By Sylvia Carignan
Baltimore’s proposed zoning code could mean more jobs and fresh, locally-grown food for city residents. The new code would introduce community gardens and farm stands into the city’s recognized land uses.
Although the city will not proactively create spaces for urban agriculture, the zoning code will "reduce barriers" for residents who will, says city planning director Thomas Stosur.
"What we’re trying to do in the new zoning code is allow community gardens in a much broader array of neighborhoods and zoning districts across the city," he says. As for the districts that could benefit the most, "the areas in the city where we have concentrations of vacant and abandoned properties are prime spots for community gardens, at least as a temporary use," he says.
In the city of Baltimore, urban farming was restricted after a 1971 revision of the zoning code. After recent revisions, farmer’s markets, gardens, and farm stands popped up around the city.
"It was a lot to keep track of...and that's why I built the Baltimore Urban Ag site," says Marjorie Roswell, who operates BaltimoreUrbanAg.org.
The site works as a network for food organizations, local communities, and educators who are interested in Baltimore agriculture. On her site, dozens of local farmer’s markets are mapped within the city’s boundaries.
Outside Baltimore, another cluster of markets are mapped just north of Washington, D.C. Although D.C. farmer’s markets are relatively rare, community gardens have already taken root.
"There’s the Washington Youth Garden, which has a pretty big space there, part of the arboretum; there’s the Lederer Youth Garden, Neighborhood Farm Initiative...In general, it’s on the upward swing," says Spencer Ellsworth, interim farm manager at Common Good City Farm in northeast D.C.
Many gardens and community farms are already thriving—mostly in D.C.’s northwest quadrant, Ellsworth says, and that creates a food access issue.
"A great amount of space is underutilized because it seems like people don’t quite know what to do with it, and the leadership and the expertise isn’t there," he says.
At city farms like Ellsworth’s, volunteers are working hard to change that. Common Good City Farm started with two founders under a different name: the Seventh Street Garden. After a short residence near D.C.’s Bread for the City organization, the garden moved to an old baseball field in October 2008. It has expanded to a farm of more than 50 different kinds of plants, Ellsworth says.
"You name a vegetable, we grow it," he says, including cucumbers, broccoli, kale, and asparagus. Low-income D.C. residents who come in to exchange volunteer work for healthy food often leave knowing more about the food they eat.
But, Ellsworth says, it’s not only low-income residents who volunteer at the farm.
"Our volunteers run the entire spectrum of the D.C. community...We all work together on the farm, and it’s all races, all colors, all creeds. It’s everybody, which makes this such a cool, vibrant space to be a part of."