Hope at the End of the Hoop House Tunnel

If there are two things I am constantly reminded of living on the shore, they are the importance of local food and the need for smart growth.  The first is a constant with local farmer’s markets and produce stands throughout the shore.  The other (at least in my neck of the woods – Cambridge, MD) is lacking in a way, particularly in regards to an over-abundance of large developed “big box” strip mall buildings, left vacant along Route 50.

How amazing would it be if you could magically morph both issues – local foods and abandoned lots/buildings – to create a super project aimed at targeting vacant, urban land in poverty stricken areas to construct greenhouses to act as urban farms, while providing jobs and increasing the supply of fresh, local produce to a city?    Woah that was a lot..

This super project sounds like a myth right?  Well let me just brighten your day, by telling you this is exactly what is occurring in Baltimore with Big City Farms!  Located in a South Baltimore parking lot, on a paved-over brownfield, is the Middle Branch Farm, a collection of six large hoop houses that grow everything from arugula to spicy edible flowers.  These six hoop greenhouses can yield 6x six times more per-acre than a standard dirt farm.

The produce grown here by the Middle Branch Farm, a subsidiary of Big City Farms, is sold at local farmer’s markets and supplies 15 local Baltimore restaurants.  And even with the capacity to plant approximately 9,300 seedlings, Big City Farms is reporting a higher demand than they can meet.

What a great, yet scary a problem to have – while it is great that demand for local foods is there, it is terribly telling of the need for more local produces.  Big City Farms not only hopes to expand to 100 similar farms throughout Baltimore, creating 300 jobs in the process, but also to develop the project throughout other cities.  This is not the only urban food operation project.  There is also GreensGrow Farms in Philadelphia and Growing Power in Milwaukee.

The potential of this project and similar projects like it is simply astounding.  To take a vacant lot in an urban setting and provide not only jobs, but communities with healthy, local options that they would not necessarily have access to, is immensely impactful.  I mean, we all have vacant lots somewhere around us!  We could all be providing local jobs, as well as supplying local vendors with fresh produce.  And did I mention the ability to better the lives of those in low-income, poverty stricken neighborhoods?  This is an absolute no brainer!

As my elementary school guidance counselor would always say  – this is a “win win situation”.