2021 Week 3: Environment & Food Access
This past week has been slightly more stressful than usual because the whole office was on vacation, but I still had tasks to do. I was focusing on a number of tasks such as fixing the brochure and I learned plenty of new skills. It feels like everyday I am learning how to fulfill another role and I enjoy being useful. The stress came when I had to fill my own role and really take the lead on what I could spend my time most economically on. I ended up focusing on a lot of the graphic design and felt very fulfilled that I finally had an outlet for my artistic skills.
Despite all the unexpectedness of the past week, my Saturday at the market felt pretty typical: highly fulfilling. I have gotten to know a couple regulars such as Lawrence who is very proud to come in every Saturday and makes a point to know our names. I was just having a conversation with him about my dreams to be a doctor and he was very motivational. I left in a great place and I am so grateful I get the chance to meet and interact with so many new and passionate people.
Classifying a typical work day is difficult — while Bikemore is traditional in the sense that we have an office and spend the majority of our time staring at a screen, typing or researching or in a Zoom meeting, we also spend a fair bit of time out and about in Baltimore and in nature. In my first week, I went on a hike with Friends of Herring Run. Another time, I went on a bike ride with my co-worker, Menelik, around Baltimore so I could further understand bike infrastructure around the city. Every couple weeks, we host a Mobile Bike Shop in Druid Hill Park or Lake Montebello where we talk to the community about relevant issues and offer free bike repair services. A typical day at Bikemore can take me to R-House for a meeting with a community council president, or to Mt. Vernon for a breakfast staff meeting. The balance between being out and about in Baltimore and being rooted at the office or in my apartment is great — I feel like I never get tired or doing one particular thing.
The work I engage in follows a similar pattern — sometimes I’ll be working on written research, at other times producing video content about bike pathways. In my time at Bikemore, I’ve produced fundraising emails, Instagram graphics, video interviews, posters, and a page on our website. In the same way I don’t know what a typical week looks like, it is similarly impossible to predict precisely what my work will look like. When I get tired of graphic design, I can turn to research and reading. If I am tired of communications work, I can turn to fundraising or policy. It’s not only a great way to keep me continually engaged, but also lets me get acquainted with all parts of Bikemore and learn as much as I can. I’m thankful for the variety in my days and my work.
Last week, we ran into a huge problem: only one Baltimore organization, Hex Ferments, had placed an order through the Black Church Supported Agriculture (BCSA) Program. Usually, our program picks up and delivers produce for 3-4 organizations. These bi-monthly distributions are a big affair; the labor of driving the truck, loading and unloading pallets of produce, and coordinating hundreds of dollars of orders falls onto my supervisor, their partner, and myself. It costs several hundreds of dollars to rent a large enough truck and usually requires an entire day to make our deliveries, since we have to pick up from farms that are sometimes a several-hour-drive away.
Since only one business had placed an order through BCSA this week for produce that would take nearly 10 hours to drive to pick up, we were unsure whether or not it would be worth it to rent the truck and put in the effort to pick up produce for only 1 order. Talking it through with Pastor Brown, the founder of BCFSN, we turned our dilemma into a new opportunity. We decided to still pick up the order and turn the long journey into a tour in which we will stop by congregations along the way and gift them produce in hopes of building partnerships with them and getting them to join our network.
Sometimes it feels as if the work I do at BCSA is slow; it’s hard to build up a supply chain from just a few people midst of a pandemic. But when challenges like this turn into new opportunities to form community and comradery with nearby organizations, I feel motivated. I am excited for this trip and cannot wait to write about it next week.
Because I work at a network/coalition organization, I’ve been able to meet and hear about various leaders and elders doing amazing work in their communities. Today, I want to highlight one particular couple–the Blues. For the past thirty years, Warren and Lavette Blue have been growing produce on their for-profit urban farm, the Greener Garden, located in the Hamilton area. Not only do they grow organic and naturally-certified produce for the local community, their farm also serves as a resource hub for the state through the University of Maryland Extension (a non-formal education system within UMD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources) and for youth through the 4-H network and other programs.
