Baltimore: A National Model for Sustainable School Food?

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!