Baltimore City has awarded "an exclusive negotiating privilege" to an urban farming collective to buy two vacant, city-owned lots near a community garden in Hampden.
The collective, Baltimore Free Farm, is trying to buy the lots to prevent their development. The group was one of two bidders for the lots last month; the other is a developer, who has expressed interest in building housing on both lots, according to Baltimore Housing, which is selling the lots through its Vacants to Value program to encourage re-investment in properties in the city that suffer from neglect, abandonment and blight. City officials would not identify the developer.
"We will exclusively negotiate a land disposition agreement with" Baltimore Free Farm, Cheron Porter, spokeswoman for Baltimore Housing, said Wednesday. That means "we sell the property to them upon negotiation," Porter said.
“It’s just plain old good news,” said Billy Thomas, an organizing member of Baltimore Free Farm, who lives next to the garden. “We’re very encouraged by it. It’s going to lead to us being able to conitnue providing the services that we do.”
Thomas thanked commumnity leaders and elected officials who supported the group’s efforts to buy the land, including Baltimore City Council members Nick Mosby and Mary Pat Clarke, the Hampden Community Council and the Hampden Village Merchants Association.
He also referred peope to the group’s website, www.baltimorefreefarm.org, for updates as the group goes through the process of acquiring the land from the city.
The lots are located at 1522 and 1524 Baldwin Street, around the corner from the 3500 block of Ash Street, where the urban farming group built and maintains Ash Street Garden, a popular community garden overlooking Interstate 83. The lots on Baldwin Street border lots on Ash Street, where the group plans to expand its operation, Porter said.
Through the city's Adopt-a-Lot program, which is part of Vacants to Value, Baltimore Free Farm began work on the garden in 2010. The group, which promotes urban farming, community gardening and environmental sustainability, has its offices across the street from the entrance to the garden.
More than 800 lots have been adopted by residents citywide, about a third of which are used for gardening of fresh produce, Baltimore Housing said in a press release.
"We know community-managed open space enhances quality of life and we support a balanced approach when considering development versus gardening," Housing Commissioner Paul Graziano said in the release. "Mayor (Stephanie) Rawlings-Blake is committed to both helping Baltimore grow by 10,000 households and helping Baltimoreans to grow fresh, local food."
The ambitious Ash Street Garden has its own front gate, underground irrigation system, chicken coop and greenhouse on a steep hillside. The garden consumes three lots on Ash Street.
Baltimore Free Farm has raised an unspecified amount of money to make a competitive bid on the lots, and has submitted a petition with more than 1,200 names to the city, asking for priority consideration, according to Reagan Hooton and Bill Thomas, organizing members of the group.
Baltimore Free Farm should have the edge because the group has spent several years reclaiming the lots from neglect, they said last month.
Although Baltimore Free Farm has formed a corporation, Horizontal Housing Co., to buy the lots, it also protested the sale as "unnecessary" last month on its website, http://www.baltimorefreefarm.org.
The group said it has given away hundreds of pounds of free produce and vegetables to area residents, and accused the city of shopping the lots "to those who provide the highest economic value, rather than those who provide the highest community value."