Big City's other goal, Rouse said, is to partner with nonprofits in the human development field to provide employment in the city. That's where Strength to Love II comes in.

The organization's mission is to help former convicts readjust to life on the outside — and in the process to alleviate poverty in Sandtown-Winchester.

"One reason recidivism is so high is that men and women returning to the community from incarceration find it hard to find employment," said Wendall Holmes, a leader with Strength to Love II, which takes its name in part from "Strength to Love," a book by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. "We hope that initiatives like the hoop farm can help us begin to provide training and jobs."

City Councilman Nick Mosby, who helped rally the community around the project, hopes ex-offenders buy into the idea of the farm as an alternative way to earn a living.

"You have young men risking their lives on a daily basis to make money selling drugs," he said. "This is another opportunity. You can make money farming. It's not a secret. That's why we're seeing farmers' markets pop up everywhere. I see this as an alternative."

The operation, Baltimore's 12th urban farm, will eventually provide nine full-time jobs.

As a chilly day wore on Wednesday, volunteers from the neighborhood and Big City employees removed trash and cleared brush on the site. Workers from M Squared Construction laid out ground cover, erected metal scaffolding and put the familiar white plastic sheeting in place.

As of Friday, more than just 9,300 shoots of baby kale were planted and growing.

"This is a job-creating [project], on a space that otherwise is just full of trash," Persful said. "It's going to bring the community in to see where the food they eat is coming from. People will notice what we're doing here. And the more people see it, the better off we think everyone will be."

Baltimore Sun reporter Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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