The Catholic Charities – Susan Denison Mona Center is an integrated multi-services facility that provides critical resources to the residents of Prince George’s County. In partnership with the University of Maryland and Doctors Community Hospital, Catholic Charities offers comprehensive services focusing on health and wellness, feeding and nutrition, and legal services.
Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington, DC owns the building and land where all activities of Luminis Health (Formerly Doctors Community Hospital) and the University of Maryland take place. Each of these non-profit organizations (faith-based, hospital system and the state’s flagship university), have found common ground at the Mona Center to meet their respective missions.
The Mona Center Urban Farm was initially planned in 2014 as part of a grant agreement between Catholic Charities and the University of Maryland School of Public Health. With support from the UMD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (AGNR) Department of Plant Science and Landscape Architecture, Department of Nutrition and Food Science, Institute of Applied Agriculture, and Prince George’s County Extension, as well as Tjaden Design Associates, the farm was brought to life.
The area to be used and built up as an urban farm was still an overflow parking lot made of asphalt. The area is about just under an acre in size. With generous support from Denison Landscaping, one-quarter of the space has been landscaped to accommodate community events. For example, this community area is used for the St. Maria Meal Truck that comes every Tuesday afternoon to offer free meals to local residents on a first-come-first-served basis. The rest of the land area was envisioned to be used for the urban farm and related infrastructure to support educational activities.
The Mona Center’s development has been integrated with University of Maryland courses from day one, primarily through the UMD Center for Health Equity in the School of Public Health, including HLSA484 Redesigning Health Care: Developing a Clinic to Meet Community Needs.
The launch of the farm has been integrated with courses in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, including INAG103 Agricultural Marketing, INAG288 Internship, and INAG248 Topics in Sustainable Agriculture.
The Susan Denison Mona Center is an integrated multi-services facility that provides critical resources to residents of Prince George’s County, Maryland. A partnership between Catholic Charities Archdiocese of Washington, the University of Maryland, and Luminis Health (formerly Doctors Community Hospital), the center offers low-cost and free services focusing on health and wellness, food access and nutrition, as well as legal assistance.
The Mona Center Urban Farm was planned in 2014 to facilitate community engagement, education, and fresh vegetable production for the neighborhood; the majority of residents are low-income minority families. Construction was completed in September 2019, consisting of eighteen vegetable beds, a pollinator garden, one shed, and a picnic area. We have volunteer hours weekly led by our interns, following COVID-19 social distancing guidelines including mandatory masks, 6 ft distancing, and limited numbers of volunteers. Tasks include general food growing education and upkeep, as well as discussions of healthy eating, cooking, and free produce for participants. The majority of the produce grown on-site is currently donated to the Catholic Charities Enterprise Kitchen to support emergency food donation programs in Washington, DC and Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland.
Catholic Charities provides the land, utilities, landscaping, and program oversight. Luminis Health (formerly Doctors Community Hospital) provides lumber and labor to construct raised beds. The University of Maryland provides faculty expertise, seeds and transplants, and student interns to manage farm production, events, and social media.
The next steps include expanding and improving garden infrastructure as the farm grows to occupy the full 1/3 acre available. While continuing to provide produce for Catholic Charities programs, increased crop production may be used in the future for Community Supported Agriculture and ProduceRx programs at the Mona Center.