They’re just gonna keep growing!
Baltimore farmers are cultivating the city’s first “AgriHood,” dubbed one of the nation’s top ten innovative farms, The Baltimore Sun reports.
Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm was created eight years ago by Richard Francis, who the community lovingly refers to as Farmer Chippy. Francis was inspired by his Caribbean roots to create the space, looking to duplicate that sense of community in Baltimore and grow food for and with Park Heights residents.
The Plantation sits on a lot at the corner of Springhill and Cottage avenues in Northwest Baltimore. The community comes to garden and first time visitors are allowed to leave with basil or a carton of egg. Francis said even the name is intentionally provocative, him using it as a way to remind visitors of their history.
“We wanted to remind children of the colonizers, that this is where it all started. One group produces and the other group developed a thriving economy. Today, we say equal rights and justice for all on the Plantation; let’s include those who were left out,” he said.
Today, the Plantation has expanded beyond Park Heights, with farmers working to grow 250,000 pounds of food across 30 vacant lots that are owned by the city and leased by the Plantation. Together, the urban farmers are looking to build the city’s first “AgriHood,” a community shared agriculture and marketplace that will also double as a training resource institute. Francis has plans to institute consistent programming at the AgriHood, already landing partnerships with University of Maryland, Coppin State University and Holistic Wellness and Health, an organization that provides healthy plant-based cooking classes.
The goal is to have regular training facilitation for farmers focused on food safety, good agricultural practices, soil testing and risk assessment across dozens of farm sites. The farm is one of more than 20 urban farms and 100 community gardens that exist across Baltimore. Many of them serve the community and intertwine with the city’s thriving art community in addition to providing access to fresh produce to Maryland correctional institutions. Recently, the Plantation was awarded a $25,000 grant by Park Heights Renaissance, a nonprofit focused on economic and land development. The farm is using the funds to support agriculture in four elementary schools in the neighborhood, teaching children ages 5 to 15 how to grow, harvest and package foods for families.
“We’ll be positioned and ready to serve our youngest citizens, those who are at risk in Park Heights. The institute is going to put agriculture in the classroom and [be] following through with our children so that they can become farmers and chefs before they become scientists, doctors and lawyers,” explained Francis.
Harold D. Morales, a Morgan State associate professor of philosophy and religious studies, who also helps with grant writing and university research for the Plantation, spoke about the significance of the farm, calling it a little piece of the Caribbean in the neighborhood. Morales hopes that cultivating the land will continue to provide for the community and address the systemic issues that have caused food insecurity for residents.
“What’s often referred to as food deserts, more appropriately, should be called food apartheid. The term desert has this connotation of a natural landscape, as if nature was responsible for making this void of food access. Nature didn’t do this. We have explicitly racist policies and tactics that were employed by banks and government officials to create these spaces,” said Morales.
Francis has continued to stick to his mission of building a little Caribbean community, offering native crops like sugar cane, sweet potatoes and Trinidad scorpion peppers at the Plantation. He now sees a lot of similarities between his native Trinidad and Tobago and Northwest Baltimore.
“Park Heights is like a third-world city, it’s been neglected, it is heavily populated with Black and brown people. It has a port, and it has a thriving economy happening outside of the poverty. We have an amazing educational system in the Caribbean, just like here with Johns Hopkins and the likes. But we are still unable to retain our talent, because most of these people graduate and go outside for opportunities,” said Francis.
His hope is that Agrihood Baltimore will continue to be a hub for the community and connect residents not only to food, but also to resources around housing, and education.
“It is the close of the summer season for us and we’re getting ready for next year. We’re coming bigger, better, faster and stronger, and we want your involvement. We want you to tell us now what you would like to eat in 2022, and we’ll grow it. We promise,” said Francis.
To learn more about AgriHood Baltimore, visit www.plantationparkheights.org.
Photo Courtesy of Richard Francis