2016 Week One: Food Access & the Environment
A gorgeous Baltimore summer day, hands stained purple, arms becoming heavy as we tried to hold out the cloth tarp to catch every last mulberry, and… “oh, wait is that the harvesting pole still in the tree?” Of course I would be the one to find a way to get our sole piece of equipment used for collecting our funky fruit stuck on a branch FAR up. After the three of us made several poor attempts to grab the pole that was beyond our reach, my supervisor managed to finagle it out by climbing a flat wooden fence onto the back of my other co-worker. I was so worried they would be annoyed or even mad that I had no experience in harvesting this fruit (which was unknown to me until this day). But they weren’t. We all just laughed about it and went on harvesting mulberries, literally from a tree whose branches happened to hang over onto the sidewalk of a major road (I learned that the branches and its fruit are technically public property despite the tree being in some stranger’s backyard!). At that point I realized that this internship just might be perfect for me. None of us wanted to be inside on that beautiful day, and decided to take a spontaneous trip to go harvest and expose me to the fruit that will be the highlight of my work for the next week. So, we went to a tree in Remington that my supervisor knew had to be full of mulberries by this point. And we did, no questions asked, no worries in the world beyond picking this sweet summer fruit.
Coming into my organization this week I was both excited and frightened. When I showed up to the office my first morning, my supervisor told me we were going to be heading out to our staff meeting soon. That freaked me out even more. However, when I got to the room where the meeting was held, I was immediately greeted with 8 welcoming smiles. I have to say that CIIP orientation week prepared me very well for most aspects of working with my nonprofit, yet somehow it had slipped my mind how small and close the team of members would be. This week they haven’t yet failed to amaze me in how they coordinate their work, manage tasks, and work together to bring together a greater goal. They never waste a moment of time or opportunity at a resource, and that is commendable for any group of people working together.
My perception of Baltimore is currently quicksilver, constantly reshaping itself based on my emotions and experiences since CIIP has began. Yesterday I got a new “bite” of Baltimore which I had no idea about, an Injustice Walk hosted by 3 men who at one point in their lives had experienced the hardships of homelessness. This was a very heavy and intense way to end the day, but I believe that it is something that every Hopkins student should be encouraged to do prior to freshman year. Poverty and homelessness is a major problem even in such a developed world power such as the United States. It amazes me that these problems still exist to the extent that they do all around us. We as Hopkins students walk past several homeless people on Charles and Saint Paul streets every day, and most people act like their invisible or simply not their problem. It pains me to constantly hear how people think that there’s nothing to do in Baltimore or how terrible of a city they chose to came to. We need to look beyond this condescending bias and see this as OUR city now, which we ultimately can have an immense impact on with our privilege of merely being from Johns Hopkins. This summer I will change the way that the people I work and interact with think about Hopkins students by showing them that I am not here to “save” them, but to be their partner in fighting against these issues of social injustice and oppression.
“This here is uh… Peaches and Cream Mint? No, I believe it’s Berries and Cream. Put a leaf between your teeth and you’ll taste the sweetest thing.” An older nurse in a bright green Baltimore! shirt hurries from plant to plant in her busy, scrambled urban garden, giving the origin story for each hard-earned fruit. “Now over there we used to do watermelon and cantaloupe. Now if we do it we just do watermelon. Any city gardener knows the rats will eat a cantaloupe faster than you can pick it.” In the streets just east of the elegant Mount Vernon neighborhood, acquiring fresh food is no simple task. The Peace Camp I am working at this summer has identified campers’ access to the food they need for fuel as a significant challenge. On Thursday I began to explore the options that are actually available. The air in the area surrounding the historic St. Frances Academy hangs bleak and heavy on a gray day. Many students in the area are separated from their neighbors by crumbling, vacant row houses. Just behind the school is a prison, old and imposing, that was closed just a year ago for poor living conditions and corrupt gang involvement. Weeds have crept through cracks in the sidewalk and spread all around to entire lots, almost hiding the garden on which the nurse works. The closest corner grocery store sells little and shows less– customers are separated from the goods by bullet-proof glass, and anything bought must be asked for through a small revolving window. I had hoped to visit the corner stores in the neighborhood, investigate the food that was on offer, and purchase a selection so I could start experimenting with healthy local recipes for the campers. However, the reality of discussing every item from behind 3 inches of glass with my time constraints put the second half of those plans on hold. Just around the corner is a popular takeout with good prices for breakfast sandwiches, waffles, burgers, and more. Down the street is a store for liquor, cigarettes, and grocer, with the food as unreachable as in the corner grocery. The gardeners work on with their gate flung wide open, knowing that anyone from people to rats can and do take the food that they have cultivated. From farming to local stores, accessing healthy food has great and quite literal challenges in this area of East Baltimore, and for many who live in impoverished urban areas. I was so glad to make a great new friend in a local garden who wanted to get the kids involved. But my first steps as I hope to help find the solutions we can for the kids we will be with were small and likely too tentative. Next week I’ll be back to dive in and do some groceries. “This is the curry plant. Smell that! I’m trying to figure where I can plant it so it doesn’t overpower the other plants with the taste.” I walked away after half an hour with six stalks of Berries and Cream Mint to make lemonade with the campers. It’s great for a city garden because it keeps away the rats, but it grows like crazy and my gardener friend says she only needs so much.
“Nice bike! You’re going really fast!” I hear as I’m going down 33rd. I turn my head and I see one of my coworkers hanging out the window of the city truck we drive bikes around in. “Shut up!” I yell back, “I don’t need your attitude!” Biking in Baltimore has been an experience and a half. Work is mainly in several parks around the city: Gwynn’s Falls/Leakin Park, Lake Montebello, Druid Hill Park, and Middle Branch Park. I’ve biked to the first three. The most terrifying was definitely Leakin Park although biking on 33rd came in close second. Besides working on getting comfortable on a bike in the city, this week I’ve been on kayaking, canoeing, and biking programs. One of my favorites so far is our public biking program, which is very simple: we check out bikes to people for an optional donation (often then for free), in exchange for a photo ID so that they don’t walk away with the bike. It turns out (not too surprisingly I guess) that folks like it when a program isn’t about making money off of them, but is about giving them access to a resource. My supervisor will even teach people to ride if they want to try it but don’t know how. People will come up and say they haven’t biked in 40 years, and you get to watch them bike around the reservoir in Druid Hill Park or the lake at Lake Montebello, getting happier and more comfortable on a bike with each lap. While I know that Recreation and Parks seems like an unnecessary program, I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how there are many, many jobs that people do that benefit others, many of which aren’t necessarily needed by us all. However, we’d all notice if those jobs weren’t getting done, and things might be a little worse. If you don’t have a roof over your head or food, of course riding bikes isn’t going to be your first priority. Checking out bikes for no required charge doesn’t fix major problems like homelessness. The idea of resources that can be available for everyone, though, and that the government and organizations can is an important one, and that’s what I’ve been thinking about this week.Tags: 2016, Baltimore Orchard Project, By Peaceful Means, CIIP, CIIP 2016, Urban Resources Initiative, URI, Week One