I first met the Blues weeks ago, when I was helping with the Waverly Market produce dropoff, but I was really able to get to know them after visiting their farm and helping them pull weeds with my supervisor. We arrived in the morning around 9:30am, only expecting to stay an hour, but we got so into the rhythm of chatting and weeding that we ended up staying until 1pm! I first got a quick tour of the premises, which hosts hoophouses, raised beds, a hydroponic greenhouse, an herb garden, a flower garden, and a washing station. I was extremely impressed with the diversity of setups and plants being grown that speak to the Blues’ original intentions with the farm, which was to grow food for themselves in a country where the cancer rates and amount of chemicals used in agriculture were going up. After the tour, my supervisor and I got to weeding the garlic and onion beds, and soon after Ms. Lavette came outside and joined us. She shared with us funny volunteer stories, how things were going at the farm, how the weather has been changing, and personal struggles unrelated to the farm. Ms. Lavette and my supervisor did most of the talking, while I mostly listened, but in the process I felt like I learned so much about the struggles faced by urban farmers.
Not only am I inspired by the Blues’ story and their service to the city, but I am also really touched by Ms. Lavette’s kindness. She was always asking me if I wanted a stool to sit on, gloves, sunscreen, water, or anything else I needed to be comfortable. By the end of the day, I was taking home a marigold plant, a raspberry plant whose leaves I could use to help alleviate the pain of menstrual cramps, and some purslane which is a “weed” high in omegas and other nutrients. Later in the week, a GoFundMe emerged for the Greener Garden to help them raise the $8k it would cost for them to install a waterline that would give them access to Baltimore City’s Water Access Program for community gardens and farms. It was spectacular seeing how quickly supporters of the Greener Garden and urban agriculture in Baltimore came together to raise $2k in less than 12 hours and reach the $8k goal. The Blues’ kindness, hard work, and passion for growing food that I felt resonated with many others across the city, and I believe the success of the fundraiser is a testament to the power of relationships and being in community with each other.
ROMINA ROJAS | JOY WELLNESS CENTER
On a typical work day, I would wake up at around 8am and get ready for the day. If it is an in-person work day, I would drive to Joy Wellness to get there at around 9am. Once there, I enter through the front doors and say hello to all of the Shepherd’s clinic staff and volunteers. I then make my way to the back of the facility where Joy Wellness is located and say hello to Tracy and Allison. After settling in at the main desk, I listen to any voicemails, check the Joy Wellness email, and respond to all messages. If we are hosting a class or program that day, I would set up for it. For example, on Wednesday mornings we have patio chair yoga. I set up all the equipment including the chairs, yoga mats, blocks, blankets, etc. I greet our chair yoga instructor, Carol, and let her know which patients have confirmed that they are attending. I also greet and have conversations with patients as they come into class. When class finishes, I tell those who attended about our other classes happening that week and make sure they have a Joy Wellness calendar so they can stay up to date with our programming.
Following Wednesday morning chair yoga, is our virtual nutrition class led by our nutritionist intern, Jennifer. To prepare, I make sure I can access the nutrition education Powerpoint and recipe for that week so I can share my screen on the Zoom call. While we wait for people to join the meeting, I talk to Jennifer about the recipe she chose to demo for that week. This week’s recipe was a nutrient-dense breakfast smoothie! As Jennifer tosses the ingredients in the blender, the class attendees unmute themselves on Zoom to ask questions and make suggestions for additional ingredients, making it a very collaborative and engaging environment.
Once all the classes for the day are over, I make calls and emails to remind patients about tomorrow’s classes. In between calls, Allison, Tracy and I discuss any updates for the week and any new tasks I can help out with. Overall, a typical day as a Joy Wellness intern is spent interacting with members of the community, both in-person and over the phone, while assisting with wellness programs designed for integrative healthcare.
