2016 Week Four: Food Access & the Environment
“Step with care and great tact
and remember that Life’s
a Great Balancing Act….
KID, YOU’LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!”
These whimsical words of wisdom of the great Dr. Seuss basically sum up my week.
Every day whether I am working in the office or outside, I’m reminded that I currently walk a tight rope in shoes much too big for my feet over pieces of very beautiful, yet fragile glass. I am a young, non-black, privileged college student in a city I grew up so close to, yet so far away from and unaware.
Being someone who will do anything to get outside, it’s very easy to get caught up in the beauty and perceived serenity of nature around you. However, sometimes you get so caught up in it that you forget the greater outside world of people’s struggles.
The places I experienced at the beginning and end of my week were so different, yet so alike.
Tuesday afternoon my supervisor asked if I wanted to accompany him for a site consultation. I quickly agreed (as I’ll do anything to get out of a chair and desk), imagining it would be like every other site I had so far visited.
It wasn’t until about half way through the consultation that I realized just where we were in Baltimore. We were visiting Strength to Love II Farm, in a patch of land in Sandtown-Winchester. I had never been to this specific area, and based on everything I had learnt about this neighborhood it did not fit the description. We pulled into a long parking lot FULL of huge hoop houses. As soon as we got out of my supervisor’s old Subaru, we were immediately met by 3 friendly faces who were so excited to show us their farm. Each hoop house was booming and full of rich produce. It was amazing. So much food was growing in this one area of a neighborhood, and it made me wonder who really knows about it. Now this organization is amazing in that it offers a fresh start for those who were once incarcerated and seeking employment. This single farm gives me so much hope. One of the leaders was telling me how he wanted to turn a vacant lot next to the hoop houses into a community garden gathering area of some sort. Just hearing him describe his amazing visions for the space made me start throwing out more ideas as well. Obviously most won’t be able to happen, but his dedication to this land has moved me the most at this point in my internship.
I ended my week by driving out to Bowie to volunteer on a forest garden. Yes, I did say a forest garden. This company “Forested” focuses on creating productive and edible ecosystems that are creative. This was one of the most sustainable landscapes I had ever seen. The canopy was full of fruit and nut trees, while the remaining ground was blooming with herbs and vegetables. Ducks ran around us while we spent the day sweating in the peak of heat to cover annoying weeds with mulch and cardboard. It was such a perfect place to me.
I’ve realized that while we can “move mountains” and make amazing changes, we must head the life that surrounds us. For the urban forest in Bowie it was perfect for a suburban, rural landscape. In a city like Baltimore I’ve seen how life truly is a balancing act. I’m learning that I need to look beyond the beauty of nature in places like this to see how I can “move mountains” in a way that won’t break that glass that I’m walking over. But seeing these 2 sites just gave me a lot of hope, and some good ideas.
We’re all still trying to find our balance, but I think I’ve found a pair of shoes that fit me pretty swell with this program.
This week ended with a highly innovative game of ‘lazy spider pile,’ where you pretend to be a lazy spider and lie on a large rope web at the Orchard we visited. We had had a long day in the sun– picking blueberries, going on a hayride, playing on the Orchard’s giant slides. The campers all came away with a carton of blueberries to bring home, which was a great triumph due to the tremendous number of refilled cartons– dropped by campers because of bugs, tag, or sheer defiance. The kids were tired but didn’t quite know it yet, and the adults were tired and trying not to let the kids know it. We had reached the point of turning lying on ropes into a game.
The previous day was spent frantically setting up 8 ikea bags of produce for parents to take home. The Blue Bags have been a hit with the parents. Every time I can’t do every step of the process on my own, it feels as if I have failed. It feels as if my project has become a burden to the camp. No one complains, however. The camp director and I had a meeting for mid-summer feedback, and I apologized for creating work for others with my blue bag project. She seemed surprised and said that they were happy to have the camp expand its programming in this way.
