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Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden gets six more months on Housing Authority site. What then? ‘We’re going to figure that out.’

The Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden will be allowed to stay another six months at the 1.5-acre property where the Housing Authority of Baltimore City plans to build affordable housing, and officials are searching for a new home for the farm next year.

The Black Yield Institute, the current farm steward, will explore other locations to continue providing fresh produce to the neighborhood, a South Baltimore food desert, said founder and servant-director Eric Jackson. The farm has fed neighbors since 2010 and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

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“We are committed to addressing food apartheid in Baltimore City, in Cherry Hill, for Black people,” Jackson said in a video posted to Twitter. “What that looks like? We’re going to figure that out over the next six months. Where that is? Where we continue to grow food? We’re going to figure that out.”

The six-month extension on the farm’s eviction from the property at 900 Cherry Hill Road followed a meeting Thursday of the Housing Authority, the Black Yield Institute and other community groups.

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Janet Abrahams, president and CEO of the Housing Authority, called the meeting “positive and productive” in a statement.

“There was no reason for this situation to ever become confrontational,” she said. “We have agreed to give the Black Yield Institute the remainder of the year to continue its programming on our property while they work to find a new site to continue their good works.

“Fortunately, Mayor Scott’s administration is working on a solution for a long-term site for BYI.”

The agency tweeted that all parties are “hopeful” about the farm’s future.

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Mayor Brandon Scott “commends the Housing Authority of Baltimore City for creating a short-term solution,” said Cal Harris, communications director.

“The mayor has embraced community participation throughout his public service career and understands its unique role in producing equitable outcomes,” Harris said. “The mayor’s administration will work with residents and the Black Yield Institute to develop a long-term solution.”

In the Twitter video, Jackson said “a good meeting” had taken place with the Housing Authority.

“If nothing else it was point of clarity,” he said.

Housing Authority officials had scheduled the meeting to discuss the land’s future use with the Black Yield Institute and the Cherry Hill Development Corp., “which had the now-expired agreement to use the land,” Ingrid Antonio, a Housing Authority senior vice president, said last month. It’s unclear when the lease expired.

The garden was started in 2010 by Juanita Ewell, a lifelong Cherry Hill resident who wanted to provide healthy options for the neighborhood. Ewell, a Cherry Hill Development Corp. board member who secured the use of the land, died in 2015. That organization could not be reached for comment.

The Black Yield Institute, which has operated the farm since 2018, launched a change.org petition last month, saying that “pending circumstances [are] resulting in the land being taken away from the current stewards.”

Eric Jackson, servant-director of Black Yield Institute, speaks about the role of the Cherry Hill grassroots efforts in feeding their community during the pandemic, during a tour of the Cherry Hill Community Garden. March 29, 2021 p2
Eric Jackson, servant-director of Black Yield Institute, speaks about the role of the Cherry Hill grassroots efforts in feeding their community during the pandemic, during a tour of the Cherry Hill Community Garden. March 29, 2021 p2 (Amy Davis)

“We made a promise to provide healthy and affordable food to our community,” the group said in a statement before the meeting, “and our ability to keep this promise is being infringed upon.”

Jackson encouraged community members to await further updates as the Black Yield Institute considers how to move forward.

“Please know that our commitment to Cherry Hill, our commitment to Black people at large, is the commitment we’ve always given, and that’s to keep the flame,” he said. “Nothing’s going to stop that. We’ll keep doing it. We’ll keep you posted.”

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