2016 Week Six: Food Access & The Environment
Although the heat was sweltering this past week, I still enjoyed my time spent in the maze of plant beds and fruit trees that is Duncan Street Miracle Garden. I have been working here once a week since the start of my internship, under the guidance of the over 70-year old Mr. Sharpe. Mr. Sharpe is a soft spoken, straw hat wearing farmer that started this garden in 1988 on land previously occupied by over 40 vacant houses. He knows the plants like the back of his hand and spends every day except for Sunday alternating between caring for these plants and cooling off in the shade of his fruit trees. He knows and says good day to every single neighbor that walks by the garden and many neighbors take a few minutes out of their day to help with some weeding or planting. After he harvests his produce, Mr. Sharpe donates every piece of produce to either his community church or his neighbors, anyone who drops by and wants some fresh vegetables. In a city where food deserts are one of the leading public health concerns, I am extremely grateful to be able to witness a passionate resident dedicating his life to providing his community with fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. I will genuinely miss ending each week by spending 8 hours in this east Baltimore oasis, working towards a more sustainable food system.
As I walked in to Johnston Square on my first day at the second site of Peace Camp I was bewildered by a huge, old, blue-gray roof looming over the highway. I couldn’t place the sight of this historic building in the mental map I had of the area. As I crossed the highway, however, the dark stone walls of the building slid into view. My stomach dropped, and I recognized the recently abandoned city prison. The prison was first constructed in 1801, and has had a long and sordid history in the community. Last year the prison closed down due to corruption and unacceptable living conditions.
Before the prison closed, my boss told me that they would hear shouts coming from inside the grounds and prison numbers being called. The nuns at the St. Frances Academy used to tell their students that they could be here at school, or over there in the City Detention Center. One teacher said she tried not to notice it, but she thought that the neighborhood itself was not affected by the closing of the prison. Another said that she had heard that the prison would be turned into a museum. This was controversial because some worry that it would glorify the corruption in the prison system and the school to prison pipeline.
No matter who I asked, there was a different story. The Baltimore City Detention Center is an undeniable factor in the landscape and history of the neighborhood, and oftentimes it is for the worse. As the week progressed, however, the old building weighed on me less and less. The campers are just kids. My class is calm and kind and many of them are surprisingly analytical thinkers. Some of them need Peace Camp, and all of them deserve it. This week I have been so grateful to be among those bringing it to them.
I have been thinking a lot about the end of my internship. If there are loose ends with my project, I’m definitely going to continue working until they are all taken care of. And I plan on going to see my coworkers at programs and on helping out if I have time and Molly needs help with a program. However, I’m not a permanent part of Rec and Parks, and both I the people I work with are very aware of that, especially in the bike program.
Last week we talked about it for a little bit. All the guys I do Rides Around with held a vote, and voted for me not to leave.
“It’s a democracy, guess you’ve got to stay!” D and T shouted out of the city truck window when they dropped me off after Rides Around on Thursday.
It was mostly just part of messing with me like they usually do, with a lot of talking shit and teasing, but DW also said he’d miss me the other week, and I still felt kind of loved because of it. I’ll miss them too. On another note, being a temporary person from a privileged institution working with people who work for Rec and Parks more permanently is an interesting position to be in. Any issues they may have with how programs are run or how coworkers communicate will continue, while I’ll be able to step away from it all at the end and never deal with it again if I so choose. It’s a nice situation to be in, although I feel that my impressions of Rec and Parks and the things that I do to try to improve it have limited meaning because of it. It also changes the relationships I’ve developed, because as far as they know they won’t see me after August 6. I plan on going to Montebello to see them every Saturday or so, but the semester is always busier than I think it will be, and promises like that are hard to keep– promises that demand time instead of work or money or something of that nature.