Baltimore held as Example of Great Urban Gardening

From left, Rebecca Lemos, Chrissa Carlson, Katie Dix and Rashelle Celestin

To learn how to make gardening happen in D.C., organizers of the yearly Rooting DC symposium turned to their friends up the highway in Baltimore to tell DCers how it’s done.  The crowd was impressed indeed and had dozens of questions – too many for the time allotted.  Here are my quick notes but I’m hoping to visit some of Baltimore’s gardens this summer and report from closer-up.

Rashelle Celestin works for Baltimore’s Department of Housing but gets really involved in making gardens happen – on vacant lots.  Turns out, their Adopt-a-Lot program makes it really easy for residents to do just that – adopt vacant lots and turn them into gardens – or managed open space used for other purposes, like exercise or even chess tables.  The city charges just $120 per year per lot, which includes a spigot and all the water you need. It can all be done by clicking that link.   So much for bureaucratic hurdles!

Rashelle’s department also their very successful Side  Yard Program under which they sell lots to adjacent landowners for just $500 with the only proviso that they maintain it as an open space for 10 years.

Rashelle said the city also works with Baltimore Green Space, a land trust for community-managed open space. The trust acquires land, sells lots for $1 to people and groups who garden on it for at least five years.  Incredible!

Another amazing example of urban gardening is the story of the Community Greening Resource Network.  Coordinator Katie Dix explained that it assists individuals, community gardens, schools and green spaces throughout the City of Baltimore.   Its members represent almost 200 gardens of all types – school, community, even private gardens – and over 80 percent of them grow food.  The network supports gardens by conducting give-away days, offering tools through a tool library, and educating gardeners through workshops covering whatever people are interested in – beekeeping and chicken-raising were very popular last year.  This year they’re adding talks and workshops about fruit trees and vermiculture (worm composting).

The network, started in 2008, is sponsored by Parks and People Foundation and the University of Maryland, and is where volunteers of all sorts come together to help support gardens – many are Extension Master Gardeners, and many from local nonprofits.  The network maintains a comprehensive calendar that’s the go-to source for gardening-related activities in the whole Baltimore area.  Awesome!

Another speaker, Chrissa Carlson, talked about her work teaching food education at charter schools, and the panel was convened by Rebecca Lemos, half of the very cool duo of young women who make gardens happen at schools across Baltimore and D.C., too – they call their nonprofit City Blossoms.

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