June 26, 2013
Anyone who has met Elder Harris of Newborn Holistic Ministries of Sandtown-Winchester in Baltimore knows that he is an exceptional leader, a man dedicated to his community, and a man of faith. A testament to those qualities is Newborn Holistic Ministries, which has established a suite of projects that include Martha’s Place, Jubilee Arts, and now, the Strength to Love Farm.
The Strength to Love Farm, Elder Harris’s latest initiative, has a goal that is at least threefold: provide dignity-verifying employment opportunities to ex-offenders, beautify areas of blight within Sandtown-Winchester, and make affordable, healthy, and sustainable food available for the residents of Sandtown-Winchester and the greater Baltimore area. This latest initiative is a collaborative effort involving Big City Farms and the City of Baltimore. The City of Baltimore provided the land, Big City Farms provided the farming expertise, and Newborn Ministries provided the personnel, community connection, overarching project focus, and the farm name.
“Strength to Love” is a name borrowed from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s third book. The book includes sermons and ideas composed during and after the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The prelude begins, “In these turbulent days… economic and racial injustice threaten the very survival of the human race. Indeed, we live in a day of grave crisis.” Dr. King goes on to offer fervent love as the best and only plausible solution to overcome the crisis, and his words inspired Elder Harris. Elder Harris understands the present time to also be a time of crisis. For Dr. King, the crisis was created by the injustice of racial segregation. For Harris, the crisis is caused by the injustice of a lack of access and possibilities, which in turn stifles creativity and greatly contributes to the cycle of poverty and incarceration. Consequently, Harris began Strength to Love II as an initiative to fervently love and integrate ex-offenders with people moving back into the neighborhood as a means to overcome that crisis. While doing so, Harris is also addressing another crisis—the food crisis.
According to Baltimore City Health Department data, the life expectancy within Sandtown-Winchester is six years lower than the city average, and 17 years lower than the far wealthier Roland Park area. The two greatest causes of death in Sandtown-Winchester are heart disease and cancer respectively, both diseases largely influenced by diet, together accounting for over 45 percent of all deaths. The Strength to Love Farm hopes to have a positive impact on these statistics. During the June 19 celebration commemorating the project and celebrating the collaboration between the partners, Elder Harris encouraged neighbors to put down junk food and begin picking up the healthy produce grown right there in the neighborhood. (Coverage of the celebration is here.) The celebration ended with a keynote address from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a prayer by Pastor Thurman of New Song Church, and a repast offering healthy fruits and vegetables instead of the typical finger meats and carbs. The feast was a step in the right direction for a community whose faith is pushing them to make positive leaps in the area of love, justice, and food access.
Photos: Darriel Harris, 2013.