Imagine a once sad-looking vacant lot in Baltimore City that has been transformed into a garden oasis teeming with neighbors harvesting tomatoes, herbs and strawberries. Now multiply that green space by roughly 100 and you have an idea of Baltimore City’s thriving community garden scene.
In just the past five years, the number of Baltimore community gardens has doubled because of a unique partnership between citizens, gardeners, non-profits and our City government.
A community garden is a piece of land gardened by a group of people. Most Baltimore community gardens are created by neighborhood residents or schools who want to beautify a not-so-nice plot of land. The gardens can be set up as cooperatives where neighbors join a membership and share the bounty. Or, a gardener will rent a plot of land that they plant and harvest for their own use. You may have seen the Mura Street Garden near Collington Square Park or the Duncan Street Miracle Garden recently. These are a few examples of the community gardens in the area.
The benefits of community gardens are many from the availability of sustainable and fresh produce to a healthy hobby for urban dwellers and also the overall improvement of a neighborhood’s curb appeal.
Though for many of Baltimore’s community gardeners, it’s being part of a tight-knit group with a shared goal that drives them to spend time planting, weeding, watering and harvesting their gardens.
Jenny Kaurinki, one of the founders of the Radnor/Winston community garden, says it best, “Where can you get nine months worth of organic produce for $20 plus one hour of work a week?” The Radnor/Winston community garden recently sprouted when 20 families created the garden on an odd-shaped plot owned by Loyola University Maryland. Loyola supported the idea and even provides the garden’s water source. From 20 raised beds, a bounty of tomatoes, garlic, sweet potatoes and produce grows each season. The members work the entire garden and all share the produce, with three garden beds ear-marked for the local GEDCO’s CARES food pantry. “It’s the only produce some CARES clients eat,” shares Kaurinki.
Community gardens have their challenges with the top two being a reliable water source and land ownership. To ensure that Baltimore’s community gardens are successful, a few key groups were recently formed that provide community gardens with key resources.
In 2008, the Community Greening Resource Network (CGRN) was formed by The Parks & People Foundation and the University of Maryland Extension program. Patricia Foster, president of the University of Maryland Extension Baltimore City Master Gardeners explains, “Our group of volunteers was helping so many community gardens with the ins and outs of securing land and how to plant a garden that a more comprehensive partnership made sense with The Parks & People Foundation.” Master Gardeners attend a rigorous 13-week horticultural program and once graduated, commit to volunteering each year.
CGRN now has over 200 members who pay a $20 fee for access to design, maintenance and expertise. More importantly, the group connects community gardens with the many government and non-profit resources needed to keep a garden going. Anna Evans-Goldstein directs CGRN, “Our most popular events are the ‘Give Away’ days where local nurseries donate their surplus plants and seeds to our network gardeners. Over $70,000 in plant materials have been donated to Baltimore’s community gardens.”
Another key group in Baltimore’s community garden success is Baltimore Green Space. Founded in 2007, Baltimore Green Space acquires community-managed open spaces for its land trust so a community garden has a sense of permanence and can’t later be taken over. Baltimore Green Space also helps gardens access water and provides liability insurance. Miriam Avins, Baltimore Green Space’s founder and executive director, explains, “The Baltimore City government and the Office of Sustainability have been supportive and great to work with in creating workable regulations and programs that support our town’s many community gardens.”
CGRN’s Evans-Goldstein sums up Baltimore’s community gardens best, “These gardens bring our neighbors together in unlikely ways. I’ve spotted people from different backgrounds and different neighborhoods head-to-head chatting about growing radishes. That’s a positive.”
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Laurel Peltier is a freelance writer. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.