Drive down 4th Street N.E. in Washington, D.C., a fairly active street near Catholic University, and it might be easy not to notice the thriving farm behind a chain-link fence. It’s Three Part Harmony Farm run by Gail Taylor, a key player in the D.C. urban farming scene. The farm’s name defines its core values: Food as medicine, Food as culture, and Food for our future.
Three Part Harmony is a production farm that grows vegetables, fruits, herbs and flowers primarily for its 100-member CSA and a farmer’s market. The farm itself, two acres boarded by trees on three sides and the street, feels like a sacred space. Gail has said that a huge number of people have come to work on her farm and find solace by getting their hands in the dirt. When you are there, you can almost forget that you are in the city, thanks to the chirping birds and the still sound of vegetables growing. There’s a feeling of peace on this farm that draws comment from all visitors. Something special is happening on this little plot of land, and it’s all part of Gail’s plan.
What I love about Gail’s farming story is the way she figured it out as she went along. She knew what her end goal way—to farm—but she didn’t know what that would look like or how to get there. In the process of figuring it out, she’s created a huge footprint in the D.C. community.
I’m always interested in how farmers find their way to farming. Gail grew up “in the middle of nowhere” in Illinois, near the headquarters of John Deere, and around lots of farms doing corn and soy rotation. So she saw farming, but didn’t give it another thought. “If you didn’t grow up farming,” she says, “it’s not something you said you would go into. There were lots of other reasons why that wasn’t a career path you’d think about. From far away, I saw all these white guys in overalls and straw hats on their $500,000 combines. I mean, my parents worked really hard so I could go to college, so I’m going to get a job in an office.” She studied U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. “I didn’t even take any science classes.” Her family had a small garden and Gail liked to plant flowers as a kid, but that was pretty much the extent of her hands-in-the-dirt experience.
She did, however, make a connection to food at an early age. Her mom was a great cook and because they didn’t have much money, they ate most of their meals at home and Gail learned to eat seasonally. Part of her food story is what’s become a common theme in the black community: having family members with diabetes or high blood pressure or who are overweight, don’t eat well, aren’t well, and who die young.