Urban farming is a productive and creative way to recycle abandoned lots, while providing fresh produce in “food deserts” where city residents lack access to supermarkets. They also cut down on the burning of fossil fuels and pollution generated transporting food long distances.
But in the past, this kind of farming has been challenging, in part because cities like Baltimore had zoning and health regulations that discourage it.
Recently, however, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s administration announced that it is trying to encourage more urban farms by leasing out city land for farming, and by relaxing the city’s rules for livestock.
This spring, the city’s Health Department changed its regulations to allow goats for the first time, and up to 10 chickens, according to Abby Cocke, a planner in the mayor’s office of sustainability. Ten farms are now operating in Baltimore.
“We want more people growing food and more people producing local animal products, as well -– eggs, cheese, honey,” Cocke said while visiting a chicken and vegetable farm in the city. “We are very supportive of this sort of thing. Even goats (miniature dwarf and pygmy goats) are legal to keep in the city now.”
An organization called the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City has sprung up to help urban farmers find local markets for their produce and eggs.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation supports local agriculture through the Buy Fresh, Buy Local Chesapeake campaign, which you can learn about by clicking here.
One of the farmers in the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City is Tara Megos. She runs the Hidden Harvest Farm among the brick rowhouses, alleys and busy streets downtown, not far from Penn Station.
As she escorted a guest through her rows of crops and flowers, and chickens scrambled about her feet, Megos explained that she moved to Baltimore to earn a degree in sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art. But then she said she quickly realized how much she enjoyed growing vegetables first on her balcony and then in a nearby abandoned lot. She said the tiny farm adds significantly to the local quality of life.
Another urban farmer, who declined to give his name, offered the opinion that Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Detroit and other urban areas across the country have thousands of vacant lots that could be converted to farms.
This would not only improve nutrition for local residents, and decrease the amount of pollution created by shipping produce from around the world, but could also decrease stormwater runoff pollution if vegetated fields replace what is now pavement or gravel lots.
“As Americans we have this dream of being self-sufficient and doing things ourselves,” the farmer said. “Raising our own chickens and vegetables and food, even in the city, is a really great introduction to that.”
By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation