Grounded in the Garden

By Abby Rammelkamp

2017 marks Baltimore Green Space’s 10-year anniversary! But before the land trust, there was the Homestead Harvest Community Garden, which Baltimore Green Space founder Miriam Avins started with her neighbors in 2004 in a derelict lot next to her house in Better Waverly. If it weren’t for Homestead Harvest, Miriam says, Baltimore Green Space wouldn’t exist. This year, we are pleased to say that Homestead Harvest will become the 10th site preserved in the land trust!

When Miriam and her family moved into their house in the summer of 2003, the lot next door had an “enormous half-burned-down house that was abandoned and then used by squatters for drugs.” It was so bad that her insurance company threatened to drop coverage of her house if the neighboring house wasn’t demolished. But Miriam says her family bought her house despite the ruin next door because, “I had this idea it could be a community garden in three years.” She laughs, but she’s not joking. She was in love with her house and immediately started thinking about how to do something good with the place next door. Her realtor put her in touch with the Parks & People Foundation and other people who helped her get the community organizing and horticultural basics she needed, and directed her toward the resources the City could provide.

Homestead Harvest in 2004, at the beginning.

The vacant house was already on the city’s demolition list, but Miriam’s pressure helped speed that along. The following spring, nine months after Miriam and her family moved into the neighborhood, the first 12 garden beds were installed. The gardeners broke a number of weed-whackers trying to keep the weeds outside the beds under control, Miriam recalls. Master Gardeners and Hopkins volunteers helped with the heavy lifting, and the gardening itself was done by Miriam and her neighbors, starting with tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, peppers, and greens. It took 3-5 years before the garden looked like it was taking shape. But by then, someone called to say he was buying the land from the City to build condominiums. The threat of losing the garden made the neighborhood realize how much they cared about it. It also sensitized Miriam to gardens that had been around much longer than the short time hers existed but were powerless over what happened to them. She asked “Who can I find to start a land trust?” and realized it was going to have to be her. That was the start of Baltimore Green Space.

Gardeners at Homestead Harvest in 2017.

Miriam says, “I wouldn’t have been qualified to run Baltimore Green Space without the garden. The garden gives me street credibility in the greening world, and living in the city adds to my credibility with neighbors.” In the early years of the garden, Miriam built relationships with Parks & People Foundation, Baltimore City Master Gardeners of University of Maryland Extension, and City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke. These relationships were helpful in setting up the land trust as well. Miriam tells how, early on, she went to a workshop run by Amanda Cunningham of Parks & People on how to organize roles and personnel for a well-run community garden that would qualify for a grant. After the workshop, Miriam asked Amanda for advice, and a few weeks later Amanda came by with “a man who looked like Father Christmas.” That was Larry Kloze, a Master Gardener on a mission to help start new vegetable gardens in the city. Larry was Miriam’s mentor, and helped her find additional helpers on work days to get the garden started and taught her how to grow the vegetables. Debra Evans, the head of the Better Waverly Community Organization, taught her how to write grants. What started out as just getting to know her neighbors grew into advocacy and community organizing.

Miriam Avins working at Homestead Harvest.

Miriam says that the greatest skill the garden has taught her is how to balance perseverance with patience: people and places take a while to develop and adapt. Miriam plans to be involved with Homestead Harvest for as long as she lives next door to it, while also creating a culture that teaches all the gardeners involved how to get the work done collectively rather than looking to one manager. The garden gave Miriam the knowledge of the greening world that she needed to run Baltimore Green Space from a place of deep personal experience; just as important, it inspires her to keep pushing the land trust movement forward in Baltimore. Baltimore Green Space is excited to welcome this foundational green space into the land trust. Stay tuned for our celebration when the deed is transferred.

 

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