Reasons to Be Thankful, From Soup to Nats

By Marc Fisher
Thursday, November 24, 2005

In this annual column of thanks, we'll visit farms, hit the bar, check out some inspired kids, challenge the powers that be and dare to dream of spring.

On a day redolent of turkey, yams and grandma's sweater, let's start where food begins. In Upper Marlboro in Prince George's County, where development is swiftly displacing agriculture, Clagett Farm survives as a direct connection between grower and consumer. With support from the Capital Area Food Bank and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the farm grows more than 45 kinds of vegetables and distributes them to low-income communities and to paying customers. Buying a share in the farm gets you weekly deliveries of stuff you can't find at the supermarket and helps bring fresh produce to the District's Ward 8, where there's been no supermarket since 1998, when Safeway folded its tent ( http://www.clagettfarm.org ).

The only options in Ward 8 are corner shops, where milk can run $4 and a few staples are locked behind bulletproof glass, or the Anacostia Farmers Market , which offers produce from Clagett at fair prices.

Thanks also to another farm, in Woodstock in the Shenandoah Valley, where Bob Blair's Volunteer Farm grows food for struggling families in 25 counties across northern Virginia. Two thousand volunteers, many from the Washington area, work the land on behalf of 450 pantries and soup kitchens. As the expanding project finishes its second year, Blair could use a large tractor and a pickup truck ( http://www.volunteerfarm.org ).

Thanks to Chad Anthony and Sam Hampton , who transformed a former liquor store and open-air drug market into the Capitol Hill Computer Corner , where single-beer sales and late-night shootings have been replaced by young people teaching computer skills to old folks and kids alike. Knocking on doors one night with Lauren Newell , who checks in on Capitol Hill teens involved in Operation Explosion, an evangelical recreation program, I met kids whose great pride in life is their role as instructors at Computer Corner.

Thanks to residents Todd Cymrot and Suzanne Wells and 15 Capitol Hill families who opened their homes for fundraising dinner parties this month in support of the School Libraries Project . If the D.C. public libraries are an embarrassment, those inside the city's schools are, by and large, a crime. Since the school system isn't about to do anything, neighbors and parents have jumped in, joined by local architects who are designing remakes of insultingly inadequate libraries in eight D.C. public schools.

It was at a school library in Rockville that I first saw Richard Montgomery High School's Rocket Corps in action -- a dynamic collection of kids from every background who, thanks to corps creator Julie Good , have proven that students achieve more themselves when they help other kids with their studies. Each year, Good attracts kids who want to learn how to be teachers, trains them and puts them to work tutoring struggling middle school students. The result is inspiring at every level.

Schools are fertile ground for military recruiters these days, and though some families welcome the military as an option for their children, many parents worry about their kids being pressured by the armed forces and would rather make that sort of decision in their homes. Those parents should thank Pat Elder , a parent at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, who has led a campaign to get the Montgomery schools to make it easier for parents to withhold their children's information from recruiters.

Thanks this year to three men who have enlivened the city by creating new gathering places: Anthony Lanier 's Cady's Alley in Georgetown -- notably including his Viennese cafe -- has become an alluring hangout with a clean European design, while Mike Benson 's Cafe Saint-Ex and Bar Pilar have boosted the comeback of 14th Street NW. And along H Street NE, Joe Englert 's string of bars and eateries is almost single-handedly extending the city's boom to a strip where even cops didn't like to get out of their cars a few years ago.

Finally, thanks to Ed Walker , one of Washington's legendary voices, who has returned to WAMU's Sunday night "Big Broadcast" after back surgery, and to our Nats , who, dare I say it, will be back home in just 18 weeks. But who's counting?

"Potomac Confidential," awash in pumpkin pie today, returns next week.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company