Fresh Food Baltimore

Fresh Food Baltimore

Fresh Food Baltimore is a program of The Men’s Center a non-profit program that consists of a couple of passionate volunteers and the Men’s Center staff. We are becoming good friends with some amazing farmers, non-profits, community associations and emergency food providers who share our vision for a healthy, vibrant East Baltimore. Together, we are working to make our neighborhood a place where open spaces bear wholesome food and play, instead of rodent infestations and trash. We foresee a community where children once again grow up with a deeply rooted relationship with the natural world and it’s bounty; a community nourishing itself with regional and traditional foods instead of settling for the processed quasi-foods that contribute to the chronic illnesses plaguing our area. To nurture this vision we are using our resources and friendships to take extra food from local growers and stores and make it available to health minded residents, residents who want to eat better, and those who are struggling just to eat. We are about to start distributing high quality food in East Baltimore. The Basics In response to the community’s vision and a comprehensive needs assessment conducted in 1995 by the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, The Men’s Center was created in 1999 to address the real life health and social issues facing urban men and families living in the McElderry Park area. Since that time, The Men’s Center has worked with the Maryland Food Bank to regularly host food giveaways at the Center and with volunteers including students from the School of Public Health and The Nursing School to offer corresponding nutritional education programs. An expansion of these ongoing efforts, Fresh Food Baltimore is a low overhead, volunteer driven effort to improve access to fresh, locally sourced, and environmentally friendly food in East Baltimore. Fresh Food Baltimore picks up unsold or overabundant produce from small, local farms, family owned grocery stores and urban farmers markets. (Note, we’re not here to support corporate grocers or factory farms, we’re here to celebrate small farmers, family owned businesses and make their continued operation more viable.) For example, when a farmer brings 200 bunches of carrots to the Waverly Farmers market, but can only sell 100, we can use our non-profit status to offer him a tax exemption for the other hundred. Similarly, when Murry’s grocery store on Monument St. receives a fresh order of broccoli, instead of tossing the perfectly good broccoli they received earlier in the week they can give it to us. We immediately give this food away through our own food distribution programs at the Men’s Center or deliver it to partnering emergency food providers in East Baltimore like The Door and Bea Gatty’s. More than just a food recovery program Since Fresh Food Baltimore began developing its small scale food recovery program last fall, ideas for the food have been flowing in from neighbors and community leaders. And for us, that’s exactly the point of recovering food in the first place – it’s easy, it’s practically free, and it gives everybody involved a chance to come together around good food. These conversations have already led Fresh Food Baltimore to begin developing programs ranging from vegetable and flower gardening and dinner clubs that are subsidized with free fresh food, to a composting program that will allow us to convert any inedible food donations into rich, natural soil to feed local Baltimore’s gardens and farms. Along with bringing this food to our neighborhood, we are using our van to transport our neighbors to local farms like Garden Harvest in Reisterstown. We are also working closely with the Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network to take advantage of gleaning opportunities in the Baltimore area. To glean simply means to collect. In terms of food, gleaning refers to the tradition of collecting food that was missed during the harvest and has existed since humans began producing agricultural surplus thousands of years ago. In other times farmers, for moral reasons, left food in their fields for neighbors and peasants to glean. In America’s current industrialized farming landscape, mechanical harvesters always leave food in the fields. Sometimes it’s not economically viable for the farmer to pay to harvest the missed crop, so it stays in the field. The crop that is harvested is sorted so that only the food that looks like our preconceived idea of a potato, let’s say, ever leaves the farm. Potatoes of the exact same quality, from that very same crop that are “too big” or “too small” or have an interesting shape are left in a pile in the field to rot. Mid-Atlantic Gleaning Network makes sure that this food is not wasted by coordinating gleaning events for individuals, church groups and other organizations to glean at farms. Part of the food goes to food pantries in Baltimore City, the other part heads home with the volunteers. Anyone can get involved – you won’t be disappointed with the bag of food you bring back – and if you live in McElderry Park area we can give you a ride. One of the things this all adds up to in the long term is a relationship between residents and the local farming community that is mutually beneficial. Residents have another opportunity to organize around healthy food, and farmers that know us personally are just a phone call away. Our farmers get a tax break and connect to urban residents that will appreciate their food and support them in the future. Why we can’t fail (even if we fold) Right now, we have a couple thousand dollars from the Abell Foundation and an old van. The possibility of our van breaking down before we reach our destination is very real. We hope to prove the potential of our program this summer and apply for further funding this fall, possibly even some paid staff. But the reality is that the van isn’t even necessary. It’s just a tool to help our communities realize that we could be growing this food in our backyards or calling these farmers and having them deliver fresh food directly to us. We don’t plan on recovering food forever, just long enough that we can collectively recover our ability to grow this food for ourselves and make high quality, locally grown food available in our grocery stores and markets. Then we can decide whether or not we want to continue to recover food. If we do continue, it won’t be out of necessity. Call for Participation Come April and May Fresh Food Baltimore is hitting the road full force with food recovery, gleaning, gardening and expanding. All we need now is your input, your creativity, your skills and your passion. The more voices we have to contribute and the more ears we have to listen to one another, the more bodies we’ll be able to nourish. It’s as simple as that. Give us a call and get involved. You’ll be getting more than good food. For more information on how to get involved in our program or to get in touch with organizations mentioned above, please contact: Greg Strella Produce Coordinator Fresh Food Baltimore 717 350.3730 (mobile) 410 614.5353 (The Men’s Center) freshfoodbaltimore@gmail.com The Men’s Center 2222 Jefferson St. Baltimore, MD 21205