DC Greens’ Communications Director, Anna Masi, learns the story of the organization’s involvement in one of the District’s most beloved events.

Few things awaken nostalgia in me like the smell of chopped bacon and onions hitting a hot frying pan. It’s the first step in my family’s potato salad recipe, one that stretches back to at least my great grandmother. (Perhaps she got it from her mother, and hers before that.) This dish featured prominently across my childhood. It was on the menu for holiday feasts and weeknight dinners. It’s served hot and flavored with a combination of secret ingredients that blend tangy and savory flavors — so different from the sweet, cold potato salad recipes commonly served at picnics and potlucks.  

Over the years I’ve made the dish for friends. In college I cooked it for my roommate and watched as her eyes widened in unexpected delight. In graduate school I served it to a homesick foreign exchange student who’d moved to the United States from the same country where my great grandmother had lived. As he took his first bite, his eyes closed and his shoulders slumped, relieved to find a taste of home so far away his family and friends. My husband, first suspicious of it, now sees the dish as a holiday staple. 

These memories, and many others I have like them, serve as a reminder for a great truth many of us already know: when you love something, your enjoyment of it increases when you share it with others. 

Each year in Washington, D.C., Rooting DC gathers hundreds of community members in this same spirit. Individuals, nonprofits, businesses, and even elected officials converge to spend a day celebrating and sharing their love of urban gardening and agriculture. They arrive ready to gift others their hard-earned wisdom, invite newcomers into their joy, and make connections that have the power to strengthen D.C.’s food system for all of us.  

When I spoke with former DC Greens staff, Rooting DC volunteers, and even one of the event’s founders, I asked each of them the same question: Who is Rooting DC for? They all gave the same answer:  

Everyone.  

Rooting DC began in 2007 when Katie Rehwaldt and Bea Trickett, both working for America the Beautiful Fund, sensed that energy was growing around urban gardening. Hoping to capture that energy, they planned a half-day gathering with presentations from City Blossoms, Empower DC, and others with the goal of creating a central meeting ground for those working in urban agriculture across the District. They advertised it by mailing invitations to anyone on their contact list with a D.C.-area mailing address and asked folks to RSVP by phone. On the day of the event, they arrived with coffee and bagels expecting to spend the morning with about 25 community members.  

One hundred and fifty people showed up. Clearly, Rooting DC had struck a chord.  

After that first gathering, Rehwaldt and Trickett immediately began planning for the next Rooting DC, and by the following year, many of the elements we now associate with the event had taken shape. They made it a full day. They added the beloved info fair that features like-minded local nonprofits and businesses. They expanded the workshops and presentations offered. They also moved to a bigger space, which turned out to be the right decision: in 2008, 500 people attended. That number increased to 750 in 2009. In 2010, just four years in, the event had grown so large that they moved it yet again, this time to Coolidge High School. (Rooting DC has been held at local high schools ever since.) 

Those early years of Rooting DC showed community at its finest. Anyone and everyone stepped up to help plan, spread the word, set up tables and chairs, and donate equipment. Even DC Greens’ own co-founder, Lauren Schweder Biel, loaned Rehwaldt her 40-cup coffeemaker so attendees could have a hot cup of joe.  

In 2011, America the Beautiful Fund closed, and Rooting DC needed a new home. So, Rehwaldt and Trickett approached DC Greens — and DC Greens took up the call. In 2012, we hosted Rooting DC for the first time. 

When I asked Rehwaldt and others what changed after the transition to DC Greens, an unexpected truth emerged: Rooting DC changed a lot, and Rooting DC stayed the same.  

Under DC Greens’ nurture, much of the significant change happened behind the scenes: a more formal planning committee took shape and the event’s budget grew and expanded. The planning process was also streamlined, providing a smoother experience for presenters and attendees alike. And thanks to the greater staff capacity and increased resources, more was possible. More workshops, more offerings — more Rooting DC. 

Perhaps because of that, Rooting DC also largely remained unchanged. Outreach to community members across the District continued with fervor. Countless volunteers and local organizations — like City Blossoms, DC Central Kitchen, Capital Area Food Bank, DC Hunger Solutions, and D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, to name a few — continued to be a steady presence. And each year more and more new people wandered in, curious what all of the fuss was about, to discover hundreds — then thousands — of their neighbors eager to share their love of urban agriculture with them. 

Photo of DC Greens co-founders Lauren Schweder Biel and Sarah Holway with Rooting DC founders Bea Trickett and Katie Rehwaldt.
DC Greens co-founders Lauren Schweder Biel (left) and Sarah Holway (center right) with Bea Trickett (center left) and Katie Rehwaldt (right), 2013

So much changed, but the heart and soul of Rooting DC remained true.  

It cannot be overstated how much potential this energy held for making true, lasting change to the D.C. food system. And over time, that’s exactly what it did. Conversations that began at the 2013 Rooting DC, for example, resulted in the drafting and eventual passage of D.C. Law 20-248, known as the Urban Farming and Food Security Amendment Act of 2014. Over the years, D.C. Councilmembers became keynote speakers and their Council staff attended. At the 2014 and 2015 Rooting DC gatherings, DC Greens organized policy panels, including several on urban agriculture. And the event’s info fair wasn’t just a place for community members to connect with organizations; it was also where organizations began connecting with each other, forming relationships that lasted beyond the event.  

That’s the power of having so many people come together around a shared interest: it starts to get the attention of local leaders. Thanks to Rooting DC, the community had a new, strategic way to advocate for the local food system they desire. 

In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic changed the world in ways we are only just beginning to comprehend. Rooting DC, like the rest of us, had to adapt and do so as quickly as possible. When DC Greens announced that the 2021 gathering was going to be virtual, no one was sure how it would go or who would come. But the Rooting DC community showed its strength: 600 people tuned in. 

At DC Greens, our goal is to create lasting change by embedding innovative programs permanently into our local food system. In 2022, we began looking for that permanent home for Rooting DC — and found it in D.C.’s Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE). And so it continues on into its bright future under their stewardship.

Kate Lee, who organizes Rooting DC each year through her role at DOEE, also marvels at the incredible staying power the event has had all these years. What was envisioned is what it became and what it remains. 

When I spoke with Lee, I asked her toward the end of our time together, Is there anything else about Rooting DC you want to make sure we communicate to the world?

Her response: “Thank you.” 

“Thank you to the so many people who have donated their time to support the event over the years. The volunteers, the presenters, the exhibit hall — thank you. [I feel] gratefulness to be a part of a really beautiful community of practice. And thank you to DC Greens for helping to keep it alive and give it a home for those years that it did.” 

The feeling is mutual. Thank you, Rooting DC, for the opportunity to be part of such a wonderful movement. Thank you to the countless partners in the work along the way, the DC Greens staff who dotted every “i” and crossed every “t,” the community members who continue to be so generous with their time and talents, and to the many supporters who helped make Rooting DC happen. And thank you, especially, to Katie Rehwaldt and Bea Trickett for entrusting DC Greens all those years ago with the gift of convening this one-of-a-kind event. 

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Rooting DC takes place in late winter every year and is always free. You can learn more and sign up for their contact list at https://doee.dc.gov/service/rooting-dc 

This story was made possible through the generous gift of storytelling and memory sharing from Katie Rehwaldt, Karissa Minnich, Kate Lee, and Lillie Rosen. This author is grateful.

Collage of Rooting DC posters