October 14, 2011

Urban Farm Makes Huge Strides: Whitelock Community Farm

Pooja Shah

Pooja Shah

Communications Intern

Center for a Livable Future

What began as a “guerilla gardening” project in a Baltimore food desert now operates as a legitimate urban farm that fulfills several important community functions.

In March 2010, members of Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood began gardening in an abandoned public lot on Whitelock Street. They hoped to cultivate the lot as a community gathering space and as a source of fresh produce in the neighborhood. With only one supermarket, Reservoir Hill is a recognized food desert, meaning residents do not have easy and affordable access to healthy foods. Read more about the history of Whitelock and Reservoir Hill in this previous blogpost.

Last October, members of Reservoir Hill came together to erect a hoophouse on the Whitelock space, in order to facilitate year-round farming. Since then, Whitelock Farm has made several strides toward establishing itself as a sustainable community garden, and it now boasts the production of 27 crops throughout the year, including collard greens, spinach and arugula. This past winter, the Farm worked with the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council to petition the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development for a lease to farm and make improvements to the city-owned land. The City granted Whitelock Community Farm a 5-year right-of-entry agreement, the first ever long-term lease for an urban farming project. This coincided with a city-wide movement to encourage long-term development of underutilized urban spaces.

Recent milestones for the Farm include the launch of a weekly market stand, which has brought together members of the community, and the installation of an underground irrigation system in the one-third acre lot. This video, produced by the Farm and New Lens, a Reservoir Hill youth arts group, tells the story of Whitelock’s transformation from vacant lot to central community space.

The Farm has strived to involve the community through afterschool programs for neighborhood kids and a work exchange program that invites Reservoir Hill residents to work on the farm in exchange for a share of the crops. In addition, the Farm’s market stand gives discounts to WIC and SNAP users, providing affordable fresh produce in an area that otherwise lacks options.

Although the Farm has made significant progress toward the sustainable development of an urban farm, there is much left to be done. Farm organizers hope to build a greenhouse for seed starting, to expand the farm space to other areas of the community, and to train the next generation of Reservoir Hill residents in farming. All of these endeavors will extend the lifespan and impact of this experiment in urban farming—but they require financial investment.

The Farm is currently in the midst of a fundraising campaign to raise $10,000 by November 26.

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