2017 Week Two: Food Access & The Environment


This week I learned canoes are terrifying to the average Baltimorean kid. Every program throughout the week began with assuring the kids that their life vests would, in fact, keep them alive, that their boats wouldn’t tip over as soon as they hit the water, and that there were no sharks in the Patapsco River. They cautiously accepted our assurance of their safety, but that didn’t stop their anxious conversation with each other before getting on the water.
Every group calmed down almost immediately once they all started paddling, getting used to how calm the water was. Watching them gain confidence steering the boat and overcoming their worry was the best part of working this week. Slowly, the conversation shifted from accusing floating logs of being alligators or giant fish, to whose birthday party was coming up that week.

All the while I sat in the back of the boat, helping steer or provide some thrust.

Other than they youth groups, it was a pretty frustrating week. I spent a lot longer doing bike maintenance than I would’ve liked. My tire was intent on going flat in a variety of ways. Once, I came back to a small gash in the side while I was out on kayak tours in the harbor. Next was a dramatic pop near M&T bank stadium on my way to Middle Branch Park. Last was a pinch flat after having squeezed an inner tube that was slightly too large onto my wheel. I think my streak of bad luck is over, but I’m going to be riding extra cautiously for a while.


“We tend to barge through this world. Other things have to be more deliberate.” We were on a mission to find a Carpinus Caroliniana, Glenda’s favorite tree. She thought there’d be one North-facing on the path near the creek, so we went on a hike to look.

My project for the summer has been to start a map of favorite trees in the city for TreeBaltimore’s website. The goal is to engage with a wider audience and celebrate not just large notable trees but any tree for any reason. So far, though, the email that I created for submissions has an empty inbox, so I’ve been meeting with folks who work at various parks and forests throughout the city.

Today I was at Cylburn Arboretum, walking in the woods, on the hunt for a tree I had never even heard of before today. We made our way around the trail, listening to the sounds of the birds and the creek and of the Jones Falls Expressway. We were in a little chunk of forest within the city, what used to be the countryside. We saw a lot of black raspberries, not quite ready to be harvested, a grapevine at least a foot thick, and two trees that had grown into one. We didn’t find the Carpinus Caroliniana.


After this week, I have a new understanding of the term ‘back-breaking labor’. Spending hours at the farm bent double means that every day when I go home, the first thing I do is crawl into bed, trying to ease the kinks from my spine before I go to work the next day and renew the aches all over again. I can’t imagine the toll it takes on those who have to do this kind of labor their whole lives – that must take mental and physical strength I can only begin to comprehend.

Now that I’ve adjusted to the initial shock of the farming lifestyle, I spent the second week on the farm settling into something of a routine. By now I’ve worked with everyone at Boone Street, and let me tell you, pruning tomatoes with people is a great way to make friends fast. The farm has such a cheerful, easygoing atmosphere that it’s easy to enjoy the work. Of course, this routine will certainly be reshuffled with the arrival of six YouthWorks participants next week, but I’ll continue to work towards being a dependable, competent member of the team.

Another thing I’m working on: my commute. I’m still learning how to walk through the East Baltimore Midway neighborhood Boone Street is located in. I see people stare at me as I walk by, a white girl clearly out of place in this black neighborhood. To some extent, here I wear my dirt stains as a badge of pride: see, they seem to say, I’m here to do honest work. I’m not some kind of tourist, I don’t think I’m better than you. And while a couple people might make unwanted comments – “nice legs” is not how I prefer to be greeted by strangers – the majority of people are so incredibly friendly. They’ll say hello, ask me if I know the weather forecast for the evening, just be neighborly. I’m trying to stop hiding beneath my baseball cap, too shy to return gazes, and instead feel more comfortable saying ‘hello’ first. Our motto is “In the community, with the community” and to me, this is where it starts.


The second week of work has been a bit slow compared to the first week, in terms of both learning and new work to do. The main work that I tackled this week involved a spreadsheet with data on all of the forest patches throughout Baltimore City, and I was tasked with sorting them into single owner (one person/organization), two owners, and more than two owners. This was quite the lengthy and tedious process, since the spreadsheet contained over 11,000 different lots (which equates to about 2,230 different forest patches) and we initially read the spreadsheet incorrectly, so the work had to be restarted next week. I also had to do many revisions to the spreadsheet, such as fixing the lot size measurements, accounting for incomplete lot data, etc. After completing the sorting of the list, Katie (supervisor) also asked for me to collect summary data for each category (one owner, two owners, 3+ owners) such as total and average acreage, neighborhoods included, position of each lot relevant to a nearby park, and number of lots and patches overall. I’ll include this data in the next blog.

I also did two other smaller projects; looking over our long-term agreements with our protected sites and sending in plant orders for a few forest patches that BGS works with. Most of our sites did have updated LTAs for 2016, but a few (3 out of the 9) either had older LTAs or were not signed by the site manager or assistant site manager. Updating the LTAs is something that can be done at a later date and with relative ease. We also put together our monthly plant order for forest floor plants that we buy for forest stewards at no cost to them (budget of $200). So far it’s been a lot of office and data work, which isn’t a bad thing, I just hope that the work becomes a bit more engaging as the program goes on (didn’t get to go gardening this week either, RIP).


This week was relatively slow at the clinic. I dallied around a lot with the other volunteers, and my sprained ankle prevented me from going out to the garden as much as I would have wanted. However, I was able to give a few Wellness Orientations (WO) to patients the past couple weeks. Pretty much, it is when an administrative volunteer goes over the Wellness services with an interested patient. I show them the monthly calendar, give them a few flyers and pamphlets of pertinent programs and appointments, and get them signed up.

One patient came in with one of the staff nurses at the clinic. The nurse sat the patient down while saying “I will call you every day to remind you take your medications.” I looked down at the referral and it said “noncompliant,” meaning the patient is averse to taking her medications and her diabetes is uncontrolled. Doctors don’t like these patients. What is the doctor supposed to do if the patient doesn’t use the medications? What could improve? This is where the wellness center comes in—the center provides diabetes self-management nutrition and education on the importance of medication and healthy lifestyle for diabetes.

When I sat with the patient to determine her options, she was interested in joining nutrition classes and immediately got a diabetes education appointment scheduled for next week. She didn’t seem very noncompliant to me, but I’m not sure if it was just because I was right there or if she truly wanted to complete the program. I was worried she did not want to be counseled on her diabetes and wouldn’t show up to her appointment. The other day, on the phone, I was trying to schedule someone for their initial diabetes nutrition appointment. Though we ended up scheduling him for one a couple months away, we had one available next week. He turned us down and he didn’t seem like he wanted to come to the appointment. But what am I supposed to do?

Doing the healthy thing is usually hard. Taking medications can interfere with your daily routine. Potato chips and chocolate always taste better than carrots. How do we encourage these healthy, safer behaviors? This is the big question of doctors, nutritionists, police officers, social workers and others who have to promote healthy habits and behaviors. We can’t force people to do anything. But we do have to make sure they have all the tools and information to make the choice–hopefully the healthier one.

At the Wellness Center, this has been a recent challenge for me. How do I encourage wellness and health in the community around me? The Shepherd’s Clinic & Joy Wellness Center is in the Waverly neighborhood of Baltimore, which, evident from the fenced up and boarded up houses scattered between inhabited homes, is underserved and needs healthcare and plentiful healthy foods. They need the tools and means to have a healthy life. I wish work on that this summer and learn how to synthesize kindness, knowledge, and persuasion effectively to create behavior change by getting people into the clinic and to their appointments.

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