2017 Week One: Food Access & The Environment

picture of Lucas Duffy CIIPLUCAS DUFFY | BY PEACEFUL MEANS

I have yet to completely dive into my internship. Things haven’t gone exactly as planned, since my supervisor has been tied up with other responsibilities and I have only worked remotely. On the bright side, I got one extra week of vacation! Even though I haven’t been at my job site, I have already contacted an organization to try and coordinate a weekly fruit drop-off from Hungry Harvest at the Peace Camp where I will be working. When I spoke with Hungry Harvest I pried a little bit and they told me about a pop-up discounted grocery market program they have called Produce in a SNAP. After learning that the Peace Camp runs in through the St. Frances Academy for part of the summer, the folks at Hungry Harvest asked if I could look into St. Frances as a potential location for a weekly market. Apparently they do not have great coverage in the area, so if this partnership works out, then fresh produce could become available to the surrounding community at a discounted price. Even though it was a small interaction, I feel as though I am beginning to get my first exposure to organizing, which is making me excited for the weeks to come.

picture of Cody Falta CIIP

CODY FALTA | URBAN RESOURCES INITIATIVE (URI) / BALTIMORE OUTDOOR REC, MIDDLE BRANCH

This last weekend was exhausting for everyone but me. Outdoor recreation had a ridiculous weekend of activities planned that I only caught the tail-end of because of CIIP orientation. Most of the team worked all day Friday and then had a 16-hour day on Saturday, helping facilitate the Baltimore Floatilla. I got to meet my new co-workers on Sunday to help lead two 3-hour kayaking tours in the harbor. I definitely had to contain my excitement to match the weary vibe, but even with the 95 degree heat and my determination to not draw attention to how fresh I was, it was pretty clear that I was enjoying myself.

After that came a completely undeserved four-day break for me, and a much needed one for the team. I spent the time thinking about what to pack for lunch when I returned, or what podcasts to listen to on my commute. When I got back today, the only event on the schedule was a Canoe & Scoop, where a team of volunteers goes out and scours the Patapsco for trash around the Middle Branch boat house. The group was so large that we ran out of canoes and the staff had to go out in kayaks. The staff and I spent some time idly chatting, and eventually I split off following a group of baby ducks in my kayak, looking at them nibble some algae off the side of a dock. One of them had a weak leg, so he tottered along after the group, but they were patient. When we got back, we collected the trash from the volunteers and scrubbed and put away the boats. Although my first week was only two days, it was thoroughly enjoyable. I’m excited to get to know everyone better and be a bigger part of the team.

picture of Claire Gray CIIPCLAIRE GRAY | TREE BALTIMORE

I’ve been learning a lot about trees this week, and some stories are pretty interesting. One is about when a man accidentally killed the oldest tree in the world. In 1964, a graduate student in eastern Nevada and U.S. Forest Service personnel cut down a 4862 year old Great Basin bristlecone pine after the student’s tree coring equipment became lodged in the tree. He didn’t know that the tree was so old, and he wouldn’t have been able to get a replacement piece of equipment until the end of the field season. Since the tree didn’t appear to be remarkable, he and a park ranger cut it down to retrieve the equipment. Bristlecone pines are gnarly trees that look nothing like the majestic redwoods that one envisions when thinking about the oldest trees in the world. The pines aren’t particularly big, and it wasn’t the only one in the area, either. It only took one student to grossly misestimate the ancient tree’s importance and cut it down forever.

I guess the moral of the story is that even with good intentions, you still have to be really careful and deliberate so as to not create negative consequences. Even though you’re trying to do something good, you have to watch yourself. There’s some debate as to whether or not the graduate student actually got his instrument stuck in the tree before cutting it down and that he knew that there was something unique about that tree, that it was obviously older than others in the area. His research was to study the basic scientific question of maximum potential lifespan, after all, so longevity has to have been on his radar. I guess the second moral of the story is to have good intentions.

picture of Rachel Krieger CIIP

RACHEL KRIEGER | BOONE STREET FARM

This week, I learned two things about being a farmer: you have to be willing to get dirty, and you have to be at least a little bit crazy.

Whether this insanity is a prerequisite for the job or the byproduct of doing it, I’m not sure, but I can definitely see what makes people say that. During my first week at Boone Street I’ve been sunburnt, bug-bitten, bruised, blistered, and occasionally bleeding. My first day began with demanding physical labor outside for hours in 95-degree heat – I though passing out would be an ill omen on the first day, but it was a close call at times. I’ve gotten on the bus at the end of every day exhausted and covered in a mixture of sunscreen, sweat, and soil which pretty effectively ensures no one will be sitting near me (not necessarily a bad thing, in my mind). So maybe you’d have to be a little crazy to willingly subject yourself to these indignities, day in and day out, for years. Yet despite the labor and the minor injuries, the unexpected joys of farming more than make up for the physical toll it takes.

