A Chat with Meredith Sheperd of Love & Carrots

Meredith Sheperd (photo credit: Hannah Colclazier)

Chances are, you’ve seen them scattered around Brookland and across the city: plots of garden space stamped with the words Love & Carrots. You’ve see the vines of peppers and tomatoes, the bushes of herbs and bursts of flowers, the raised beds and metal containers in front yards and on the roof decks of popular restaurants.

Small or large, they’re all the brainchild of Brooklander Meredith Sheperd and the organization she started in 2011. Sheperd and her team have made it their mission to “expose as many people as possible to sustainable practices and smart growing, so they can use that knowledge themselves and continue to share it with others.”

We sat down for a brief chat with Sheperd about her business and her love of the neighborhood she calls home.

Where did your passion for gardening and local food come from?

I grew up in rural Vermont on a beautiful historic farm. My parents gardened endlessly –flowers, beans, pumpkins, tomatoes, potatoes, rhubarb, and more. They instilled in me a deep love and appreciation of nature that I thank them for. After college at Notre Dame, where I earned a degree in environmental science, I became interested in the local food movement. I worked as a small-scale organic farmer in Virginia, Maryland, and around the world before eventually managing an organic farm that grew directly for D.C. restaurants.

Where did the idea for Love & Carrots come from?

Love & Carrots was born out of my own lack of garden space! I was living on New Jersey Avenue at the time and was frustrated with my shady, postage-stamp yard. I’d just returned from teaching agriculture at an orphanage in Guatemala and was applying to urban agriculture jobs in D.C. In Guatemala, the growing conditions were difficult, but I gained an appreciation for food production on any scale. Biking around D.C. for interviews, I marveled at all the sunny production potential in the city. Even the house next door had a sunny corner lot and the people were never home. The experience made me realize D.C.’s potential for transformation.

What makes Brookland ripe for urban gardening?

We’ve installed about a dozen garden spaces in Brookland and actively maintain five of them. Big, sunny yards are ideal for gardening, and our neighborhood has much larger yards than others in the city! Our homes are also more spread out, which means there’s typically more sunlight – and so more options for designing great gardens in front yards, back yards, or even side yards.

What’s next for Love & Carrots?

We just completed a 5,200-square-foot urban farm for The Pearl, an apartment building in Silver Spring, where residents can sign up to get a weekly basket of produce at low cost. In addition to our friends at Brookland’s Finest, we’re also maintaining production and/or display gardens for other popular D.C. restaurants, including Rose’s Luxury, Pineapple & Pearl, The Columbia Room, Timber Pizza, and Belle Haven DRP. We’ll also soon be company-owned. My goal is to create jobs in urban agriculture that can become long-term careers. Teaching people how to grow food is so important that we need to have people in this field not just for several years but for decades. That’s how we’ll create real experts.

Are there still opportunities for Brooklanders to garden in the fall and winter?

We install garden infrastructure until the ground is frozen and covered in snow – sometimes, that means year-round! In my opinion, it’s better to get your garden installed in the fall and winter, while things are quiet. That way your soil has time to settle, and you can be ready to plant right away in early March. (Peas and spinach can go in as early as February, even if there’s still snow on the ground!)

What do you like about life here in Brookland?

My partner and I now joke with our friends that once you move to Brookland, all you want to talk about is how awesome Brookland is. Before we moved here, we used to take long bike rides through the neighborhood to admire all the adorable houses. After searching for about a year, our dream home popped up in late 2014: a little bungalow that’s close to Brookland’s Finest. I love that I have windows on all sides of our house. I love that we love all our neighbors. I love strolling over to “the Finest” or to Right Proper or to Dew Drop Inn. I love that you hear crickets at night instead of sirens. It’s relaxed here.

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