Teaching Black Farmers in Baltimore City to Grow Ethnic Crops for Black Communities

Project Overview

LNE21-419
Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2021: $252,248.00
Projected End Date: 10/15/2023
Grant Recipients: Farm Alliance of Baltimore; University of Maryland- Extension
Region: Northeast
State: Maryland
Project Leader:
Denzel Mitchell, Jr.
Farm Alliance of Baltimore

Commodities

  • Vegetables: peppers, sweet potatoes

Practices

  • Sustainable Communities: urban agriculture, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    Problem and Justification:

    Black farmers are a dwindling population, and majority-Black, food-insecure urban communities in Baltimore lack training infrastructure for new urban farmers. However, we at Farm Alliance of Baltimore (FAB) have an opportunity now to begin to reverse both these trends in Baltimore City.

    Though Baltimore is a majority-African American city (63% according to US Census), our history of redlining and segregation has created geographic isolation and generational poverty for Black communities. These conditions together mean that many of our majority-Black communities lack “food sovereignty” – the ability to control the means of production and distribution of food(National Black Food & Justice Alliance, 2020). Additionally, today, only 1.3 percent of the nation’s 3.4 million farmers are Black, while 95 percent are white. Urban agriculture provides one pathway for community residents to learn and participate in sustainable food production to build food sovereignty. Baltimore’s Black-led urban farms include The Greener Garden, BLISS Meadows, Cherry Hill Garden, Filbert Street Garden, Plantation Park Heights, and Whitelock Community Farm. Baltimore’s Department of Recreation and Parks has agreed to move 6 acres of Farring-Baybrook Park in South Baltimore into sustainable production to provide the surrounding communities with a place to grow food. We have commitments from local value-added food producers who are eager to source produce from Black farmers.

    Solution and Approach:

    Because of the market opportunity presented for these crops, and the new willingness of city government to release land for sustainable agricultural use, we propose to use this SARE grant to intensively train 20 beginner-level Black farmers to grow ethnic crops using a 3-part model: classroom learning; field day instruction at existing urban farms and at a demonstration site to impact our full 60-farmer membership; and a farmer-to-farmer mentorship program. We will work with 5 experienced Black farmers to plant okra, Baltimore’s Fish Pepper, sweet potatoes, and collards; and mentor 20 new farmers in agroecology methods such as cover cropping, flail mowing for green manure, and reduced tillage methods. This will result in increased market availability of these crops by 2023 for food-insecure Black communities and small local value-added producers. Black farmers will build, pilot and test new values-based food system chains with small food businesses. This, in turn, we hypothesize, will build food sovereignty.

    The Farm Alliance’s deputy director Denzel Mitchell conducted market analysis interviews with local value-added food product business contacts. Several of the businesses hold sourcing from Black business owners as a core value. Each of the businesses have committed to supporting our farmers on their journeys to sustainability and stability by purchasing produce to make products ranging from hot sauce to kimchi. This values-based approach will inform our work and our outcomes.

    Performance targets from proposal:

    FAB staff will create farmer training infrastructure, including: classroom instruction for up to 20 new Black farmers; 6 experienced farmers will formally mentor those trainees and lead field days for up to 80 farmers to demonstrate agroecological methods. Trainees will grow and market crops including Baltimore’s Fish Pepper and sweet potatoes on up to 6 acres, resulting in increased market availability of these crops for local communities and value-added producers. Sustainable methods: cover cropping, flail mowing for green manure, reduced tillage. Focusing on Black farmers, we will build, pilot and test new values-based food system chains to increase food sovereignty.

    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.