Vital Plots: Converting a Vacant Lot into an Urban Farm and Social Space

Vital Plots: Converting a Vacant Lot into an Urban Farm and Social Space

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The Indypendent Reader’s own Scott Berzofsky and Nick Wisniewski, in collaboration with Dane Nester, have been involved in founding and maintaining a community garden in central Baltimore. Here’s a quick question-and-answer session with them.

How did the garden get started?

In the spring of 2007, a small group of us (all friends and artists) approached several residents in the Johnston Square neighborhood with a proposal to convert the vacant lots on the 1100 block of Forrest St. into an urban farm and social space. We were interested in reclaiming underutilized land in the city, learning to grow our own food and initiating a bottom-up planning process in which we could collaborate with residents in the neighborhood to produce a space that responded to our collective needs and desires.

How much produce do you yield annually and how is it distributed?

Last season we didn’t keep a quantitative record of our yield, but we were growing on a quarter acre and had a lot of surplus. The food was distributed for free within the neighborhood through cookouts and informal gleaning. We don’t have a fence around the garden, and we are open to people taking food if they need it. But ideally they will give back some labor to help sustain it. This season we’ve expanded to almost a half acre, and we plan to cook a lot of the food on site, experiment with selling some of the produce at a farm stand run by the young people in the neighborhood, and selling to other small local businesses.

How many community members are involved? What are the different tasks people have to complete to keep the garden going? What other organizations are involved?

There are different degrees of participation. Some people have helped out with the intense physical labor required to prepare the soil at the beginning of the season, others may pull weeds, and some people participate by simply keeping an eye on the garden or stopping by to have a conversation. This season our most active participants have been the young people, who have become really invested in the space. They help with everyday tasks like planting, watering, weeding, and harvesting, and also just hang out and play in the garden when we’re not even there.

When can people stop by to help out?

We try to be there every day in the early morning or late evening. Saturdays have become a pretty consistent time for cookouts. But the best way to contact us about getting involved is through e-mail at scottberzofsky@yahoo.com.