Sowing the Seeds
Urban farming is on the rise in Baltimore
Published: May 16, 2012
Urban farming is hotter than a home-grown habanero these days, and Baltimore’s abundant vacant lots are perfect for homesteaders. Small urban farms have proliferated recently, though city government has only just begun to streamline regulations governing them. Nearly a dozen—perhaps more—are already in operation. “Right now the people doing it are slightly crazy—you sort of have to be to do it,” says Maya Kosok, an Open Society Institute Community Fellow who this winter formed an umbrella organization called the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City (facebook.com/farmalliance), with a current membership of about eight urban farms. “It’s really hard. A lot of the resources aren’t in one place.”
The Alliance—through the auspices of local nonprofit Civic Works—is seeking to change that. It has two main goals: making urban farms in the city more viable and making sure the food they produce is more accessible to residents. Starting June 9, member farms will have a shared stand at the Waverly Farmers Market, and the organization is crafting a set of farm standards covering everything from soil quality to food handling. The collective approach also allows the farms to share equipment they otherwise could not afford, like an EBT/debit/credit machine, which accepts food stamps.
Urban farms have become so popular that tangential ventures have arrived on the scene. Baltimore Honey, for example, places beehives at farms throughout the city; the bees pollinate the farm and the nonprofit harvests the honey to sell. And consulting company Seed and Cycle helps urban farmers with everything from building hoop houses—greenhouses made of plastic wrapped over flexible piping—to strategic planning.
But what is an urban farm? “The definition that I tend to use is being production-oriented,” Kosok says. Under this rubric, even well-established endeavors like the Great Kids Farm, which is run by the city’s school system and produces food for numerous restaurants, doesn’t qualify as it is primarily focused on education. (It is also outside the city limits and, at 33 acres, much larger than most urban farms.) Neither, for the most part, are community gardens, where the focus is on individually cultivated plots.
“As there are more quarter- and half-acre farms, I get calls from people asking, ‘Well, who are the farms in the city?” Kosok says. “That’s exactly where I saw the potential, the need to put all the information together.” Thus, the Farm Alliance was born.
Below you’ll find, in alphabetical order, City Paper’s inevitably incomplete list of the city’s urban farms. Though many of them have educational and community components, all have a strong focus on production, as per Kosok’s definition.
Baltimore Free Farm
Founded: January 2010
The Location: Four vacant city lots, about an acre, on a terraced hillside in Hampden at 3519 Ash St.
The Story: A group of unemployed would-be farmers obtained the land through the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program. With the help of Americorps members, the Parks and People Foundation, and volunteers, they cleared it of weeds, drug paraphernalia, and waste (including, reportedly, a disabled hand grenade). The Free Farm rents out plots for community gardens and cultivates the rest. Decisions are made collectively, by consensus.
The Funding: Sales of homemade products—soaps, baked goods, screenprinted T-shirts—and music events help with funding, as do small grants from the Parks and People Foundation.
On the Farm: Vegetables of all varieties, chickens. Produce and eggs go to collective members, volunteers, and neighbors (the farmers actually knock on doors).
Community Engagement: Volunteer work parties are Saturdays from 11 a.m to 6 p.m. Meetings are Mondays at 7 p.m. at 3510 Ash St.
Big City Farms
Founded: October 2010
The Location: Half an acre on Hanover Street, just north of the Hanover Street Bridge in Federal Hill
The Story: Ted Rouse (yes, those Rouses), a former partner in the Struever Brothers, Eccles, and Rouse development firm and founder of Real Food Farm (see below), is co-founder and managing partner. He believes 6,000 jobs could be created in the city through the cultivation of half-acre plots built into “crop squares,” consisting of six hoop houses. Big City is looking at 10 additional sites in the city.
The Funding: Private
On The Farm: The pilot plot is selling about 1,500 pounds of leafy greens a week to restaurants that specialize in local food. Also at the Waverly, Fells Point, University of Maryland Medical Systems, and Union Memorial farmers markets.
Community Engagement: Volunteers and interns welcome. E-mail email@example.com.
Boone Street Farm
Founded: Fall 2010
The Location: A quarter of an acre on two vacant lots in East Baltimore in the 2100 block of Boone Street
The Story: Cheryl Carmona and Aliza Sollins run Boone, half of which is dedicated to community gardens for residents. Local youth service learning is part of the mission.
The Funding: A variety of small grants, including from the Parks and People Foundation and the Maryland Institute College of Art, help fund the farm, as do private donations and aid from the Greater Greenmount Community Association, the farm’s parent organization.
On the Farm: “Kale is the number one requested item,” Sollins says. They’ve grown everything from peanuts to sorghum to purslane, as well as more traditional crops. Produce will be sold at the Farm Alliance stand at the Waverly Farmers Market this year, as well as at a weekly on-site farm stand.
Community Engagement: Volunteers welcome. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eat Healthy Live Healthy Farm
Founded: September 2010
The Location: One and a half acres—about half an acre is currently farmed—in South Baltimore at 900 Cherry Hill Road
The Story: Community member Juanita Ewell started the farm on a long-vacant lot, with an initial 21 raised beds. Ally Schonfeld—who is undergoing training as a beginning farmer through Future Harvest, a regional ag network—became principle farmer in January.
The Funding: Grants from the Baltimore Community Foundation and Constellation Energy and a recent USDA People’s Garden grant for the neighborhood help fund the project.
On the Farm: Beans, peas, beets, herbs, “anything you can think of,” Schonfeld says. An on-site farm stand is planned, and the farm will participate in the Farm Alliance’s Waverly Farmers Market stand. The farmers hope to sell most of their produce within Cherry Hill.
