Baltimore collects green resources under one roof

Jennifer Lumpkin bends over a potted rosemary plant on a table, separating its leafy branches with deft fingers.

She grips one of the branches near its trunk, cuts it off with a pair of well-scrubbed scissors, and holds the clipping aloft.

"Here we have it, the beginnings of a new plant," she says, showing the specimen to five students seated in front of her.

The sprig may not look like much, but it's the perfect symbol for a Saturday afternoon spent taking part in a new city-sponsored greening initiative.

Lumpkin is a volunteer teacher with the Neighborhood Grow Center, a series of educational programs the Baltimore Office of Sustainability has helped organize this month with the goal of teaching residents how to make the best, most sustainable use of property in the city, whether it's their own back yard or land they've acquired through Baltimore's popular Adopt-a-Lot program.

Andy Cook, economic coordinator for the sustainability office, has connected with more than a dozen nonprofits and other green enterprises to set up workshops every weekend this month.

Held at the warehouse headquarters of the Baltimore Community Tool Bank, a local outlet of a  national nonprofit that rents equipment to individuals working on volunteer improvement projects, the free workshops cover everything from designing an edible rain garden to how to earn credits against stormwater fees.

On Saturday, Lumpkin, a gardener and educator with Creative Community Builders, a private business based in Silver Spring, enlightened a handful of green-thumbed urbanites on plant propagation — that is, starting plants from clippings.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

When it comes to rosemary plants, Lumpkin said, it's important to clip the branch in question between four and six inches from its longest point, remove all the leaves from the bottom two or three inches, and to shave the exterior of that stem to make it more water absorbent.

A discussion ensues over how best to do the shaving.

Workshop participant Myeasha Taylor, a gardener with Real Food Farm in East Baltimore, says she has used razors.

Lauren Muhammad — a city resident who adopted the lot next to her home in Gwynn Oak three years ago and now runs an urban farm there — says she prefers not to use tools.

"I believe in energy transfer between human hands and the soil, between our bodies and plants," the self-described "intuitive" farmer says.

There are as many approaches to tending flora as there are vegetables and fruits to raise — Muhammad alone raises everything from chickens to cantaloupes and kale — but at Neighborhood Grow Center, the general idea is to make one's efforts sustainable, whether it's making a fresh plant out of an old one or using the lumber from razed housing to build something new.

Mark Cameron, an official with the Baltimore Department of Public Works, is lending that office's expertise to the enterprise.

Cameron said the idea of offering resources for greening projects has been "bouncing around" among city leaders for a long time, but as Baltimore's adopt-a-lot program has flourished — residents can apply to take over vacant lots if they're willing to beautify or "green" them — an opportunity presented itself for the city to help them along the way.

"There are lots of materials we can put in the hands of people — mulch, wood chips, materials from the deconstruction of housing and a lot more," Cameron said.

With not-for-profit enterprises like the Community Greening Resource Network, Blue Water Baltimore, the Baltimore Orchard Project, the Parks and People Foundation and TreeBaltimore already offering educational and other resources to help green the environment, the city decided it would bring those and other agencies under one roof for a month, Cook said.

Cook called it a "pilot program" but one the sustainability office hoped would soon be replicated at locations across the city.

Attendees during the first weekend were treated to free trees from Tree Baltimore. Saturday visitors claimed free seedlings and plants and had the option of buying compost or low-cost, used joists and roof decking.

Next weekend, among other programs, Cameron will address how residents and businesses can reduce stormwater runoff by installing rain barrels and rain gardens and reducing the square footage of impervious pavement surfaces, all of which quality them for stormwater fee credits.

Lumpkin, meanwhile, showed her group how to complete the transplantation of rosemary shoots.

Like many greening projects, it takes a while — a root network will grow in four to six weeks, at which time gardeners can place them in new soil for growing.

Then, Lumpkin said, it will have been worth the wait.

"You'll have a beautiful new shoot," she said.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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