Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

From the Ground Up

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

From the Ground Up

Article excerpt

Farming initiatives in small-town and urban of healthy food resources by growing their own nutritious produce.

Just weeks after the three crop-yielding hoop greenhouses went up on the ISackside of one of Northeast Baltimore's battered, but still striving, Black high schools, vandals struck.

"A troubled kid. Somebody who probably doesn't know what was going on in here," says John Ciekot, executive director of Civic Works, the nonprofit human services and youth development organization that erected the year-round, tunnel-shaped greenhouses eight months ago.

After postulating a reason for the destruction at the site of what's officially known as Real Food Farm, Ciekot makes what he believes is the more essential point. His six-person paid staff and the neighborhood and high school volunteers who are the sweat and sinews behind the greenhouses kicked right back in. They repaired the plastic sheeting, which drapes steel molding. They kept tending that canopied dirt, delighting that it delivered back to them edibles not readily found in the area and definitely not at prices affordable for many in what is a mixed- income but disproportionately poor section of the harbor-side city.

Red romaine, green romaine, mache and oak leaf lettuces, frisée, micro greens, New Zealand spinach, radicchio, escarole, artiglila, m izuna, Easter egg radishes, white turnips, mustard greens, Swiss chard, collard, kale, squash, cucumber, watermelon, tomatoes, peppers, snap peas - all are organically produced under the 12-foot high, 20-foot wide and 150-foot long hoop houses. They sit atop what eventually will be six farmed acres outside Lake Clifton High School where students helped to sell the more than 1,000 pounds of produce yielded thus tar and are experiencing a reorientation of their taste buds and food know-how at a site that is one in a nexus of communities of color joining the growyour-own food movement.

"They're used to eating, I guess, iceberg," says Jazmin Simmons, after leading some Lake Clifton students on a greenhouse lour in early May. "Our lettuce has these reddish leaves and is very vibrant in color. They weren't sure what it was, so we explained to them that it was lettuce, that it's organic. Now they're running through school knowing what organic means, what mustard really tastes like. It is really nice to see that."

In Baltimore, as elsewhere, a comparative lack of grocery stores with a wide menu of healthful choices is helping fuel urban - and sometimes small-town - back-tothe-land initiatives whose adherents, until now, had been largely White ???/ or fairly well-to-do. Increasingly, though, they also are hailing !rom the neighborhoods where poor nutrition is at the root of chronic health problems and at a time when healthcare costs are fodder for policy debate. From MacArthur Foundation "genius" grantee Will Allen's non-gated farm in Milwaukee to the New Orleans Food and Farm Network urban fields to the organic garden that Southern University's sustainable agriculture researchers helped establish al an Opelousas, La., homeless shelter, activity around who gets led and what they eat is surging.

Last month, Paul Quinn College in Dallas announced that its Food for Good Farm will cover the campus' former football field, becoming a site lor teaching, food delivery and farm-related business developinent. And at least a half-do/en HBCUs are among campuses, affiliated with the 218-member Association ol Public and land-grant Universities that are running community gardens, university farms, community-assisted agriculture (CSA) lood retailing and similar farm-to-table projects.

Agricultural Divide

These are welcome events lor many agronomists, food researchers and food activists, but it is a change not without its own degree of handwringing over how to convince more minorities and the less well-off that this is the way to go, while also pushing for more diversity in the so-called urban farming revolution. …

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