19 Sep Growing Dreams and Harvesting Hope: BMoreAg Provides Sustainable Urban Agriculture Education to Green Street Academy Students
Growing Dreams and Harvesting Hope: BMoreAg Provides Sustainable Urban Agriculture Education to Green Street Academy Students
In a partnership between Development Firm Urban Pastoral, Warnock Foundation, and Green Street Academy (GSA), BMoreAg (now BMoreAg Foundation) embarked on a journey that surpassed aspiration and yielded extraordinary outcomes. With BMoreAg’s focus on providing access to affordable, nutritious food for Baltimore’s 85,000 food insecure children, the partnership culminated in the creation of an urban food hub and youth entrepreneur incubator – the Agriculture, Technology, & Innovation Center (ATIC). This center aims to increase access to entrepreneurship skills, nutrition education, and agriculture education, serving as a beacon of innovation and applied learning on a national scale.
At its heart is a 3,000 square foot, Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) hydroponics greenhouse, tailored to advance high school students in agriculture technology. This unique facility is part of a dynamic campus development that includes the Elijah E. Cummings Innovation Center and a commercial kitchen and processing unit.
The core intentions for the project were identified by the partners:
- Create career paths in Agriculture
- Encourage workforce development and applied learning
- Promote entrepreneurship
- Create access to fresh and healthy food options
- Promote economic growth in west Baltimore
“The objective of this project is to nurture a new generation of agricultural leaders equipped with skills that can drive positive change in their communities,” highlighted Kerrin Massarueh, BMoreAg’s Director of Government and Community Relations. “Hydroponics is a form of Indoor Farming or Controlled Environment Agriculture (CEA) where the plants’ roots grow in a water-based nutrient solution instead of soil. Hydroponics, along with related CEA techniques, offers the potential for year-round local farming, eliminating concerns about harmful pesticides, weed management, transportation costs, and weather-related challenges.”
Student participation began in September of 2021 after the completion of a nearly 3,000 square foot CEA greenhouse for sophomores, juniors, and seniors in the Environmental, Agriculture, & Natural Resources Career and Technical Education program. The project served as a capstone project for the ten graduating 2022 seniors.
BMoreAg provided a comprehensive guidebook, which included a food safety plan and student and staff instruction and training. Additionally, the students earned their Good Agricultural Practices certification (GAP) through the University of Maryland Extension Services.
Students cultivated a diverse array of lettuces and herbs under the guidance of Kerrin (Greenhouse Manager), Eric Oberlerchner (Farm Manager), and Cole Bishop (GSA’s Agriculture teacher). Gotham Greens generously donated 3,000 lettuce and basil seedlings for the first planting. Additionally, experimental areas were dedicated to crops like strawberries, bok choy, parsley, and broccoli. They met for one hour, three days a week throughout the school year. It was the students’ responsibility to delegate tasks among themselves, ranging from marketing manager to assistant greenhouse manager.
“The students loved working in the greenhouse,” said Kerrin. “Over the course of two harvest cycles, students managed to reap a harvest of nearly 6,000 heads of lettuce, basil, and cilantro. They couldn’t believe what they produced with their own hands. It was fascinating and a learning experience for all of us!” exclaimed Kerrin.
The bountiful harvest went to:
- Donations to local food suppliers, including Catholic Charities, Real Food Farms, and Baltimore Ravens Turkey Thanksgiving Giveaway
- Participation in Plantation Park Heights Urban Agriculture Celebration
- Consumption by the GSA school body and community
- Development of agribusiness practices by making and selling jars of pesto to benefit a Christmas Gift exchange in a department at Johns Hopkins Medicine
“Like many pioneer projects, the greenhouse continues to face challenges, including initial construction infrastructure issues. Even before our students got into the greenhouse, we had numerous delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” expressed Kerrin. “Once the students got back to in-person learning, they were eagerly asking, ‘When can we go into the greenhouse?’ while looking down at the empty structure. Despite these hurdles, we had a successful and exciting launch, and this project remains one of the most rewarding projects I have ever done.”
ADVANCING AGRICULTURE TECHNOLOGY EXCELLENCE
The 2022 Urban Agriculture Forum, presented by BMoreAg in partnership with GSA, marked a pivotal moment of recognition. The ten graduating seniors were each awarded a $500 scholarship for their exemplary contribution to the pilot program, generously sponsored by Natural Concerns Landscaping. The Orokawa Foundation, with its commitment to educational advancement, also made a significant contribution of $10,000 to further bolster GSA’s Agriculture program.
“We are witness to the remarkable impact that emerges when organizations like BMoreAg, GSA and Urban Pastoral unite for the greater good of Baltimore’s youth,” Kerrin affirmed. “This pilot program has illuminated our potential, and we are eagerly anticipating the expansion of our impact in the years ahead.”
The BMoreAg Foundation extends its heartfelt gratitude to Natural Concerns Landscape Contractors, The Orokawa Foundation, and many others for their exceptional support in fostering agriculture technology education and career pathways within Baltimore City.
BMoreAg Foundation is a non-profit seeking to expand sustainable agriculture education to Baltimore’s youth through STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Agriculture, and Math) education and advocacy (or “ag-vocacy” as we like to call it) to eliminate food injustice, food apartheid, and hunger. It focuses on providing access so that Baltimore’s youth can develop healthier lifestyles. By focusing on career readiness and business practices, BMoreAg Foundation students have access to pathways that offer career advancement, sustainable wages and inclusivity.