s 1969 and News of the Week only runs bylines with men’s names. The media is all about guys like Doug and Randy and Sam. This show, though, is all about Patti and Cindy and Jane. I watched the ten-episode Season 1 soon after it came out last fall, and I’m still thinking about it.

The three main characters work at News of the Week — a fictitious magazine — as researchers and a caption writer, each supporting a man. Patti is a striver whose passion for news wins over her personal life every time. Cindy writes photo captions and feels more at home in the newsroom than at home with her law student husband. Jane was the editor-in-chief of her college newspaper, but now bows to the editorial control of male editors.

The story line clings to those three, but others make welcome appearances along the way. The first cameo is Nora Ephron, who pops up in Episode 1, faces sexism, and … well, I won’t spoil it. Let’s say she’s about nine episodes ahead of her time.

The dialogue moves fast. Patti or Jane talk out who they need to probe, dial a source, and get the job done. They’re the Ginger Rogers of the newsroom, doing everything the men do, but behind the scenes and in huge hair.

Does this sound like a ladies’-view version of Mad Men? If you think so, you’re in the company of many, many reviewers.

Patti, Cindy, and Jane face their own battles and injustices, but with refreshing results: They don’t take out frustration on fellow women. When Nora joins them, Jane gamely shows her around. When Jane hits a wall getting a source to go on record for her reporter’s story, Patti steps in to nab the right interview. Next to these alliances, Don Draper’s friendships with men look downright catty.

I agree with critics who say that the atmosphere is simplified. The race relations, especially, leave me wondering. Could a white man who buys into mainstream culture dig an FBI conspiracy against the Black Panther Party? Would a black woman in an all-white, male-dominated newsroom find her biggest challenge is awkward small talk? The women are also so selfless and forgiving. Crab mentality and gender stereotypes aside, would that come easily to anyone in the competitive world of journalism?

The best part? For me, it’s the DC connection. That comes in the form of Eleanor Holmes Norton. Today, she’s a congressional delegate for DC in her third or fourth decade as a DC statehood crusader and law professor. In 1969, she’s a self-possessed attorney with the ACLU. It is the Norton character who looks into the researchers’ wide eyes and tells them they have a case.

Occasional complications and nuances help move the story along. Patty is a complicated soul, as she grapples with her obsession with getting the story and advocating for herself. She also shows tender feelings for her reporter lover boy while resisting commitment. The male characters are also well-developed. Aside from the chorus of horn dogs and misogynists, several show the pull between the waning ways of the 1950s and the social justice groundswell of the ’60s and ’70s. In another notable twist, the feared and revered publisher happens to be a woman named Bea. She shows up one day to treat the male cadre of reporters and editors to a three-martini lunch. Bea’s appearance shows that gals can be both powerful and sexist.

I haven’t come across a parallel of Erin Ramsey’s essay urging people to see Good Girls. I will give my own endorsement, though. Give the show a chance — especially if you’re a writer, journalist, or witness to injustice.

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Publication: Abundant Grace

Abundant Grace book cover

I’m honored and thrilled to see my short story, “Digging to Switzerland,” in print. It appears in the anthology Abundant Grace: Fiction by DC Area Women (Paycock Press), edited by Richard Peabody.


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NaNoWriMo 2016

A hand holds a pen with ribbon tied to it over a notebook

Ah, November.  A blank page on which to write.

Today marks one week into National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short). This year, I’ve made a commitment to the scribbling craft. The pledge? To write every day.

The force rolling me along is four fellow writers (a.k.a. The Furious 5). Each day, we email the group to report on how much time we’ve written, and sometimes what we worked on. Despite the “novel” aspect of NaNoWriMo, our group sets no requirements for genre. Among our quintet, we’ve already covered fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Timing is also flexible. As one member put it, you can write for “5 minutes or 5 hours.”

If this November is even a fraction as productive as last year, I’ll consider it a success.

What writing commitment could you make for 30 days?

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