Charm City Farms Brings Education and Fresh Food to Baltimore
April 25, 2016 | Abbie Stutzer
Eric Kelly, founder of Charm City Farms, has always appreciated the great outdoors. Since he was a kid, Kelly dreamed of working outside with his hands and communing with critters. But when he became an adult, reality set in—he had to get a 9-to-5 job.
But Kelly’s life took a turn after he was in a car accident. He decided to make a change. So, he left his job and hiked part of the Appalachian trail. “I tried to reconnect to myself,” he says. “I already liked plants and had a great relationship with animals, but I wanted to learn more.”
When Kelly returned to his hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, he decided to take some gardening courses. “I took a master gardener course and a master naturalist course, and started the group Foragers of Baltimore,” Kelly says. The Foragers conduct plant walks and look for edible, medicinal, and utility plants in various parts of the city.
It was then that Kelly decided he wanted to put down roots—literally.
He founded Charm City Farms in 2012. While Charm City is now known for its sustainable farming practices, community building activities, and its goal to empower, it had a humble start as Kelly was still learning about different growing methods.
He went on to take a wilderness permaculture course and a teacher training course to become a certified permaculture instructor, and went on to teach a few classes for the Baltimore Orchard Project.
“They had a space that was offered to them that was a little overwhelming,” he says. “But when I saw it I thought it was amazing. And that’s where the food forest now—Clifton Park—a quarter-acre, community-accessible food forest in Baltimore.”
While Charm City Farms still has ties to the Clifton Park spot, Kelly wanted to expand its reach, so he secured a second plot in Johnston Square.
“It’s three-quarters of an acre with a big brick building on it—a 30 by 60-foot brick garage—that we are calling a ‘brick barn’,” he says. “I’m putting in a classroom, workshop, kitchen and compost potty.”
Kelly has a five-year lease on the land through the city of Baltimore’s Homegrown Baltimore program.
Right now, Charm City is trying to help bring the soil at Johnston Square back to life. The plot originally contained 26 houses, and the soil is now in bad shape.
“I’m going to try to get some plants to hammer through that soil and see if I can get their roots to create cavities in the soil,” he says.
Kelly’s also keeping the space healthy and well-maintained by using wood chips, horse waste, compost, companion planting and compost teas. He’s also working on a fundraiser for a water catchment system, and wants to try to start a fundraiser for a tractor.
Kelly says Charm City’s Johnston Square spot should have plenty of eggs available this year. And although he’s not sure if the soil will be ready for plants—he’s yet to flip or amend it—Kelly is ready to begin planting once the ground is ready.
”I have 300 species of seeds in the fridge that I’ve been collecting, and 20 fruit trees,” he says. “I’m hoping to get some of the fruit trees in, and some berries, nuts, and vegetables this year, but I don’t really have any plans on trying to market—this isn’t a market farm. But if someone in the neighborhood wants to take over part of it, and create a job for themselves and create a market farm, that’s fine with me.” Charm City also houses chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs and honeybees.
Kelly is able to run Charm City with the profit he makes from teaching courses.
“That’s what’s generating revenue right now and it’s the only way I’m able to do what I’m doing,” he adds. “I have no idea if the community here can economically support a farm, but that’s not the goal—the goal really is to offer fresh stuff and to keep it affordable for people who live here.”
The classes Kelly teaches are on-and off-site. “We teach primitive skills classes, farming courses, and cooking, kombucha, kimchi, sauerkraut and cheese making. [We also teach] mushroom identification, basket making, and foraging.”
Kelly also wants to start a yoga course that would be free to some community members. “We have a few certified instructors that are working on doing outreach. We hope to get that unrolled by the end of summer.”
He says that he’s doing a lot of record keeping—on how he created Charm City, his classes, and this burgeoning yoga course. Because if he is able to build a successful model, he wants to share it with other people so it can be replicated.
Kelly says that by year five, all of Charm City Farms’ goals will be achieved. “I should have the fruit trees and veggies in, and the playground done,” he says. “If everything works out, I hope to go on and do another project or model somewhere—I want the people who live here to take over and I hope that they can create jobs for themselves.”
Kelly says that although it took a while to get Charm City up and running, he was OK with the wait. He knew his natural persistence would allow him to succeed and persevere.
“It took me four years to get here, but we’re in an awesome place.”