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#FoodHeroes | Returning to the land: How Gail Taylor is leading the way to urban farming in Washington, DC

Photo Credit Anna Meyer.

“There are many active struggles around the primary need to have land to grow on in the first place. That was, is, and continues to be our collective goal since before Emancipation” – Gail Taylor.

Gail Taylor is the Owner and Operator at Three Part Harmony Farm, a small-scale agroecological farm in northeast Washington, DC. This small urban farm is on the ancestral lands of the Piscataway, Pamunkey, and Nacotchank Peoples. She established the farm to grow food for people, while creating a viable and just local food economy. She is a member of the Black Dirt Farm Collective with farmers, educators, scientists, agrarians, seed keepers, organizers, and researchers guiding a political education process.

“My motivation, originally, was to learn more about where good food comes from and understand how produce finds its way from a farm to the grocery store,” said Gail.

Working the land was a way for Gail to connect with her ancestors and be part of the Return Generation, bringing dignity and vibrant livelihoods back into food systems.

“My great-grandfather saved money to buy the empty lot next to his house and became known for his tremendously huge garden. Somewhere in my subconscious, I think I knew that returning to the land would be a life-changing event for me,” she said. 

A tireless advocate for social justice issues, Gail led the three-year “I Want DC to Grow” campaign that resulted in the passage of the DC Food Security Act of 2014, also known as DC’s Farm Bill. The Act set the stage for Three Part Harmony and other urban farmers to grow commercially in the District by incentivizing the use of privately owned land for urban farming and community gardens. However, she explains the state still lags behind in the services that the Department of Agriculture provides to farmers in other states.

Finding a connection with and having access to land, was crucial for Gail. She leases her two-acre plot from the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate for free. Once devoid of life, the pollinator-friendly farm now grows vegetables and herbs on half an acre and flowers on an eighth acre. Gail runs a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program with 170 members in partnership with two Black woman-owned farms.

“We add in flowers, mushrooms, grains, fruit and honey from less than half a dozen other farms and, in addition to working with farms that are committed to sustainability, we always prioritize working with farms that are owned by People of Color and/ or women or gender non-binary folks,” she said.

Her dedication doesn’t come without its challenges. “Growing vegetables in DC is not a profitable enterprise by any stretch of the imagination. I have always had a part-time job to support myself while doing this work,” said Gail.

In June alone, Three Part Harmony Farm donated thousands of pounds of fresh produce to a church in Towson, Maryland, and a small grant made it possible for them to deliver hundreds of pounds of produce to a mutual aid food distribution group within walking distance of their farm.

“I hope this awareness around sourcing locally, and these unique partnerships will continue long after a vaccine is developed. COVID-19 did not create food apartheid in our city. What it did was increase awareness and perhaps increase empathy among those who had never known food insecurity before,” said Gail.

This food hero is promoting pathways for people to have access to public and private lands to grow food to nourish people in urban areas, while shortening the distance from farm to fork.