Tour dem veggies: An East Baltimore bicycle garden tour

starting the ride from Duncan St Miracle Garden

starting the ride from Duncan St Miracle Garden

Fueled by cherry tomatoes and lemonade, three-dozen bikers (this blogger included) hit the pavement last Saturday afternoon for a seven-mile tour of seven great community gardens in East Baltimore. We started the ride at the 22-year old Duncan Street Miracle Garden, a one-acre fruit and vegetable haven. Along the ride I was searching for secretes to a successful community garden, but it turns out there are no hard-and-fast rules; gardens are themselves heirloom varieties, each unique and charming.

Some community gardens had neatly arranged raised-beds, such as Montessori gardens beds built from old book shelves, or the checkerboard pattern beds of the Homestead Harvest garden. Montpelier Orchards, the newest garden on the tour, had a neatly mowed lawn between rows of trellised young raspberries plants and a small olive tree dwarfed by a tall garden gate with arbor. Others took a wild and free-form approach with natural reseeding tomatoes and sunflowers, making every step a delicious adventure.

Montessori School Garden

Montessori School Garden; raised beds made from old bookcase

I had always believed Robert Frost’s line “good fences make good neighbors,” that is until I learned that many community gardens benefit from the opposite philosophy. Participation Park steward Scott Berzofsky said “the fact that there is no fence was important from the beginning… we wanted to have a commons.” Brentwood Gardens also lacks a fence, and encourages neighbors to glean on a regular basis. Cucumbers were free for the taking; just one example of the “gift economy” at work.

Several gardens gave animals a prominent role, such as the chickens and bees at the Montessori School garden. Apparently playing with chickens during recess is a favorite activity. Brentwood is preparing for chickens this summer by building a coop and purchasing permits from Baltimore City. For more on chickens in Baltimore see my previous post. Brentwood also raised goldfish in modified rain barrels to eat mosquitoes. I’ve never heard of this use, though I didn’t get a single bite while standing next to the barrel in ankle deep grass.

Our last stop was Real Food Farm, where three hoop houses sit peacefully in a grassy field in Clifton Park.Head farmer, Tyler Brown, gave an impassioned pitch for urban commercial farming that grabbed the crowds’ attention.Leaving the farm hungry and tired, the bikers headed back to the Duncan Street garden for a great spread of food donated by leading Baltimore restaurants, live music, and lively conversations with new acquaintances and old friends.

sunflowers at Participation Park Garden

sunflowers at Participation Park Garden

Gardens in the tour:

  • Duncan Street Miracle Garden :: 1800 North Duncan Street
  • Participation Park :: 1100 Forest Street
  • The Montessori School Garden :: 1600 Guilford Avenue
  • Brentwood Garden :: 1700 N. Brentwood Avenue
  • Homestead Harvest :: 632 Homestead Street
  • Montpelier Orchard :: 918 Montpelier Road
  • Real Food Farm :: 2706 St Lo Drive

Congratulations Parks and People, the Community Greening Resource Network, and any other volunteers for turning a hot, muggy Saturday into a memorable event!

– Dave Love

CLF generated map of Baltimore community gardens

Response to “Math Lessons for Locavores” op-ed

Grist.org recently invited bloggers through it’s Grist Talk: Food Fight series to respond to an August 20th op-ed piece, Math Lessons for Locavores,” by Stephen Budiansky in the New York Times.  What follows is my response:

“I agree with Mr. Budiansky that freight is by some measures cheap, and that the interstate system and trains are convenient conduits from farms to distributors to markets, although this idea is not so new.

community garden in Waverly neighorhood, Baltimore, MD

community garden in Waverly neighorhood, Baltimore, MD

A more interesting question to tackle is: what does the desire to be a locavore say about our disjointed food system, and is there room for improvement by developing regional food systems?

Mr. Budiansky’s argument runs thin when we take a hard look at what consolidated industrial farming and food animal production “return to our land,” as he puts it. It is difficult to be in favor of a farming approach that relies upon mono-cropping using genetically modified seeds and synthetic fertilizers. Likewise, food animal production facilities make for poor neighbors when their (virtually unregulated) wastes and associated land application and spray-field sites spread allergens and antibiotic-resistant bacteria throughout farming communities.

So why pick on locavores? Because when they seek local food, they may also be seeking to buy organically grown or raised foods, from small to mid-sized farms, which can impact entrenched agribusiness interests. Changing food preferences and buying habits may be changing the way food is grown, distributed, and consumed.

For example, the American Meat Institute was defensive when the Meatless Monday campaign, for which Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future serves as a scientific advisor, suggested on NPR that reducing meat consumption one day a week could be good for your health, by potentially reducing saturated fat intake. It isn’t surprising: the average American spends about $550 annually on meat. If the conventional food-animal industry improved production methods by removing growth-promoting antibiotics and recognizing animal welfare, both the quality of their products and the perceptions of their customers may increase.

Food decisions carry weight, and so the lesson here is to speak with your fork and the farms will follow!”

– Dave Love

[This post originally ran Monday, August 23 on Grist.org]