Still Life Projects: Building Community with Wangari Gardens


This post was originally published by Still Life Projectsa film production company in Washington, D.C. that creates “new media for social good.” Its team of award-winning filmmakers is working on a piece right now that focuses on a community garden being built in the city's Ward 5. "It's going to be a touching piece about building community," said collaborator Danielle Hill. The finished product is scheduled to be completed in the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!

Our favorite stories are about people who dream of ways to make the world a better place and rally others to get on board. When we heard about an abandoned piece of property being converted into a community garden, we wondered what the story was behind it. After finding out, we wanted to get involved.

Every morning, Josh Singer rode past a vacant piece of property on his way to work. The land sits in the middle of a food desert, Ward 5 in Washington DC. With nothing more than a dream to bring green space to the community, Josh teamed up with Sarah McLaughlin to begin hunting down a permit for the land.

That’s when the challenges began. Washington DC had no record of the land. It had no parcel number, no address and no records. According to the government, the land didn’t exist. Josh returned to the government offices 20 times but kept running into dead ends. He was determined not to give up.


After facing setbacks, doubt and being told to let it go, he eventually spoke with a man who supported his idea. They eventually learned that the land was passed down from the Veterans Home to the Children’s Hospital and that somehow the Department of Transportation currently owns it. There was now a glimmer of hope. Several forms, visits and fees later they were awarded a public space permit.

Once they received the permit, the work was just beginning at Wangari Gardens. They went door to door to see what area residents wanted in the park. Their response: community garden plots, a fruit orchard, an education circle for teaching clinics, and a rain garden. Realizing this was no small project anymore, they decided to spread the word about a community work day asking residents to volunteer a day to help build the garden from the ground up.

Not knowing whether anyone would actually show, Josh couldn’t sleep the night before the very first work day. The next morning he packed his van with lumber and drove towards the site. As he drove over the crest he spotted a sea of people, waiting to work alongside them.

Josh and Sarah were overwhelmed by the response and moreover, the needs of the community. They had planned on building just 25 plots, but at the end of the day they had 58 applications … and they couldn’t say no.

Now that the garden is almost complete, it’s time to start thinking about how to sustain what they started. Challenged by credit card debt and lacking resources, the team will use our film to start a kickstarter campaign. With the help of the community, Josh and Sarah are now also planning to build a playground and a wheelchair path through the space.

We met some wonderful people working on this project, and it continues to be a rewarding experience. Our video will be released next week. In the meantime you can reach Josh and Sarah through their blog or visit their Facebook page.

 For more images from the Wangari Gardens film, visit Still Life Projects.


Still Life Projects will be contributing a regular blog post series of best practices, case studies and commentary to our site over the coming months. Stay tuned!

If you or your organization are interested in sharing content with our readers, please contact our Creator and Curator Erica Schlaikjer: erica [at] benevolentmedia [dot] org.