For one, the connection to nature that urban farming allows is unparalleled. Few other jobs let you listen to birdsong as you breathe the scent of sun-warmed sage, learning one by one to identify the plants you see and appreciate their unique flavors. Farming also gives you access to the freshest variety of produce possible – whether it’s plucking ripe peaches from a tree for breakfast or a coworker pulling a plant straight from the ground and saying “Here, try this”, there’s always a snack on hand when you work on a farm. It also sparks conversations with members of the community, because people will pass by as we work and ask questions about what we’re doing. I gave one man advice on planting his own garden, and another day my boss explained to a passerby the premise of an urban farm. While I was delivering vegetables with a coworker, a stranger gave us packets of wildflower seeds as gifts. So despite the occasional discomfort, I enjoy the daily surprises and new experiences involved with working at Boone Street, and I already wear my dirt as a badge of honor when I walk through the streets. As time goes on I know the novelty may fade, but I’m looking forward to settling into a routine in my new life as an urban farmer – even if it does end up making me a little crazy.

picture of Omar Lloyd CIIPOMAR LLOYD | BALTIMORE GREEN SPACE

My first week was full of a lot of learning, adapting and visiting new environments. Nearly every day this week, I was either outside of the Baltimore Green Space office visiting community green spaces (such as Mr. Mason’s garden, the Duncan Street Miracle Garden, Wilson Woods, HEPP Park and Fairwood Forest), or going to a meeting of the major environmental organizations in Baltimore (including the Department of Public Works, US Geological Survey, Office of Sustainability, and more. The first week has also been full of reading and in-taking new knowledge; learning about Baltimore City’s “Growing Green Initiative” (which aims to repurpose vacant lots for growing trees, food, reduce stormwater runoff, and beautify distressed neighborhoods), the health of Baltimore’s forests (bulk density and soil health, both of which are as good as rural forests) and helping both Katie (supervisor) and Miriam (ED) edit drafts for grants and update data in their Salesforce database.

The biggest takeaway from this week happened when working at the Duncan Street garden with Mr. Sharpe, a community leader who worked at the garden since 1989 and donates all of his grown food to the local church. I helped him with a variety of tasks during the day, including removing weeds and grasses, cleaning the nearby alleyways, and tilling the soil. At around lunchtime, a older gentleman came by who knew Mr. Sharpe, and we talked about the local goings-on; which is when he retold his story of how he was held at gunpoint a week earlier. The local was robbed by local youth of countless memorabilia of family members, appliances, furniture and other belongings that he can never recover. He also expressed a distaste for the current climate in Baltimore, saying that “the youth have very little care, and no standards” for themselves. I’d like to go more in detail about his story but I’d rather not, but do know that the people you work with are in these communities 24/7, and don’t have the escapes and better lives that we do as Hopkins affiliates. I think this story further highlights the differences in lifestyle and quality of life experienced by Baltimore citizens, and reinforces ideas such as the White L and the Black Butterfly.

picture of Jasmine Malhi CIIPJASMINE MALHI | JOY WELLNESS CENTER

“Wow who knew healthy food could taste so good?”

I heard this a couple times this week when I sat in on a nutrition class and helped out with a cooking demo to help create some delicious, healthy food for the patients. After a couple years volunteering at Shepherd’s Clinic, when I started at Joy Wellness Center—part of the clinic—I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. I expected that I would be able to fit right in, but there was still a lot I needed (and still need to) learn. I focused on taking in a lot of information in this past week, from patients, staff members, and volunteers, learning about everything from paperwork to yoga to food foraging.

As a volunteer, I know that diabetes, hypertension, and other chronic diseases are common to our patients. Many of these are inextricably linked to adequate nutrition, which is not always available to patients or community members who simply cannot afford insurance and are below the poverty line. The Wellness Center tries to mend this by providing diabetes consultations and nutrition classes, among other things (which I’ll talk more about in later weeks).

While sitting in on the nutrition class, I learned, with the patients, about how glycemic index, rather than simply carbohydrate and sugar count, is important to consider to keep sugar levels stable in diabetic patients. Though the patients and I joked about how much we like eating chocolate bars and salty chips, they seriously listened to the nutritionist and took extensive notes on what she was talking about. One patient told us a story about how she was pre-diabetic and since the disease ran in her family, she took action to prevent it. She lost 40 pounds by eating healthy, her blood sugar stabilized and she was feeling better than ever. The patients applauded, happy for their fellow community member and interested in learning from her experiences with her weight and pre-diabetes.

The effects of nutrition on health is clear, but the fact is that some Americans cannot afford the food or are not aware about nutritious food and how to use it. I’m excited to work further on this issue and learn how holistic healthcare fits into the overall goals and methods of traditional medical care.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,