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Uprooting the neighborhood with fresh local food
Katharine Aldworth, BS 99
Founder, Beet Street Gardens, Washington, D.C.
Community gardens are common in Washington, D.C., but in less than two years and with less than $20,000 in cash, Katharine Aldworth, BS 99, has expanded the movement to include some of the district's tougher neighborhoods.
The gardens range from sunny to shady, from rambling to minuscule. One used to be a litter-strewn lot, another a large grassy yard. Now they yield crops and—more important—a palpable sense of pride, ownership, and health awareness from the nearby residents who tend the gardens. A key part of Aldworth's business model is organizing gardening clubs to teach residents to compost, cook what they grow, and keep the garden sprouting for years to come.
Aldworth estimates she has collected close to $200,000 in donations for her startup, Beet Street Gardens, coming in the form of trees and bushes, greenhouses, mulch, gardening tools, and volunteer hours. Her volunteer staff includes a half-dozen gardening experts who train local residents.
After working in the harm-reduction field, first in needle-exchange programs and then helping sex workers live healthier lives, Aldworth started volunteering at a local gardening organization. An epiphany hit her: Bring the therapeutic power of gardening, and the sense of community created by growing food, to the field in which she was working.
"Often times drug users and other individuals encounter barriers to participating in community space such as a community garden," Aldworth says. "The Beet Street Gardens are spaces where people are welcome regardless of their background, knowledge, experience or lifestyle."
She posted her idea on a fundraising website called Kickstarter and was amazed to raise $6,120 from 121 backers, exceeding her $5,500 goal. Next, the Washington Post wrote a story about her. Now Aldworth is talking with restaurants about using their kitchens to cook produce from her gardens, which residents would then package, market, and sell.
In the essay for her Haas application, Aldworth wrote about wanting to apply business thinking to the nonprofit sector—something she's doing now.
"I believe strongly in the work that many nonprofits do, but I am interested in a more self-sustaining model that applies business principles," she says. "We are exploring a social enterprise model with a triple bottom line, weighing equally financial, social, and ecological goals."
Aldworth's goal? To make Beet Street obsolete in five years. "To me," she says, "a community garden is a garden that is run by the local community, not by volunteers who come in from somewhere else."