- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2011

England’s Prince Charles began his first trip to the United States in four years Tuesday by stepping into a muddy, tangled community farm built on an abandoned urban baseball field.

The 62-year-old Prince of Wales strode through the Common Good City Farm in the LeDroit Park neighborhood in Northwest Washington, chatting with local dignitaries and dozens of area gardeners and royal fans who turned out on the warm spring afternoon.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray chose to stay in the shade, as His Royal Highness — nattily outfitted in a gray pinstriped suit and black wingtip shoes — walked for about an hour among new plants and even braved a narrow path between compost bins to get a closer look at the farm and to shake hands with the friendly crowd.

“I wanted an autograph for my grandson, but he said, ‘I’m not good on Tuesdays,’ ” said Cynthia Payne, a neighbor of the park. “He really held on to my hand, though. Five fingers!”

The overarching mission of the farm is to build awareness about healthy, local, sustainable food systems and making them available to low-income residents through volunteer and educational programs, said executive director Pertula George.

“Most of the people in this neighborhood have to travel out of the neighborhood to get food,” she said. “Food has been redefined over the decades as something on a shelf or in a supermarket. Kids are growing up not knowing where a tomato comes from and the process of how many hands it touches before it gets to their plate.”

Mr. Gray said the park’s location “right in the heart of the city shows what can be done with a substantial tract of land.”

Hundreds turned out to see the Prince of Wales, an environmental advocate who made his own Duchy Home Farm organic nearly 25 years ago.

The prince is scheduled to meet Wednesday with President Obama to discuss the concept of sustainable agriculture, give a keynote speech on the subject during a conference at Georgetown University, and tour the Supreme Court.

More than 400 bags of fresh produce have been handed out to D.C.’s needy, and more than 1,500 students have visited on field trips since the urban, nonprofit farm opened in 2007 on Seventh Street Northwest.

In 2009, the farm was moved to the LeDroit Park spot, where it was built atop an abandoned baseball field.

Federal and local grants and individual donations help pay for seeds and supplies on the farm, which grows tomatoes, herbs, carrots, peas, and, after being successfully introduced last year, okra.

The farm is maintained by volunteers, including low-income residents who participate in a program that allows them to volunteer their time in exchange for the fresh produce.

Mr. Gray said the prince seemed pleased with his visit as he “was smiling when he entered the farm and smiling when he left.”

“He seemed delighted with the gardens here,” the mayor said.