2017 Week Three: Food Access & The Environment


This week I started doing some design work for Rec and Parks. I made a map of the Middle Branch area with little icons of sights that can be seen from the water when we’re out canoeing. I’ve done a lot of design before but never made a map, so it was a challenge.
Besides that, I’ve settled into the schedule. During the week we go canoeing with different groups of kids, on Saturdays we pick up trash in canoes with volunteer groups, and on Sundays we lead kayak tours in the harbor. While the schedule is consistent, the groups are always very different. One group of kids we had was really disinterested in canoeing, so they got in the water and just kind of sat around until we had to come back. We didn’t say anything but it was pretty clear that it bummed us all out to have a group that didn’t want to be there.

The next group that day was the exact opposite. They showed up and introduced themselves, declaring their nicknames, and things they liked, unprompted. It was a complete 180. When we got in the water, even though they were around 7 to 10 years old, they were paddling just as strongly as we were. Feeding off their zeal, we asked if they wanted to race. We helped steer the boats but essentially let them do all the paddling. When we got back they laughed about the race, and invented the “paddle five,” where they’d slap paddles with each other in passing.


Every week, I could fill this space ten times over with quaint vignettes of what it’s like to work on a farm – just imagine picking soft raspberries from prickly bushes, their red flesh sweet with summer’s warmth, and realizing that store-bought berries will never be enough again. Picture the flash of a stray cat’s eyes, peering up at you warily between leafy stalks of kale. Feel the cool water hit your burning skin as you turn the hose on yourself while watering tomato plants. But as vivid as that is, there’s more to working at Boone Street than the pure tactile experience of it, and long after my sunburn fades I’ll still remember how my conversations with people here have shaped my perspective on life in Baltimore.

The most thought-provoking of my conversations so far have touched on the subject of race. One of my black coworkers, one of the few full-time employees at the farm, told me that he was always skeptical of white people who came through the predominantly black neighborhood – were they developers looking to turn a profit, or could they be friends? No offense, he added, glancing at me. None taken, I said. Hearing the perspective of others allows me to understand more about their experiences, and it made me question how people might see me as I walk down those same streets.

In that conversation, I appreciated his gentle approach to the topic of race. As a white person, it’s often hard to know how to talk about this without being insensitive, without being blind to your own privilege, without succumbing to white guilt. A lot of the time, it all depends on who you’re having the conversation with. This point was driven home a week later when a new volunteer on the farm, a half-white, half-Korean girl who lives in the county and goes to private school, asked a question out of the blue: “If someone has a phobia of black people, is it a legitimate phobia or are they just racist?” She seriously. Asked. That. At the time, I said something innocuous – “Wow, I really don’t know where that came from” – attempting to telegraph that this was NOT the right way to have this discussion, as two of our black coworkers sat in awkward silence. Looking back on it, I wish I’d said: OF COURSE that’s racist. You wouldn’t be asking that question about white people, and it’s offensive that you asked it at all, because you’re basically saying that there’s a reason to be afraid of black people. Like my coworkers. My friends. I wish I’d tried to make her think about how what she said could hurt others, but instead I was too afraid of saying the wrong thing.

Recently, I was listening to a podcast featuring Mychal Denzel Smith, a black author, who was asked by the (white) podcast host how white people should show support and sympathy for victims of racism without appropriating black pain or ‘doing it wrong’. His response was blunt: “You’re going to do it wrong. But that’s okay.” Maybe what matters is the willingness to be part of the conversation, even if we don’t have the perfect words ready at the time, even if we don’t know what we mean, even if it means confronting our fellow white people about things that aren’t necessarily comfortable. Because even if you’re doing it wrong, at least you’re doing something.


This week has been a good deal more interactive than the last, and I’ve finished the forest patch project (for now at least) and have begun two other projects. The forest data that I’ve been looking at for the past two weeks has been completely summarized and sorted, and I have to say it feels good to be done with this kind of work (until I get the next spreadsheet that is). So as a closing to this work, I’ll give some important data and takeaways; 23,487 acres in Baltimore City belong to forest patches with one owner (657 patches), 67,647 acres for two owners (349 patches), and 82044 acres for three or more owners (1231 patches). The acreage values don’t include patches that are centroid to a park, because those are already taken care of and skew the data. This project was both arduous and long, but it’s nice to finally have their data organized.

The next projects I will be taking on will be applications for the Charm City Garden Competition, QCMOS site visits and Stormwater Fees for our protected sites. Charm City Farm and Garden Events holds a competition in the summer to celebrate community gardens and green spaces, and two of our protected sites needed help in applying for the competition (but in the end, only one site actually wanted to submit the final application). For our QCMOS (qualified community-managed open spaces) site visits, we’re going around Baltimore to see sites that are at risk of no longer being qualified sites, can potentially be qualified sites, or just need to be visited in general to see if they are real spaces. And this leads into the project for stormwater fees, since every site that BGS protects is eligible for a discounted storm water fee (since green spaces reduce storm water runoff) and is not charged with a Bay Restoration Fee. This project will most likely be about applying for the stormwater credit application and making sure all of our protected sites are not paying more than they have to. So yea, lots of work to look forward to!

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