This is our story
How does a Food Desert happen? Does it happen because an area that used to be a hub of Baltimore industry, loses its industrial complex because demands change? Does it lose companies that flee the city because of taxes? Do companies outsource their work to other countries because it’s cheaper? Does this then in-turn snowball with loss of jobs, income, infrastructure and then supermarkets? Do people then turn to the only food they can afford or get to, i.e. fast food establishments, or convenience or corner stores that make big profits on selling junk food or snacks? THERE HAS TO BE A BETTER WAY!
Towards that end, CCYD, a nonprofit community anchor with programs and services headquartered and focused in the Greater Baybrook area of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County decided that the way we could help was to start from the ground up, or actually within an inch below the ground, in our own soil tested by the University of Massachusetts. Further testing and on-going monitoring of water and produce grown will be conducted by the Safe Urban Harvest Study conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. Our goals so far have been:
- To create greater access to healthy food for the community
- To teach disconnected youth the joys and benefits of gardening, (with the side benefits of exercise and outdoor activity) and
- To have community events such as educational workshops, where participants can learn how to grow, access and prepare healthier food on a budget.
We have met all of these goals plus we had a special Thanksgiving vegetables cooking demo and food giveaway that was very well attended by community residents, who walked away with the recipes and ingredients to make the dishes demonstrated. Our Community Kitchen initiative has been supported by Baltimore Housing, the Susan A. & Paul C. Wolman Jr. Fund and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore.
Achieving our goals on a small budget.
We had additional help with a Neighborhood Greening Grant from the Parks and People Foundation which enabled us to buy tools, compost (from Veteran’s Compost) and other soil amendments. We received seedlings from Baltimore City Master Gardeners, seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for our gardens and gave away seeds from Myers Seeds of Baltimore to residents at our community garden workshops for their gardens. We also gave any transplants that we had that we could not fit into any of our beds, to the community and to Ben Franklin High School for their Urban Agriculture program.
Volunteers – We couldn’t have done it without you!
We had volunteer help from Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, 10 young women who spent their “alternative” spring break with us and so enjoyed the experience building raised beds, hauling compost and wood chips and doing some planting that they are scheduled to help us again this year as we finish our hoop house, build more beds and start a Composting Pilot Program with the Institute of Local Self Reliance. We have also had interim volunteer help from more local colleges and universities such as Towson University, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Maryland Institute College of Art and Washington Adventist University. The community helped us in our awareness of their needs by taking our surveys and enjoying our food that we harvested from our own gardens and supplemented with produce from First Fruits Farm.
While CCYD continues to address this problem of food deserts in disadvantaged communities, it may be worth considering other factors contributing to their preponderance in Baltimore City. We have lost many family farms that grow a variety of produce because Big Ag, Big Food and 1950’s style government subsidies have supported giant monoculture farms or corporations that sell pesticides or herbicides. Then do some people lose their ability to work because they have diabetes, heart disease or other diet related diseases? Do they also lose their mental ability to think and motivation to make their lives better because they lack essential nutrients? Does this then contribute to higher health care costs and greater social unrest? Again, there has to be a better way!
2016 has been very rewarding and we can see many ways to grow going forward. We will be expanding our community partnerships in an effort to match up vacant lots or green spaces (enter Baltimore Green Space or Adopt A Lot programs ) with budding gardeners and work with them on learning how to grow vegetables and native pollinator gardens. We would like to offer summer jobs or internships to community youth to give them a sustainable career path or a productive lifestyle choice. We will be working with organizations on how to maximize our ability to offer jobs and workforce development to help develop the community into a more productive and prosperous self sufficient place where a de-industrialized food desert used to be.
We appreciate greatly the volunteer help that we have received from students that are rewarded with community service units. We joined the Farm Alliance of Baltimore for their help in distributing the fresh vegetables that were not able to be utilized in our immediate community to be sold at the 32nd Street (Waverly) Market, Mobile Market or donated to other food organizations. And last but not least, we have become involved with composting and food recovery efforts with the Baltimore City Offices of Planning and Sustainability to help close the loop in making fresh produce more easily grown and available and with more food justice for all of Baltimore’s residents.