Growing Food Justice: Israeli Minister Visits Urban Farm

David Stuck Photo

On April 11 the Israeli Minister of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C., Tammy Ben-Haim, visited Civic Works’ Real Food Farm on St. Lo Drive and Real Food Farm on Perlman Place to learn about the urban agriculture work done by Civic Works and the potential for collaboration with Israel.

“We wanted to learn about it because it has lots of long term benefits in general for climate control [and] the environment. But also specific and quick benefits for the people of the City of Baltimore, the people who live here, who work here, who eat the food, eat the vegetables,” said Ben-Haim.

Clayton Williams, farm manager at Real Food Farm, has a true passion for what he does. Williams guided the Israeli minister and the accompanying group around the Perlman Place farm, pointing out the field where they grow potatoes and other root vegetables that can be stored for later in the year and the hand built, rat-proof compost bins.

Williams is paraticularly proud of his demonstration garden. Built on the concrete backyard patio that is so characteristic of Baltimore row-houses, Williams constructed a trellis system using bales of hay, bags of soil and bent fencing posts. It’s something that anyone can do, Williams explained ethusiastially, even when they don’t have a backyard of fertile soil. In the summer, the now-empty fence posts will be laden with the blushing red globes of cherry tomatoes and the green spiky hide of bitter melon.

The second part of the tour was at Real Food Farm’s flagship farm on St. Lo drive. The farm is nearly six acres, Williams explained.

There is a greenhouse that nurtures seedlings. The entrance to the muggy interior of the greenhouse is all mud. Inside, experiments and projects run wild. A small hydroponics set up bubbled in the corner. Williams pulled out a tiny seedling from the set up to show the minister the way the roots of the plants sit in water.

The Israeli Minister, Tammy Ben-Haim (center back-row), stands with Delegate Dana Stein (bottom right) and others who visited the Civic Works’ Real Food Farm on April 11. David Stuck Photo

At the end of the tour, Gwen Kokes, Manager of Food & Farm Programs, gave everyone fresh sprigs of lavender from a small lavender bush that grew on the side of the path towards the greenhouse.

Kokes explained some of the many facets of work done by Real Food Farm to increase food security and access to healthy, affordable food. According to Kokes, food insecurity affects people at a certain poverty level who live more than .4 miles away from a grocery store. “Basically [food insecurity] is just saying that you don’t have a lot of money; you don’t have access to transportation; you have to walk to a grocery store; and that’s going to take you a long time,” Kokes said.

Real Food Farm addresses food insecurity in three different ways. First, they educate both students and adults about “bees and flowers from ‘what’s a hibiscus?’ to ‘what’s a honeybee?’” said Kokes. They also provide cooking classes and, in the summertime, have students work on the farm.

The second way Real Food Farm addresses food insecurity is through their Mobile Food Truck which makes scheduled stops in neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore where food insecurity is prevalent. Early in the season, they begin marketing, getting people excited about the truck, which accepts EBT/SNAP, WIC and FMNP (for older people).

Finally, Real Food Farm uses monetary incentives to get people to choose to eat healthier by offering their produce at least a dollar below market value and sweetening the deal with a doubling program.

“They can double their dollars up to $10. So they can get $20 worth of produce for $10,” Kokes said.

Ben-Haim said the tour was an opportunity to forge more relationships and cooperation between Israel and Baltimore City.

“We’ll see how we can cooperate,” said Ben-Haim. “Or just learn about it, bring the urban farmers or the same NGOs who do these things in our cities to see if they can sit together with the people who work here, and learn best practices that they can then implement themselves – each in their own countries or on their own farms.”

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