I’m back in NYC after a couple weeks of travel and adventure. my main focus was a cluster of income sharing communities in rural Virginia (which I will write about soon). But before all that, on my way down to VA, I stopped in Baltimore, Maryland for a few days and visited some urban agriculture allies there. This is a summary of that short visit.
I had to delay my trip in order to host the Permaculture Action Tour at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. Thankfully the Bolt Bus from NYC to Baltimore is easily negotiable and the trip cost less than $20 even after changing my ticket. I was scooped up from the bus stop by Reagan in her white pick-up. We got back to the Baltimore Free Farm (BFF) just in time for their Monday meeting, which was happening in their warehouse space. There where about a dozen in attendance, half of which where members, others were interested in membership or proposing events for the space to members. Me, I was interested in meeting process, group organization, the history of the Farm and what was the personal motivation driving each member to work together on such a noble pursuit as an urban based, free farm.
BFF is a consensus based, “horizontally organized collective, which means that all of [their] decisions are made as a group, and no one person is considered a “boss.”” I found the meeting structure refreshing and the decision making process was somewhat reflective of that I know well from regular Monday meetings at the Flux Factory, where I am currently the community organizing resident… with the addition of some fun lingo, oy = approve & zzub = disapprove. I won’t go into detail about the meeting discussion but the broad topics where also familiar from Flux and Hogshead meetings including; working with outside groups, financial issues, upcoming events, member updates, etc. In 2010 a group of anarcho-punk, DIY, do-gooders found out about the the City of Baltimore’s Adopt-A-Lot program. They gained access to the Ash Street lot and started a community garden in their Hampden neighborhood. This quickly expanded to two adjacent lots within the block which were not part of the adopt-a-lot program. They cleaned up all three lots (leading to their very compelling Pile Theory), then grew and distributed food locally.
One interesting historical narrative I captured in my notes was that of the 2013 acquisition of what is now the Baldwin Permaculture Garden. After BFF cleaned up the various lots, the city decided to auction two of them off. BFF persistently organized around these Baldwin St. lots and set themselves up for a fight to keep them under community possession. They produced a petition, garnered some media coverage (including the Baltimore Sun, WBLAtv and others). BFF used the media attention to speak out about the city shopping out the lots “to those who provide the highest economic value, rather than those who provide the highest community value.” They also made the apt observation that, “With many other vacant houses and lots in the Hampden area, we feel like selling these two particular lots for development is unnecessary and unfortunate.” A campaing to rais money to participate in the bidding process against one unnamed developmer was successful and, in the end, some elected officials and influential community members supported BFF’s efforts. The City of Baltimore awarded “an exclusive negotiating privilege” to BFF to negotiate and purchase the two vacant, city-owned lots they had already cleared and started a garden on. A success direct action for the community and the movement at-large. Now the BFF members are wrestling with how their involvement in the neighborhood is affecting further change. A good few conversations where had about that but those tactics I will not divulge here.
Their warehouse across the street has a very interesting back story and the use of it is quite dynamic. They struck up an amenable agreement with the absentee property owner, but even this seems to also be in a state of financial flux with a seemingly insecure future. I do not like resigning myself to the simple statement that this is the nature of such pure anti-capitalistic pursuits, but I am not convinced BFF has found a workaround and neither have I for our similar situation at Smiling Hogshead Ranch. Nonetheless, I was inspired by the many warehouse uses including an office, a blacksmith shop, an LGTQ bike fixer collective space, a performance gallery, Food Not Bombs meal preparation and distribution areas, an impressive zine library and more. I worked with Reagan and Don clearing spent tomato vines from the garden, dividing and repotting perennial plants and mulching pathways. I briefly assisted with some blacksmithing work and busied myself collecting seed and saving them for BFF members to repackage and sell, or give away, next spring. Some members awoke extremely early on Wednesday morning to go on a food rescue mission, which they do every week. There was a sonic meditation workshop led one night during my stay and, based on Monday meeting discussions, I know they are planning many fun and varied events in the near and not to distant future.
Bravo to the good folks making the Baltimore Free Farm happen. If you are in the Baltimore area I highly encourage you to visit and get involved with this group. I myself look forward to visiting again in the future. A huge thank you to the BFF members who hosted me and facilitated my stay, including Reagan, Tarryn, Holden, Jenny, Kenny & Don. Mad respect!