Celebrating your greens and preserving community health: 2015 Brassica Fest

Many people believe “going green” and providing fresh “organic” produce is a trend that has been sweeping the nation, but providing adequate produce and sustainability for many people is not a trend. The way many Americans currently live is endangering their livelihoods. Many popular foods are filled with artificial flavorings, coloring, and unhealthy ingredients. There is an organization working to change the way people eat and live right here in Baltimore. The Park Heights Community Health Alliance (PHCHA) has developed a plan to promote urban agriculture. Two methods of their plan are the: third annual Brassica Fest and the Park Heights farmers market. The health initiative addresses the major causes of death within the park heights community: bad health. Saché Jones, Brassica Fest coordinator and Food Justice Consultant/Producer, has had a great interest in urban agriculture.

When asked what is urban agriculture, Jones said, “Growing food in urban centers. It’s not only food, I don’t know if I can really say that. I always associate ‘ag’ with food. But then there are also horticulturalists that are growing flowers in a large scale way, this is not your backyard garden. So are they considered agriculturalist too? That’s a question we all kind of debate with, but for me it’s creating a space with the intention of feeding people. So whatever that is — whether that be fruits and vegetables, animals, bees, chickens, or goats — all that can be considered urban as long as its within city limits.” Saché has been working with the organization for two years, after majoring in Interdisciplinary Studies. She began working with the organization after her mother and the owner were in a master gardener’s class together. She was in her senior year of college and had an interest in urban agriculture, but she wondered where the jobs and the interest in urban agriculture were. Things all seemed to fall into place, when she met with the PHCHA owner.

For Jones, urban agriculture is important because it promotes self-sufficiency and also relates to economic power. “To have access to where their food comes from, to see it, to feel it, to breathe it. And now that I have been working in this field for a couple years, I feel that it is important because it helps with behavioral changes that we are really going to need to some transformative change on the large ‘ag’ scale. A lot of folks debate on can urban ‘ag’ feed people. Can it feed cities? Will it ever be strong enough to produce enough for the people that live in that area?”

It may be hard to find an answer to that question at the present moment, but urban agriculture can get people to rethink their lifestyles and rethink what they buy. Citizens may have to get used to paying more for quality food that will help them later in life. Urban agriculture encourages the community to work hard to create a farm which can be pesticide free and “grown with love,” as Jones says. The more time that is put into urban agriculture, the more beneficial it will be to those in the community, and urban agriculture encourages those in the community to ask questions about where their food comes from and what has been done to it. The PHCHA wants to increase community engagement and to preserve the people and livelihoods of citizens by creating this center and creating local urban farms. Jones herself is a farmer and helps in producing crops for the community.

To promote health and community engagement, the PHCHA created the Brassica Fest. Brassica is a plant family that houses greens: collards, kales, turnips, broccoli and Brussel sprouts. “It’s all the foods you grew up eating and you love them already,” Jones says, “We use something that is familiar in a slightly unfamiliar way to transition people’s thinking that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. You just have to slightly alter a few [things] that you are doing here and there and you can enhance your quality of life as well as the sustainability of the community and the environment at large — depending on what pulls at your heartstrings.” Jones wants citizens and the environment to thrive because we each play a role somehow.

The Brassica Fest is an educational event that highlights the purposes of the PHCHA and demonstrates what they do. Vendors will be selling handmade goods at the event, including candles handmade by a UB student. This year the fest will be broken into three segments: a community organizing segment, eat to live, and happy home setting (which describes how to bring a farm to your house and how to start the process). “We structure conference style but we call it a festival because it is fun,” Jones says. The fest even includes a youth segment that will teach children about farming, this includes activities such as seeding and planting. The idea is to teach urban citizens where we fit in, and how to transform, the food system.

The Brassica Fest promotes the idea of urban agriculture by starting at a very basic level by encouraging people to question where they fit into the system while letting the community know about their farmers market (June- November) and community supported agriculture (CSA). The fest also educates those within the community on various agricultural programs the PHCHA offers and how the community can get involved. Although we may not be part of the Park Heights community, we can still be involved in the Fest and the CSA. The Brassica Fest will happen on November 21, 2015 at 2810 Shirley Ave, Baltimore MD from 9a.m-5p.m. Visit the Brassica Fest Website for more information.

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