July 12, 2010

Roosevelt Park City Farm: A Baltimore Community Garden

Center for a Livable Future

Center for a Livable Future

Carolyn Pomodoro eagerly greeted us with “Do you need any tomato plants?  Which plot is yours?  I’ll drop them off whenever you want!”

rooseveltThis past winter, Carolyn started over 600 heirloom variety tomato plants under grow lights in her Hampden home, a neighborhood in North Baltimore.  She intended to sell or give them to neighbors and farmers but she was waylaid during prime planting season.  She didn’t have the heart to let her tomato plants die so she put 100 of them into her 150 square feet plot in the Roosevelt Park City Farm, a community garden built and managed by Baltimore City’s Department of Recreation and Parks City Farms.  Although Carolyn knows that they are too close together to thrive, she is relieved that at least some of her “babies” made it into the ground.   On her porch, tomato plants are still looking for an in-ground home.

Roosevelt Park City Farm is filled with more than tomato plants:  corn, collards, peppers, eggplant and, appropriately, a plastic pink Flamingo, the Hampden mascot. Gardeners decorate plots with elaborate trellises, stone pathways, wooden benches, and brightly colored flowers to attract bees and butterflies.  This garden, although one of the smallest, is the newest of City Farm-supported gardens, replacing the original garden site in Roosevelt Park. It features 32 plots, vintage water spigots, and a woodchip pathway, all enclosed in tall black fencing.  Currently, 18 people are eagerly waiting for an open garden plot.  Plots turn over only if the current gardener doesn’t take care of his plot or voluntarily gives it up.

City Farms is just one of a number of initiatives that are fueling the urban agriculture movement in Baltimore.  The Baltimore Free Farm Collective, for example, recently established the Ash Street Community Garden around the corner from Roosevelt Park and the Community Gardening Resource Network provides classes and plants to interested city gardeners.

roosevelt gardenColeen McCarty, City Farms Coordinator, says gardeners are motivated to join community gardens for a wide variety of reasons.  Some garden their plots intensively for nine months out of the year to contribute to their household’s fresh food supply.  Neighbors and friends often reap the benefits of high-producing zucchini and tomatoes.  Others, like Carolyn, who brought her son to help water her plot, enjoy having a space to bring their children and teach them where food comes from and how to care for it.  Marty and Pam Viel, two fellow Roosevelt Park gardeners, admit they don’t think their garden helps them save money, but they enjoy it nonetheless.   The couple gardened for years at the previous site and their experience often puts them in the running for the “Best Gardens of Baltimore” contest, which judges the community gardeners’ plots on a variety of elements, including productivity and aesthetics.  The awards will be handed out at this month at the annual City Farms Supper, which celebrates the efforts and harvest of the gardeners.

This year, community gardeners have more than tomatoes and collards to celebrate: the proposal of an updated zoning code for Baltimore City would officially recognize community gardens and urban farms.  At a recent draft zoning code presentation, a resident told a story of trying to garden in a vacant lot, but finding out that it was not zoned for agriculture.  If the zoning code passes as proposed, then community gardening will be allowed in all residential zones, while commercial gardening will be allowed under certain conditions and with specific permission from the city.

A recent article in Baltimore’s Urbanite Magazine addressed the issue of underutilized parks which are often locked in a symbiotic relationship with surrounding neighborhoods. When we suggested some parks as good sites for new or expanded community gardens, Coleen, while supportive of more gardening space, refuted the idea that parks were currently underutilized for recreation.  Many parks don’t have sufficient space for gardening without sacrificing another activity currently using that space. She also said many neighborhood groups have organized community gardens and can work with the Baltimore City Department of Public Works Adopt-a-Lot program to get access to land and water. This left us dreaming of all the spaces, small and large, near our homes that could be used for gardens.

By Allie Hu & Molly McCullagh

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