Our final stop of the day for our urban food systems field trip to Baltimore was the still developing Baltimore Food Hub. Located in East Baltimore not far from Johns Hopkins Hospital and right next to the Amtrak Acela commuter train line, the Food Hub will provide restoration of historic buildings, food access, and a new gateway to the city. Their goal is to increase food access and food entrepreneurship opportunities by harnessing food as an economic engine. Sited in a neighborhood where there is a 27% vacancy rate of buildings, over 30% unemployment rate, 48% living below the federal poverty line, and 60% of residents do not have a car, the Food Hub has potential to bring a lot of positive change to this neighborhood in need. The Food Hub staff have been attending every neighborhood meeting to be sure that they are in alignment with the community’s priorities and needs.
The Baltimore Food Hub site mainly consists of a cluster of beautiful brick buildings that were built in the 1890s for a water pumping station for Baltimore City and were used mainly for heavy equipment storage. The city abandoned the site in the 1990’s, leaving the buildings and their grounds to decay. It was most recently used for filming parts of The Wire and was then unused until purchased in August 2016 for the Food Hub development.
Though the buildings are in disrepair, their solid craftsmanship and beauty are immediately apparent. You can squint a bit and easily imagine them fully refurbished and part of a thriving neighborhood. This site has some cool historic photos of these buildings.
For those who are incredulous that buildings can come back from such a state of neglect need only go a few blocks away to see the breathtaking American Brewery building recently rehabbed to its former glory and housing non-profit organization Humanim. (Side note: This is not hyperbole; when I was an undergrad in the 2000’s and living in Baltimore, I first encountered the Brewery in a vacant and rundown state and couldn’t imagine it ever coming back, but come back it has and is on the National Registry of Historic Places.)
As we walked the grounds between the Food Hub buildings, guided by Baltimore Food Hub CEO China Boak Terrell and other Food Hub staff, we learned more about the intended purpose and vision for each building.
There is a new building with a teaching and commercial kitchen which can be used for education as well as commercial production. Baltimore non-profit City Seeds is currently leasing the kitchen. The Food Hub will also be providing support to culinary entrepreneurs with 12 sessions of training on topics such as how to price their products. They are also offering microloans to help with business start-ups.
When complete, the Food Hub will house a grocery shop, food hall, event space, brewery/co-packing, and a mini food museum. Local vegan soul food restaurant Land of Kush is slated to open a space on site. Our footsteps crunched along as we peered into some buildings and explored others, our imaginations and hope ignited as Boak Terrell described the intended purpose and possible tenants for each building.
The Baltimore Food Hub has a transformative vision to address food insecurity, bring economic development, and protect architectural heritage. For our community and nations’s food system to become more just and healthful, we will need to create more innovative, inclusive, and sustainable solutions such as theirs.
Find out more about the Baltimore Food Hub’s mission and progress on their website and Facebook page. I will definitely be returning to see how their vision comes to life and to taste their success firsthand.
This field trip on urban food systems took us from lab-style innovation, to historic precedent, and ended with a work in progress. Food isn’t just a necessity or an indulgence; it can make or break the health of a community. Besides, why shouldn’t social justice be delicious too?
This was my last blog post in this 3 part series about our urban food systems Baltimore field trip.
You can read about our first stop, Johns Hopkins University’s Food Systems Lab, here.
You can read about our second stop, Lexington Market, here.
What are some good solutions to bring fresh and affordable food to people in cities? Please share in the comments below.