How Do Their Gardens Grow?

City Dwellers Share Bounty Of One Another's Green Thumbs

August 02, 2009|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,

Urban gardeners - green-thumbed Baltimoreans who grow their own fruits and vegetables on hundreds of 10-by-15-foot plots around the city - put down their hoes and gathered under a tent in War Memorial Plaza last evening to sample each other's bounty and toast a great growing season.

The Annual City Farms and Community Gardens Supper, now in its 22d year, brought to an increasingly green plaza in front of City Hall dozens of men and women who've been toiling through spring and summer to produce tomatoes and peppers, kale and Swiss chard, cabbage and cucumbers in eight "farms" in city parks. They were all expected to contribute to the feast, too.

"It's like one part church potluck supper, one part county fair," said Coleen McCarty, Baltimore's City Farms coordinator for the past five years and an increasingly busy woman. More than ever, city residents are gardening - on officially designated city plots, in neighborhood gardens and, in some parts of town, their own backyards.

"When I took this job, the city had garden plots that hadn't been rented. People weren't interested in them," McCarty said, as judges behind her inspected vegetables from all over town for award-winning quality. "Now, I have a waiting list of 160 people who want to get into a city farm."

McCarty speculated that the recession, concerns about food safety and a heightened consciousness for the environment - "that green thing" - have contributed to the growing interest in urban gardening.

This summer, Baltimoreans are tending to fruits and vegetables on 640 plots in the eight farms, from Leakin Park on the west side to Patterson Park on the east. Some of the gardens have been around for three decades. The plots in each of them rent for $20 a year. The Maryland Master Gardeners, Parks and People and the Community Greening Resource Network play supporting roles in encouraging more people to learn how to grow their own food.

New gardens keep appearing, said Josue Lopez, of the University of Maryland Extension office in the city. "And I get calls from [people in] the county and from the city all the time to find out how they can have a community garden," he said.

"We bought a row home and had no place for a garden," said Sandi Wilson, who moved to Baltimore from Vancouver, British Columbia, two years ago. "So we took a plot in Patterson Park." Her contribution to last night's supper was a Greek salad, made with garden-grown lettuce and tomatoes. One of her gardening neighbors, Julia Kaliszak, whipped up a creamy salad made from a bumper crop of cucumbers.

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