LAÍS SANTORO | WHITELOCK COMMUNITY FARM
I’ve quickly come to realize that there is no typical day or typical week at Whitelock or community farms like it. While there is a general structure to the week, where we prepare for harvest and tend to the farm in general earlier in the week and then harvest and sell afterwards, there are many factors that influence and change that on a daily or weekly basis. This week, I learned about the code reds that to farmers, mean that the heat is too strong and for farmers to not stay outside. This happened on Tuesday, which is why I did less hours then, as well as Wednesday. There is always virtual work to do, and I learned about some of the research that is happening at the farm from two Master Gardeners, Alan and Nora. They are trying out different methods of curating mulch to see how it protects crops from heat and what materials do that best. I learned how to make some of the biomulch, or “magic mulch” as I like to call it, that has hay, straw, alfalfa, and fertilizer. We mix all of that together, and then surround the plants with it. Once we water those crops that are covered with the magic mulch around it, we can see how well it holds moisture, if it wilts more or less with the heat, and more changes with different temperatures. It seems like it was starting to work pretty well this week, so we will keep monitoring that and I worked on a way to organize all the data that needs to be collected and will be further establishing that as the summer goes on. While this research is very interesting, it is also very sad to see because it’s a direct impact of the hot weather and the heat. While Whitelock is a very micro example, some of our crops were not salvageable because of the heat and then the rain and storms that followed afterwards. We can see the impacts that the heat has on Whitelock’s produce, so what does that say for other parts of the world, larger farms and larger crops that need to be harvested to feed the rest of the world? Especially in areas that are more disproportionately impacted by the heat waves and might not have other resources or access to food? It was definitely a wake up call and while it’s great that methods like the biomulch are being tested, it might not be possible to do that on a more macro level or at a level that is sustainable for a larger population.
There were a few other things that happened this week, I went and supported an action to stop the eviction that Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden is facing in South Baltimore. The Housing Authority that owns their land wants to take it back from them because of a random complaint, but the farm has fed thousands of people during the pandemic and has such a strong hold over the community that it would cause lots of harm if it’s gone. I also feel like I am building a better connection with one of the staff at Whitelock, Wykeem, who is the program manager. He was not very open or talkative to me beforehand, and we worked at the farm stands together and I felt like he did not like me very much. I heard he was a quiet person, but I’m glad to say that he and I are talking more not just at the farm stand but also whenever he comes to the farm, and more than just a hello which makes me really happy! It makes me feel like I am starting to build more trust with these folks that really had no reason to at all, and I hope they can see how committed I am to working with them so their community can thrive. I also really appreciate Ms. Kim for being so kind and caring, making sure I don’t have to walk back to the bus stop in the heat or the rain, making sure I am fed and taking breaks, and that I’m just having a good time with them (which I am, and learning so much also). I’ve become used to our almost daily phone calls or check-ins to talk about the week or what’s going on and look forward to them. While there isn’t necessarily a routine, there is a rhythm about this work that flows each week and it’s all about being able to adapt to what you don’t have control over, but also making sure to fight against things like taking a farm’s land away, or speaking up about climate change and worries about our food supply.
TALIA SHADROUI | BALTIMORE CITY OFFICE OF SUSTAINABILITY
This week I’ve made a lot of good progress on my projects. A typical day working includes a good mix of different activities, which I really enjoy because it keeps things interesting. I like shifting gears from one project to another and getting a change of pace once in a while. I enjoy spending the mornings working on the literature review on urban agriculture and community engagement. I find I am the most energetic in the mornings so I like to use this time to get creative and think about ways to organize the information so that it can be easily understood and most helpful for the Office of Sustainability. It also consists of a lot of reading and rereading the many documents I received earlier in the internship which is helping me process the information even more.
On Tuesday this week, I had another conversation with a key stakeholder in urban agriculture. Our conversation was excellent and helped me learn about unique ways to engage local neighborhoods and communities in learning, participating, and leading when it comes to urban agriculture. The conversations I get to have with community members have been very insightful. Something that has stood out to me is that the relationships that the community farms have with their neighborhoods have taken a lot of time and work to build. I find this applies to me and the relationships that I will be building throughout the internship as well. Relationships with other people require being consistent and putting in the time. This has changed my expectations about the relationships I will form during the internship, since I am only interning for two months. After hearing how some urban farmers have spent years or even a decade building relationships with the neighborhood they are in, it really puts things into perspective in terms of the work and effort that has gone into these farms. I’ve always heard that good things take time but I’m only beginning to understand it.Tags: 2021, Baltimore City Office of Sustainability, Bikemore, Black Church Food Security Network, CIIP, Environmental Sustainability, Farm Alliance of Baltimore, Joy Wellness Center, No Boundaries Coalition, Whitelock Community Farm