Community Engagement: Volunteer work days are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Contact Juanita Ewell, email@example.com.
Five Seeds Farm
Founded: Spring 2008
The Location: Two to three sites in Baltimore City plus a 4.5-acre farm in Baltimore County
The Story: Founder Denzel Mitchell started the farm on a sixth of an acre vacant lot in Belair-Edison, through the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program. He and his partners—his wife and five children—focus on growing endangered heritage varieties and striving to honor the legacy of local food history, black farming, and urban homesteading.
The Funding: Food sales and private funding
On the Farm: Five Seeds draws from old cookbooks for inspiration; they’ve grown fish peppers, fava beans, Paul Robeson heirloom tomatoes, and baby ginger, among other unusual varieties. Local businesses such as Milk and Honey Market and Woodberry Kitchen buy their produce and they run a community-supported agriculture program (CSA), through which members can buy a share of the season’s produce. Also, fruit and honey, and coming soon: eggs.
Community Engagement: E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full Circle Urban Farm
The Location: About 8,000 square feet in Hamilton/Lauraville in the founder’s backyard, and an additional 200 square feet of vertical indoor units
The Story: Steve Blaes, who has a background in horticulture and landscaping, returned to his hometown several years ago with the intention of starting his own full-scale farm, but ended up working at Real Food Farm instead. After about a year, he decided to start an urban farm. So far, he is the sole farmer.
The Funding: Private
On the Farm: Blaes grows 30 different varieties of microgreens—sunflower greens, pea shoots, amaranth, etc.—most of which are ready to harvest within a week. He produces about 50 pounds a week, most which he regularly sells to six different restaurants.
Community Engagement: Not much at this point.
Hamilton Crop Circle
The Location: Three-quarters of an acre at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School in Northeast Baltimore (plus a hoop house at 4500 Harford Road and a small community plot on Westfield Avenue)
The Story: Arthur Morgan, Crop Circle’s one-man dynamo, says “it just kinda seemed like the right thing” to start an urban farm, given the upward swing of the Lauraville and Hamilton neighborhoods. He turned a former parking lot at the school into a farm that supplies many of the local foodie restaurants in the city, including several in Hamilton. He now teaches farming part-time at the school alongside his composting and farming endeavors.
The Funding: Food sales at farmers markets and to restaurants, as well as private donations and the occasional grant
On the Farm: Mainly greens.
Community Engagement: Volunteers go home with produce. Visit the Facebook page for work days.
Hidden Harvest Farm
The Location: Half an acre at 1825 N. Calvert St. in Greenmount West
The Story: Tara Megos started the farm through the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program on a piece of land that used to be a community garden.
The Funding: Parks and People grants, private funding, food sales
On the Farm: Berries and fruit trees, root vegetables, peanuts, cucumbers, and more. Starting June 12, a farm stand will operate on Tuesdays from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. The farm will also participate in the Alliance’s Waverly Market stand.
Community Engagement: Volunteer hours are Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Real Food Farm
The Location: Six acres in Clifton Park; two acres currently farmed.
The Story: Real Food is the granddaddy of local urban farms, a place where a number of new farmers cut their teeth. A volunteer working group supported by the city came up with the idea of a farm that would educate youth and bring fresh produce to Northeast Baltimore, and local nonprofit Civic Works agreed to house it.
The Funding: Food sales, field trips, workshops, grants, and donations
On the Farm: It is, farm manager Tyler Brown says, “a fully diversified vegetable farm.” Real Food also has 100 fruit trees and six beehives. The farm runs a 40-member CSA and a neighborhood mobile market, and sells at the Waverly Farmers Market as well as to local restaurants.
Community Engagement: Volunteer hours are Wednesday and Friday mornings and the first and third Saturdays of the month from 9 a.m. to noon. The farm offers workshops on everything from growing seedlings to composting, and is a compost drop-off site.
The Samaritan Women Farm
The Location: 2.3 acres in Southwest Baltimore at 602 S. Chapelgate Road
The Story: The Samaritan Women, a nonprofit Christian ministry, runs a residential facility for homeless women veterans and women rescued from human trafficking. Residents work on the farm and eat the produce that they grow. A new vocational program in culinary arts will also utilize the produce.
The Funding: Individual donations, grants, and farm sales
On the Farm: The farm grows 70 different varieties of produce, from watermelons to cabbages. It recently acquired 50 fruit trees. A farm stand operates on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the farm runs a CSA. Last year, the Samaritan Women donated about half of their produce to the Maryland Food Bank and Our Daily Bread.
Community Engagement: Sixty to 100 volunteers help on the farm on any given week during the growing season, from the Boy Scouts to corporate groups to individuals. Visit the web site for more information.
Whitelock Community Farm
Founded: May 2010
The Location: A quarter acre in Reservoir Hill at 930 Whitelock St.
The Story: Nine neighborhood residents came together on an empty lot when they realized many of their neighbors were doing most of their food shopping at corner stores.
The Funding: The farm operates under the auspices of the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council, which recently got funding for a full-time farm manager, co-founder Elisa Lane.
On the Farm: Last year, Whitelock grew 3,000 pounds of produce and Lane hopes to double that this year. Twenty-five different kinds of vegetables make up the bulk of the produce. Most of it goes to a weekly on-site market stand, which is open Saturdays from 10 a.m-1 p.m. What’s left over goes to a CSA, as well as soup kitchens and local rec centers. The farm will participate in the Farm Alliance’s stand at the Waverly Farmers Market this summer.
Community Engagement: The farm holds regular volunteer days, Mondays from 5 p.m. to sunset and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
> Email Andrea Appleton