December 22, 2008

Baltimore: A National Model for Sustainable School Food?

Roni Neff, PhD

Roni Neff, PhD

Research and Policy Director

Center for a Livable Future

Last Saturday my family and I went to check out Bragg Nature Center, soon to be the Baltimore school system’s working organic farm. They were having an open house and plant sale fundraiser. I thought I’d share some pictures and info. 

As a CLF’er and a parent of a Baltimore city schoolkid, I have high hopes about the arrival of Tony Geraci, the new city school food service director, from New Hampshire [p.18].  His plan to turn Bragg farm’s overgrown land and dusty greenhouses into an active farm serving the schools is just one piece of the dizzying list of creative programming he’s already initiated, in his quest to make this city a national model of healthy, green, financially sustainable food services. Other items on the list include buying local – contracting with regional farmers, food education, support and training to school food service staff, and happy meal-style breakfast boxes filled with healthy foods.  His enthusiasm generates a lot of in-kind support – for example, he got the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens to agree to have their faces on, and I think even to pay for logo toys inside the breakfast boxes.

(On a recent morning when we went to check out the breakfast boxes -which turned out not to be there – my son’s school breakfast  menu consisted of cinnamon toast crunch cereal, trix yogurt, apple juice (that’s a fruit, right?), regular or chocolate milk, and graham crackers for dessert.  Geraci’s got his work cut out for him, weaning kids off that much sugar.) 

But back to the farm. Here’s what it looks like now. (There were also goats tasked with eating the brush on a hill, but my camera battery died before I could immortalize them for this blog.)


As I said, Geraci’s got his work cut out for him. It’s fun to imagine the site bursting with organic produce.

The land near Catonsville, MD was purchased by the city years ago with the idea of turning it into a nature center, but that idea never came to fruition.  Geraci plans to turn it into a 33-acre organic farm, renamed Fresh Start.  The city will use it to teach students about nutrition and sustainability. Students will be involved in planting seeds, gardening, and preparing healthy foods.  Maybe some nights they’ll have campfires under the stars.  Geraci hopes the farm will be operational in a year, and paying for itself in two years.  It won’t grow enough to serve the schools directly in a substantial way, especially in the beginning. So interestingly, Geraci is looking into programs like farmers’ markets or community supported agriculture that can educate youth while generating income.

These are ambitious undertakings.  It will be useful to contribute to the small farm to school literature with rigorous evaluation.  Stay tuned for updates as Fresh Start gets started!


  1. I’m so impressed with Tony’s vision and capabilities and also with the Two Angry Moms initiative.

    Please tell me though about Tony and his personal transformation. Is it my imagination but he looks trimmer with brighter eyes in recent pictures vs. the when Two Angry Moms was made. I think there’s a story here!

  2. Posted by Joe Leake

    The article states “The land near Catonsville, MD was purchased by the city years ago with the idea of turning it into a nature center, but that idea never came to fruition.” This is not true; the Baltimore City Public School’s Bragg Nature Center functioned for many years as a field trip experience for thousands of students. It was operated by the Office of Science and Health Education within the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. School system budget woes caused its demise.

  3. It assures and ensures not only the survival of the agri-business but
    also of the community, once farmland is handed over to the succeeding generations.
    As I was riding my bike down Valencia Street, I stopped to admire
    an urban garden grown by a school right along their
    sidewalk. These people play an important role in field associated with agriculture.

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