Watering the Food Deserts

Mike Cook

What we eat often divides us. We are Italian because we eat pasta or Southern because we eat grits. Anchovies either elevate pizza or ruin it depending on who you are, and we often define ourselves by the kinds of food we eat and don't eat. Yet food is our most universal need, and in the end we all need the same kind. We need real food (not re-constituted or hydrogenated stuff), and in Baltimore, real food is sadly scarce.

Food deserts are areas in a city without access to grocery stores. People living in food deserts must travel long distances for fresh food or else rely on prepackaged or junk food available in corner and convenience stores. As this JHU study shows, Baltimore has a disturbing stretches of Sahara to it.

Civic Works has begun to irrigate the food desert, however, with their Real Food Farm. This is a really brilliant project. Civic Works has taken six acres in Clifton Park and converted them into a farm where they grow peppers, tomatoes, beans, and education. Real Food Farm runs a high school internship program, curriculum-based programs for Lake Clifton schools, and offers area teachers the chance to bring students on a field trip to the farm.

You can volunteer at the Real Food Farm if you want, but if you're not interested in getting your hands dirty, you can also support them simply by buying the food. They sell about 60% of their produce to residents and 40% to area restaurants. Here's a list of restaurants where you can find Real Food Farm's produce.

Those restaurants aren't the only ones supporting local food growing and education. Waterfront Kitchen has partnered with the Living Classrooms Foundation to provide Living Classroom's students with a chance to grow food specifically destined for the table at Waterfront Kitchen. Located in the Living Classroom's Frederick Douglass-Isaac Myers Museum, Waterfront Kitchen opened just a few days ago, so you can be amongst the first to check it out.

Programs that teach kids to grow food are so encouraging because any change has to start with education. It makes no difference how much fresh produce is available at local groceries if no one is coming to buy it. It's crucial that urban kids, who grow up out of sight of farms and pastures, learn that dirt plus work equals food that is far more delicious and rewarding than anything that comes wrapped in plastic. This is something foodies know so well and often take it for granted, but it's the central tenet on which enjoyment of food is based. Understanding the alchemy that turns natural resources into food is like experiencing a kind of magic.

It may take a little magic to water all of Baltimore's food deserts, but hopefully education programs like these will increase demand. Then before long there will be more oases scattered through the city, and we can all witness the final act of food's great magical performance: its ability to bring people who thought they were so different together through an enjoyment of something so universal.

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