Eight Acre Urban Farm in Baltimore Provides Foundation for Self-supporting Local Food System
September 19, 2016 | Jocelyn Kerr
To combat food access challenges and build community, eight acres in and around Baltimore’s Clifton Park have been transformed into Real Food Farm.
After two years of research and fund development, the farm harvested its first crop in 2010. Since then, the farm has produced thousands of pounds of food for distribution across Baltimore’s food deserts.
Chrissy Goldberg, Food and Farm Director for Civic Works, the nonprofit that oversees Real Food Farm, said more than 13,000 pounds of food have been distributed between January and August 2016. One of the primary methods of distribution is the Mobile Farmers Market program.
“The goal is to strengthen Baltimore communities,” Goldberg said. “We’re a little more nuanced, we believe in local and sustainable. We’re promoting a local food system that can support itself.”
The Mobile Farmers Market operates Tuesday through Friday from April to December. Trucks stop at senior centers, schools, residential communities and any other neighborhood gathering places that want to partner with Real Food Farm to bring fresh produce to the community.
“We’re always looking for ways to spread the word and partner with organizations like senior centers to get communities to know we’re coming. We’re always looking to strategize to make people more aware,” said Charlotte Proctor, Community Market and Outreach Coordinator for Real Food Farm.
A 2015 Food Environment Map compiled by Baltimore City and Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future found as many as one in four Baltimore residents live in a food desert and have a difficult time reaching healthy food.
The research defined these deserts as areas where the distance to a supermarket, or alternative grocery store, is more than a quarter of a mile, the median household income is at or below 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, and more than 30 percent of households have no access to a vehicle. As many as 200 households in food deserts are served through programs like the Mobile Food Market.
“The mobile market takes food out into the food desert,” Goldberg said. “And we have our own hoop house dedicated to education.”
Civic Works estimates 13,000 pounds of food have been distributed between January and August 2016. They also partner with Americorps to provide urban farming opportunities for volunteers interested in working in agriculture.
“All our openings are twofold—for the community around us and also it’s a wonderful opportunity for skill development. We’re able to teach cool job skills and people can try things out they wouldn’t otherwise be able to do,” Goldberg said.
Former Americorps volunteers have used their experience at the farm to launch food-related stores and businesses and have founded organizations like the Farm Alliance of Baltimore. Goldberg said it’s all part of building a stronger Baltimore community through agricultural education and food access.
“We do a lot of service. Learning and days of service for schools—field trips—they come over to see the bees, and we have a youth program for high school students. We are a hybrid farm—production and training and the education piece is incredibly important,” Goldberg said.
The farm grows most of the produce sold, but Proctor said the mobile market also partners with other local farmers to provide meat when possible, or to provide crops the farm can’t grow itself, like grapes. It’s all part of building a sustainable community food system.
“We try to educate the customer on how to live sustainably and what happens in the entire farm system,” Goldberg said.
To further help people get access to fresh produce, the mobile market participates in the Double Dollars Incentive Match Program. Up to ten dollars of WIC, SNAP or Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program vouchers is matched through the program, enabling shoppers to double the amount of produce they purchase.
Proctor said mothers shopping at the mobile market are often surprised to learn their WIC nutrition program vouchers go twice as far.
“WIC mothers get five-dollar checks [to buy produce],” she said. “Their eyes get so big, [and they say] ‘Wait, I get more?’ It’s a pretty awesome opportunity to make a great program that much better.”