The Washington Post

Steal This Job: Soil in the City

An urban farmer uses outreach and education to plant the seeds of community

Adalja was working in mental health when she started a rooftop farming program, which led her to urban farmwork.

Anita Adalja, 29

Title: Urban grower for Common Good City Farm

Salary: $30,000-$40,000

What She Does: Adalja helps plant and harvest the 5,000 pounds of organic crops grown each year at Common Good’s half-acre urban farm just south of Howard University — tomatoes in the spring, okra in the summer and kale in the winter. She also teaches workshops to low-income D.C. residents and students about growing and harvesting their own food and about nutrition, composting and pest control.

Who Would Want This Job?: “The big thing to know about urban farming is that it’s so different from rural farming,” Adalja says. Farming in an urban area­ — often in underused spaces like rooftops or abandoned lots — is about more than just growing crops. “Because you’re in the city, you can’t just be out in the field planting, pruning tomatoes.” Becoming part of the community is crucial. “If you’re interested in growing, period, maybe be a rural farmer,” she says. “If you’re interested in working with people from all different backgrounds, urban farming is fantastic.”

How She Got the Job: Adalja has a background in mental health with a master’s degree in clinical psychology. While working with mentally ill adults at a supported housing facility in New York City, she started a rooftop farming program, learning by trial and error. After realizing that she wanted to combine social work, activism and farming, she knew she needed to hone her growing skills, so she attended an eight-month apprenticeship in ecological horticulture at the University of California, Santa Cruz’s Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems. Then she landed the job at Common Good.

How You Can Get This Job: For those interested in urban farming, Adalja recommends doing an apprenticeship at a rural farm for a growing season, usually from March through November, to get practical experience in farming on a larger scale. Many farms in Northern Virginia offer seasonal farming apprenticeships, often with pay and housing, she says. She recommends searching for farms on and asking farmers about internships. There are also local opportunities to learn hands-on urban agriculture. Common Good, which planted its first seeds in 2007, hosts interns, and Adalja recommends the Master Gardener program at the University of the District of Columbia and urban farming training programs at ECO City Farms in Edmonston, Md. and the Accokeek Foundation in Accokeek, Md.



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