Nature’s Colors: Exploring the Production & Profitability of Natural Dyes in Baltimore

Project Overview

FNE22-020
Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2022: $30,000.00
Projected End Date: 03/01/2023
Grant Recipient: Blue Light Junction
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Kenya Miles
Blue Light Junction

Commodities

  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants

Practices

  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, mentoring, networking, technical assistance
  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture

    Proposal summary:

    In Baltimore City, communities of color have historically experienced discrimination and disinvestment, resulting in a stark racial wealth divide that threatens the health and well-being of BIPOC communities if left unchecked. Nature’s Colors is a strategic initiative designed to upend this narrative by linking one of Baltimore’s strongest assets embraced by its citizens of color—urban agriculture—and an emerging economic opportunity—the natural dye market—as an opportunity for Baltimore farmers to diversify, bolster income, and ultimately expand their businesses. Specifically, this project—led by Kenya Miles, a farmer based at Hidden Harvest Farm in central Baltimore City—seeks to train Baltimore-based farmers of color how to successfully grow, cultivate, and harvest natural dye crops, establishing Baltimore as the epicenter for a growing knowledge base on industry-specific production techniques that will contribute to a complete Baltimore-based, “raw material to consumer” supply chain for natural dyes. Nature’s Colors will leverage the knowledge and experience gained as part of this project to identify best practices and produce replicable training modules and other tools necessary to grow a collective of natural dye growers within the Baltimore urban farming community to meet the growing demand from Baltimore-based natural dye end-users. One of the project’s partners, Innovation Works, is uniquely positioned to support outreach efforts by sharing project outcomes via its regular electronic communications and focused briefings that highlight the farming component as one of many in a broader social entrepreneurship development exercise that aims to shape Baltimore as a national leader in the natural dye market.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    This project seeks to build capacity within Baltimore’s farming community to supply an emerging market—natural dyes—with sufficient quantity and quality of raw material—natural dye plants—to effectively position Baltimore as a leader in the natural dye industry. Objectives include: 

    1. Recruit six (6) urban farms in Baltimore City to seed, grow, and harvest select natural dye crops. 
    2. Host a comprehensive, two-day training for participating farmers on history of natural dyes and cultivation techniques specific to natural dye crops.
    3. Provide participating farmers with ongoing support throughout the season to troubleshoot production issues. 
    4. Collect and process seeds for the next growing season (2023).
    5. Harvest 400 pounds of raw material (wet weight).
    6. Host one-on-one listening sessions with participating farmers; collate findings and publish insights/recommendations to inform replication and expansion efforts in the future. 
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.