In 2008, a volunteer group called the Urban Agriculture Task Force – composed of various entities interested in promoting urban agriculture in Baltimore City (including the Mayor’s Office, Parks & People Foundation, Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, Earthome, and a diverse array of backyard gardeners and urban farmers) – determined there was a clear need for a fully operational, demonstration farm in the city. Over the next year, CSBA staff researched options for a financially and environmentally sustainable urban ag enterprise. They developed a business plan focusing on high tunnel “hoophouses”, or low-cost, low-input greenhouses. Upon presenting their findings in 2009, CSBA began searching for a home for the project. Civic Works, a well-established non-profit with access to six acres in Clifton Park, strong community relationships in neighborhoods actively seeking to improve their food landscape, and a long history of training youth in job skills and establishing community gardens.
In April 2009, Civic Works began program development and fund development efforts. They partnered with the Safe Healing Foundation, another Baltimore-based non-profit which provides employment and education opportunities for youth, to construct the first three hoophouses later that summer. The University of Maryland Eastern Shore provided technical assistance with another four hoophouses in October 2009.
In December 2010, we harvested our first produce at Real Food Farm…and we’ve been growing ever since!
Improving Access to Healthy Food
Food access is generally understood to describe the availability and accessibility of fresh food to maintain a healthy and nutritious lifestyle. At Real Food Farm, we strive to improve food access in Northeast Baltimore by focusing on three main concepts: pricing, proximity, and familiarity.
Our primary tool for tackling the first two concepts is our Mobile Farmers Market, which allows us to distribute our fresh produce to folks in the surrounding communities by setting up market stops or making home deliveries. We work with a handful of partners to think up creative ways to keep our produce affordable and to identify convenient market locations for neighborhood residents as ways to combat what are known as food deserts.*
But providing physical access to healthy food does not solve the issue in its entirety. We also want to increase familiarity with healthy foods and where they come from, thereby helping people incorporate more fruits and vegetables in their diet. To this end, our educational programming strives to connect people with their food by teaching them about nutrition, agriculture, and food systems.
*A food desert is a geographical area, generally with a low-income population, that lacks convenient access to grocery stores or supermarkets, and thus has limited availability of fresh food. Real Food Farm sits among of a couple Baltimore food deserts, as you can see on the map featured here. There is some debate surrounding the appropriateness of the term food desert, but it has definitely been effective in starting conversations about food access and food justice. Visit our FAQ page for more resources on the discourse around food deserts.