Characteristics and growing practices of Baltimore City farms and gardens
Paralleling growing international interest in the cultivation of crops and livestock in cities—hereafter urban agriculture (UA)—Baltimore City has developed a robust network of urban farms and gardens and UA practitioners, particularly over the past decade. Despite the city’s prominent UA scene, the nature of UA in Baltimore has not been thoroughly characterized in existing literature to date. We used a survey and on-site observations of 104 urban farms and gardens participating in the Safe Urban Harvests Study to explore site characteristics; growing practices; produce production, harvest, and distribution; and contaminant history and testing. Our results demonstrate a diversity of characteristics and growing practices across the UA operations in the city, especially when comparing among community gardens, urban farms, educational gardens, donation gardens, and therapy gardens. This study illuminates the size and scope of UA operations in Baltimore, with 104 participating sites occupying nearly 10 ha of land, producing an estimated 43,000 kg of produce per growing season, and engaging approximately two percent of city residents. Most sites engaged in best practices for reducing risks from potential soil contamination, including having tested soils for contaminants, growing in raised beds, and importing growing media. The use of renewable inputs varied; most sites did not use chemical pesticides or fertilizers (non-renewable inputs), however most sites did not use rain barrels or on-site composting (practices that renew inputs) either. Our findings also suggest that residents living within neighborhoods that have limited access to grocery stores with healthy foods do not necessarily have limited access to urban farms and gardens relative to other city residents. These data will enable UA practitioners, educators, and policymakers in Baltimore to tailor their programs and policies to address the needs of local growers. Lessons learned from the survey instrument could inform research exploring UA operations in other cities.