Porridge After Others
“If you never forage for yourself / You’ll always eat porridge after others.” – Arthur Tugman
Living in Baltimore City creates a sort of dichotomy of thought in one’s brain. On the one lobe, you consider the city to be an unblemished canvas, full of possibility and hope. But on the other lobe, you consider the city to be a festering cesspool of abandonment, neglect, and vandalism fraught with impossibility.
I both love and hate Baltimore, with its discouraging blocks of empty rowhomes and encouraging people who want to make a difference. This city has the heart and desire to influence change like its neighbor Washington, D.C., but unlike D.C. it doesn’t have the money or the organization to do it. That fact breeds grassroots campaigns and citizens who act independently to make their city a better place. That fact also fosters an ongoing attitude of apathy.
The population wants to change things. The population thinks it can never be changed.
I vacillate between hope and hopelessness, at one moment seeing my Baltimore with the enthusiastic eyes of a do-gooder, and at other moments seeing the sheer overwhelming size of the problem at large. I both want to do something and fear that nothing can be done.
Acting on the former, I contacted a woman who wrote articles on urban foraging for the Baltimore Brew. I asked her if she wanted to work with me on a project I was doing for a contest through Urbanite magazine. She said yes. And then she reached out to a few people and invited them to join us. And they said yes. And then we had a team of uber cool people who all love Baltimore and want to see it flourish.
The way this team came together and the enthusiasm of its members are why I love Baltimore.
Urbanite magazine began their contest last year. The contest poses a question about the city and a situation affecting it, and then accepts presentations from anyone and everyone on ways to address said situation. In 2011, it was an Open City Challenge that asked people how to turn the construction process of the controversial Red Line into something positive for Baltimore. This year it is a Healthy Food Challenge, in which participants must present a way to provide healthy food to everyone in Baltimore. The contest calls for “creative, innovative, non-traditional ideas that address one or more of the barriers to affordable, healthy food for Baltimore City residents living in neighborhood food deserts.”
Food deserts are defined as neighborhoods: more than ¼ mile away from nearest supermarket; with a median income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level; with more than 40% of the households without access to a vehicle; and the food that is available at nearby stores is not considered healthy.
20% of Baltimore City is a food desert.
1 in 4 Baltimore school-age children reside in a food desert.
1 in 4 African-Americans living in Baltimore reside in a food desert.
I and my team - comprised of Mr. Mystery, a Johns Hopkins professor and well-known writer on urban foraging, a Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) professor whose work focuses on the ”history and metaphor of the human relationship to natural resources,” and the editor of a local publication - think we have a solution.
We are presenting an urban foraging program that will:
- Increase the greenery of Baltimore;
- Utilize neglected areas;
- Empower organized groups – such as churches, soup kitchens, etc. – to create and maintain green spaces;
- Empower individuals to take responsibility for public spaces; and
- Enhance existing Parks & Recreation efforts with edibles.
Our plan is to make Baltimore a city that feeds its residents by placing edibles in publicly accessible spaces and allowing people to forage. Fruits, berries, nuts, and greens will become a natural part of the city’s landscape. By turning our food desert of a city in a veritable oasis of food, we will ensure that Baltimoreans won’t have to “eat porridge after anyone else” anymore.
I will be working on the presentation of our proposal this weekend. It is due on May 31.