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Video Interview with Angela Smith of Baltimore’s Food and Faith Project

As we gear up for Friday, we’d like to offer another sneak preview: this time with Sowing Seeds Here and Now! Presenter Angela Smith, director of the Baltimore Food and Faith Project, from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future!

Check out the video by clicking here!


Tickets Available Now!

Sowing Seeds Here and Now! Tickets are available for purchase! There is an early bird special of $60 – move quickly to purchase these because there is a limited supply. The regular ticket price is $75. Tickets can be purchased here.

We do have scholarships available which reduce the ticket price to $10. The scholarships are intended for those in financial need, however, special circumstances will be considered based on submitted materials. Applications can be submitted online here or printed and mailed to:

Engaged Community Offshoots
PO Box 332
Hyattsville, MD 20781

The scholarship application is to be postmarked (or submitted online) no later than May 15th. Scholarship recipients will be notified by June 1st.

Havana Homegrown: Leadership from the Global South

Two things happened to me yesterday:

One, I visited the Beltsvile Agricultural Research Center, a beacon a agricultural research right in our own backyards and where the Sowing Seeds Here and Now! summit is going to be held.  Scientists there are doing amazing research on all sorts of topics very relevant to urban agriculture: community scale composting, high tunnel construction, livestock and public health, and the effect of agriculture on our natural resources.

Then, I watched this video, called Havana Homegrown, about a recent trip to Cuba to learn more about their urban agriculture efforts.  Cubans, not out of scientific foresight, have some of the most advance yet simple urban agriculture programs worldwide.  Since the Revolution, they’ve developed how to grow food in their cities for no other reason than survival.

It strikes me that as northerners (people from the United States and other developed countries), we need to start looking more at case studies and examples of success not just from ourselves, but from our leaders in the Global South.  My hope, and my excitement, is that we will see a merge of the two hemispheres of thought by taking lessons and accepting leadership from places like Havana, and perfecting those techniques in places like Beltsvile.  It also excites me, and it must be stated with pride, that this agricultural revolution is not top down, North to South, developed to underdeveloped, but rather from the grassroots.  Or, as Will Allen would say, its from below the grassroots, where the worms live.

Visting the Great Kids Farm in Baltimore

In an effort to reduce the distance between in the DC / Prince George’s County area and our urban farming colleagues in Baltimore, we packed into the pickup again and headed north on 95.  This time, our destination was the Great Kids Farm, run by the Baltimore City Public School System.

After getting off the highway, we were thrown head first into some of the ugliest sprawl: big box stores mixed with used car dealers, vacant buildings, and empty parking lots.  But, after making that turn into the Bragg Nature Center, where the Great Kids Farm is, its a completely different world.  You drive up past the goats, dodging the teams of volunteers while parking at buildings that was once a boarding school turned into a farm and food educational center.  I immediately found Greg Strella, the farm manager, and he showed me around.

They’ve got chickens and composting worms, tight fields filled with cover crop, old-school A-frame greenhouses and new hoop houses.  Everywhere Greg took me, he stressed at what a mess this place was a few years ago, talking of dumpsters of debris that filled this now beautiful urban farm.

And they’re doing a little bit of everything.  They’ve got trays of tomatoes waiting to be planted, rows of kales and collards that made it through the winter, free range chickens, and trays upon trays of sprouts, ready for harvesting and selling to local restaurants.  Like most farms, it seemed like organized chaos, Greg holding the reins of this place and going along for the ride.  He’s got the great support from his co-workers and teams of volunteers.  They’ve got an amazing rhythm that results in an exceptional educational facility, a very productive and profitable farm, and a sanctuary of saneness within miles of urban sprawl.

Its a great opportunity to visit another urban farm, to teach them something that they might have not known and to leave with specific changes in how you’ll approach your farm back home.  Many thanks to the staff of the Great Kids Farm for taking the time out so that we can learn from each other.

Of course my camera battery was dead that day, so I don’t have any good pictures of my own.  For pictures of the Great Kids Farm, check this out.

photo from Baltimore Community Foundation via Flickr

Facing Hunger

Two different photo exhibits in the US today chose to depict the painful truth about hunger in contemporary America.  One features 50 people across the country who recall or describe their experiences with the violent and unceasing pangs of starvation.  Hung at the Witte Museum in San Antonio, photographer Michael Nye’s penetrating photos are paired with audio tape recordings of the subject’s first hand suffering.

A different approach was taken by “Witness to Hunger” a website dedicated to ending childhood hunger.  Here 40 women were given 40 cameras to tell stores of their families struggles to meet basic needs while on welfare.

Two different approaches to facing the reality of hunger in our midst–getting us to understand, empathize and take action.

The question is: what is effective action to eradicate childhood hunger?  For the Board and Staff of Engaged Community Offshoots (ECO, Inc.), effective action begins with building a composting operation and starting a local urban farm.  It may not be THE answer, but is an important part of an answer, which we hope will lead to many more.

ECO, Inc. believes that overcoming hunger begins with rebuilding local economies and giving ordinary people greater access to locally grown nutritious food.  To us, a root cause of hunger is that urban poor people are very removed from the production, processing and distribution of food.  We do not advocate moving poor people back to rural areas and farms—instead we suggest that farms move to cities along with movement of people.

Starvation, and its ugly sister malnutrition, began to rear their ugly heads when we as a society moved away from growing and eating local food and instead put large corporate producers of processed foods– like bags of chips, hamburgers and fried chicken– in charge of our food production and distribution system.

Starvation need no longer occur if we can perfect and combine urban food growing with rural farming to provide abundant locally grown food for children in schools (via salad bars) and families in urban food deserts via famer’s markets and food coops.

We are beginning with baby steps, along with like-minded partners across the country and world, to re-examine how and where food gets grown, how much it gets processed, and how and where it gets distributed.

We are betting on the idea that a viable local food production system can produce more local jobs, feed more local people, keep more dollars circulating in the local economy, reduce food-related diseases, and yes, eventually, eliminate childhood hunger in our communities.

Margaret Morgan-Hubbard,

CEO, Engaged Community Offshoots, Inc.

Food Justice Friday- Food Deserts Real or Myth?

We invite you to participate in our weekly twitter chat.  This week we will discuss whether in the land of plenty food deserts are real or a myth.  While the White House has tossed in their lot on the side of real, many researchers are not convinced.  Bring your stories, examples and opinions at 3pm ET for a lively discussion!  Follow @sowingseedsdc and  talk back to us with #foodjustice.  Thanks for participating, we are looking forward to a lively discussion!

Missouri passes Urban Agriculture Task Force Bill

The State of Missouri House of Representatives passed an Urban Agriculture Task Force bill , enabling the state to create a specific task force to study urban agriculture in their state. Good job Missouri! Way to pull through. Something I’d expect from California or New England, but this underscores that urban agriculture isn’t another passing fad of left-leaning parts from our country, but being pushed forward by everyone from the coasts to our agricultural core.

More information is here.

What would an Urban Agriculture Task Force do for our area? Would creating such a task force identify and break down barriers to urban agriculture in the Chesapeake region?