Story: Gabrielle LePore
Multimedia: Bailey O’Malia
In a jungle of concrete, neighbors gather to nourish a plot of plants and vegetables. And even though the Boone Street Urban Farm and Community Garden is tucked between the rowhouses in East Baltimore’s Midway neighborhood, it is not meant to be kept a secret.
“We’ve started the community garden across the street so that we are able to share the resources that we use on the farm with the community gardeners,” said Cheryl Carmona, a grantee of the Open Society Institute Baltimore Community Fellowship award. “[We] share our knowledge and even things down to the recipes and how to use food.”
Carmona studied environmental science and technology as a graduate student at the University of Maryland. Both the OSI grant and background knowledge of soil and watershed sciences will allow Carmona to develop education and outreach programs centered on recycling and proper trash removal. She will demonstrate sustainable agriculture at the Boone Street Farm.
“It goes beyond what you put in the recycling bins like newspaper, aluminum cans and plastic,” she said. “In a garden, you can also recycle food waste, any organic matter, your leaves.”
Recycling is essential to sustainable agriculture. It helps strengthen the ability of soil to hold nutrients, which eliminates the need for chemical pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, she said.
“If you create a healthy ecosystem, you should be using the resources in your ecosystem to battle those things naturally,” she said.
For example, Carmona and volunteer members of the community clean up the dead plants and put them in a compost bin located at the garden. The compost is then used as a natural fertilizer to feed the next set of plants.
One goal is to provide the neighborhood with lidded trash cans, as well as recycling bins to collect leaves and food waste that can be brought to and composted for the garden.
Aliza Sess works with Carmona at the garden. She helps write grants, manage emails and maintain the garden.
“I think it’s really important to have a garden like this because, number one, this was a vacant lot where people were just dumping trash and people would just walk by it,” Sess said.
Since transforming the space into an urban farm in 2010, there has been more activity in the neighborhood. When Malik, 7, first saw the garden, he ran to tell his others.
“I went to go get my cousins – well, a lot of my cousins – and I told them to come help Cheryl and Aliza,” he said. “I came up here and I just asked them, and they said do you want to help with something, and I said yes.”
The garden provides a place for kids like Malik to hang out after school and learn more about urban gardening.
“There’s a lot of kids playing, people walk[ing] by, interactions,” Sess said. “We’re cleaning up trash and people can see that there’s an actual cycle of things that are happening, rather than it just being vacant empty space.”