Exploring the Food System with CTY

RS2878_Aquaponics_212-scrTwo weeks ago we hosted our second annual Food Systems and Public Health course in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth (CTY) at the Cylburn Arboretum. Six CLF staff members spent the day with 15 talented middle- and high-school students and their parents, and worked to define the food system, acknowledge harms, and develop a sense of hope for changing the world through the way we grow and eat our food. Read More >

Redefining Waste in Aquaponics

cilantro-dill-gutterOn the surface, the aquaponics system appears to be a replica of a natural ecosystem where the word “waste” is an artificial concept. The fish don’t excrete waste, they excrete nutrients, and the plants take up these nutrients, filtering the water for the fish. However, in our earlier post “When the Fish and Plants Don’t Get Along,” we discussed how solid accumulation on the bottom of the plant beds can lead to poor water quality. To prevent this, we employ clarifiers after the fish tanks and before our plant beds; these tanks are designed to slow the water enough to allow solids to settle. Every day we drain the sediment from the bottom of the clarifiers to remove a total of 12 gallons of muddy, solid-filled water from the system. Just because we don’t want these solids sitting beneath our plant rafts, doesn’t mean they are a waste product. In fact, the solids are loaded with valuable Read More >

Lettuce in January: Winter Growing at the Aquaponics Project

aquaponics-bok-choyWelcome to the Aquaponics Blog Series. We routinely share updates, photos and fun tidbits from the CLF Aquaponics Project. If you’re interested in urban agriculture, sustainable aquaculture, or hydroponics, be sure to check back regularly for new posts.

Many visitors to the CLF Aquaponics Project ask us the same question: “What do you do in the winter?” Because our project is located under a plastic hoophouse, we’re able to do the same Read More >

Calling all Farmers: Baltimore Accepting Applications for Urban Agriculture Projects

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Courtesy Baltimore Office of Sustainability

This spring, something new is sprouting up in Baltimore. In the coming months, small-scale farm plots will be allocated to local farmers an initiative aimed at filling vacant city-owned lots, encouraging community development, improving neighborhoods and increasing access to healthy food.

Last month, city officials in the Office of Sustainability released their Request for Qualifications (RFQ), beginning the search for qualified farmers willing and able to transform an empty plot into a productive asset. Between now and May 6, the city will be accepting applications from aspiring urban farmers.

In preparation for this project, CLF collaborated with the city on a land assessment to identify potential sites suitable for urban agriculture. Abby Cocke, an environmental planner within Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability, said that about 35 acres within the city met the criteria. In addition to being flat and sunny, the land needed to be city-owned, vacant, and with no short- or medium-term plans for development. Ten of those acres will likely be allocated in this first phase of the project.

Holly Freishtat, Baltimore’s Food Policy Director, said that sites were also considered based on need for better access to fresh fruits and vegetables. According to CLF, 18 percent of Baltimore City is considered a food desert, defined as a census block group more than ¼ mile from a supermarket and with 40 percent or more of the population with an income below 125 percent of the federal poverty line.

This summer, the city will work with farmers to identify specific plots that will work with their needs. The 5-year leases will charge just $100/year for use of the plots, which are up to 1 acre in size. The city may also provide grants or loans to help farmers cover start-up costs.

Cocke describes this initiative as a tangible way to transform problems into solutions. Baltimore has 30,000 abandoned properties dragging down neighborhood values. Urban agriculture can create valuable opportunities for residents including jobs, environmental improvements and enhanced access to healthy foods, she said.

“In addition to all the other benefits, we believe this will be a very important education and awareness-raising tool,” Cocke said. “More people in Baltimore will realize that it’s possible to grow your own food in your neighborhood. I’m hoping we’ll also see more community gardens get started as an after-effect.”

Across the country, interest in urban agriculture has piqued among urban planners and environmental, public health and sustainable agriculture advocates. From Boston to Seattle, cities are finding that they now want to reverse what city planners did a century ago when they moved farming out of cities completely. Now, with concerns about climate change and sustainable food production, “local” food has experienced a resurgence.

“While in some ways this is an experiment, we really are on the forefront of the urban agriculture movement in the U.S.,” Cocke said. “A lot of people are eagerly awaiting to see how this project goes here in Baltimore.”

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

Brotherly Love and Sustainable Eats

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

APHA members tour the Weaver's Way Co-op in Philadelphia in November 2009.

At the mammoth American Public Health Association meeting last month in Philadelphia, it was easy to get lost in all the meetings, scientific sessions and special events. Still, 50 people made it to a food system bus tour of some of the city’s sustainable markets and urban farms on the opening day of the conference. On the tour organized by APHA’s Food and Environment Working Group, participants visited Greensgrow Farm, the Urban Nutrition Initiative, Clark Park Farmers’ Market, Milk & Honey Market, Weaver’s Way, the Fair Food Farm Stand at Reading Terminal Market and a healthy corner store site.

A diverse group of food system experts, academics, physicians and students from as far away as Australia joined in eager to see the greener side of Philly’s food scene and share experiences from back home.

“It was a natural fit to have this tour in Philadelphia,” said Lynn Fredericks, founder of FamilyCook Productions in New York City, and a member of the APHA Food and Environment Working Group. “We would like to take the opportunity to explore the food systems within the host cities for our APHA conferences, and in the case of Philly, with such a plethora of innovations within their food system, it was an ideal location to inaugurate this concept.” Read More >