During the past few weeks I failed to realize that the blue bag project became the camp’s project more because of the kind of collaborative, supportive community that it is than because of my inability to handle it. The staff’s help on this project has been wonderful, and in some cases incredibly crucial to the execution of the project. Furthermore, if I were to run the Blue Bag project on my own it would be less likely to turn into a sustainable part of the camp’s services. Although I consider myself a team player, I hope that I can come to terms with accepting the correct amount of help for a large project like this one.
Going forward, we hope to provide Blue Bags to more families by getting a portion of the bags donated by Gather Baltimore, and perhaps continuing the service with 29th Street Community Center when we move on to St. Frances Center. Although there are challenges ahead, the demand that we saw from the parents in the last few weeks and the support of the staff has encouraged me to continue.
I feel indecisive at times about what exactly I should pay attention to when writing these blog posts. My post last week felt facile, although it was true: I love getting to meet people at Rides Around, members of the Baltimore community, which we are trying to participate in actively, consciously, and hopefully with joy, the joy of meeting new people and maybe getting to help them or maybe just understanding the city we all live in a little better. Without this program, I would have missed out on all those people and on many experiences. I wouldn’t have biked across half of Baltimore, or camped out in Herring Run Park. Still, it feels facile to just write about those things because there’s so, so much more to write about.
Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, one incident that stood out to me this past week was a conversation I had with my coworkers. It was D who started the it. Before that, we were all joking around and talking, like we usually do, and having a lot of fun. Rides Around with D and DW has always been fun, and with B and another new hire, T, there, it was even better. Then D asked a question that made sense for him to ask, considering that all of my coworkers are black men who for the most part grew up in Baltimore, and who’ve lived there for awhile, and I’m a white Hopkins girl from Missouri who’s only working at Rec and Parks for the summer : “Hey, what did you think of those police getting shot in Dallas?”
I don’t know if it was tense after he asked that question or if everyone was just suddenly paying attention. Maybe I just felt like it was tense.
“I don’t think that it’s right to shoot people, but I’m more afraid for the civilians like the people who were murdered earlier in the week,” I answered. Maybe I said something a little different, I’m not sure. That’s along the lines of what I said, though. It was nothing too articulate. I don’t remember if I named names.
“High five,” D said.
“I don’t think I should get a high five for that really,” I said.
“High five for that,” DW, who was standing on my other side, said.
I high fived both of them but still didn’t feel like I deserved one. And I’m not looking for a high five by writing this– I do think that the pattern of killings that we have seen– Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and many, many more over the years– is more frightening and horrible than a lone sniper targeting police officers. What happened in Dallas was a terrible tragedy, and it should not have happened, but it should not distract and does not detract from the fact that earlier in the week, one after the other, black men were murdered by police officers, and that we have seen that happen in our racist society time and time again, with no punishment. The Dallas shooting, while again, extremely tragic, should not detract from the BLM movement that is trying to change things for the better.
I know that what I said to them was definitely shaped by the fact that I was aware of our differences in experience and race, and that I knew I was being judged by my response. Our discussion afterward ranged over the media portrayal of Dallas– two civilians were wounded as well, although news sources did not pay much if any attention to them– to their experiences with police, funny stories as well as serious ones. After not too long, it went back to our normal conversation: Droid vs Iphone, PS4 vs Xbox, whether living alone or having roommates is better, and of course, how shitty my bike is. According to D and DW, it is worth approximately negative fifteen dollars: the guy who sold it to me should have paid me to take the bike from him. Time passed quickly and pleasantly until it was time to pack up the bikes and head home. I went home and thought of that conversation at random moments throughout the day. I wrote about it this week because it makes me nervous to write about it, because I’m worried about saying the wrong thing, but I feel that it would have been impossible to write a post responsibly without mentioning the violence that has been done this week in some capacity. I’m not totally sure what that conversation revealed about me, or what the fact that I’m writing about it reveals, or whether I’m getting everything right (I’m very probably not) but I know that conversations like it are important, and I wouldn’t have gotten to have it with those particular individuals, people who I much appreciate getting to spend time with, without being here this summer.