Volunteers from Repair the World, a Jewish social justice and volunteering program for young adults, dug into urban farming at the Real Food Farm in Baltimore Sunday.
As the group of eight weeded, tilled, talked, laughed, swatted mosquitos and sweat under the tented growing area, Real Food Farm’s education coordinator Aliza Sollins worked alongside them, offering instruction and encouragement, in the growing intensity of the morning sun.
“I have them preparing the beds for transplanting the fall plants like onions, garlic, collard greens and kale,” Sollins said. “The beds need tilling; the soil is compacted. This whole area used to be a lake bed in the ’50s. Lake Clifton.”
Sollins swept her farming implement to gesture to the row of farm tents, or tunnels, situated in neat rows in Clifton Park. Now, Sollins said, the nonprofit farm here grows 15,000 pounds of produce each year.
According to Sollins, the food is sold at 20 mobile market stops in locations throughout the city.
“We bring the produce to the people,” she said. “They ask us and we show up at designated sites throughout the city. And these are places, neighborhoods, that don’t have a lot of access to produce.”
Real Food Farms offers double-dollars on Food Supplement Program credits (formerly known as food stamps,) matching produce purchases up to $10.
Real Food Farm supplements its staff with 10 to 15 Ameri-Corps workers each year, YouthWorks students and neighborhood residents who volunteer in exchange for produce. Sollins said 1,500 students came through the farm last year. Her favorite part of her job is “getting people to re-engage with where their food comes from.”
Grace Santandreu, a volunteer with Repair the World since April, tried to recall all the projects she’s signed up to do. “I cleaned up a park. I did the Canoe and Scoop,” she said. That project put volunteers in a canoe off Middle Branch Park, where volunteers paddled and scooped trash out of the bay.
Santandreu recalled: “I loved that, except I remember being surprised there was so much trash.” Santandreu works as a program assistant for a retirement community in Towson during the week and loves volunteering through Repair the World on projects that allow her to work outside. “I love the outdoors,” she said. “Weeding, tilling, making the space nicer.”
Diana Goldsmith, who works for Repair the World, which is housed under The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore’s Jewish Volunteer Connection, echoed Santandreu’s sentiments.
“People like to farm and garden. The Canoe and Scoop was really, really popular. One time we cleaned oyster cages. We do all sorts of things and get to see a lot of cool stuff,” Goldsmith said. “We got to see ‘Professor Trash Wheel’ [an automated trash removal system in the Jones Fall in Canton]. We’ve worked with local shelters. We prepared packages of meals. These organizations have such a large clientele and need the manpower.”
Volunteer Ericka Hume was happy the group “got to take a tour and see everything they do here. They told us about how the farm changed season to season.” Hume said she was “impressed with the work being done here” and had a particular interest in helping organizations that “help address urban food deserts.”
According to Sollins, Real Food Farm strives to provide an economically viable way to train urban gardeners, practice and teach sustainable agriculture and provide a viable opportunity to produce and eat local food.
Real Food Farm’s produce changes by the season, and the beets, tomatoes and sweet peppers whose beds the Repair the World volunteers tended were just reaching ripened perfection.
“Try them!” Sollins encouraged the volunteers.
Goldsmith selected a small, shiny fire-engine-red sweet pepper.
Sollins pointed to it and asked her: “Remember the seed-packing event [Repair the World] did for us in the spring? That pepper you’re holding is from those seeds.”
“Really?” Goldsmith asked. “This pepper?”
“All of them,” Sollins confirmed. “You guys helped to start them.”
“And now we’re helping to finish them,” said Goldsmith, taking a bite.
“See?” Sollins said. “Everything comes full circle.”
Goldsmith closed her eyes as she chewed the pepper, then declared it to be “so good,” proving that for Repair the World, what goes around comes around.
Erica Rimlinger is a local freelance writer.