The Cherry Hill Urban Community Garden, which has fed the impoverished South Baltimore neighborhood for more than a decade and throughout the pandemic, is being threatened with eviction by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City, according to the farm’s steward, the Black Yield Institute.
The Housing Authority plans to use the land for affordable housing, although a spokeswoman declined to answer follow-up questions, including one about how soon construction might begin.
Ewell, a Cherry Hill Development Corp. board member who secured the city lot for the garden, died in 2015, according to the Farm Alliance of Baltimore’s website. The Cherry Hill Development Corp. could not be reached for comment.
The Black Yield Institute, which has stewarded the farm since 2018, launched a change.org petition, saying that “pending circumstances [are] resulting in the land being taken away from the current stewards.”
“We made a promise to provide healthy and affordable food to our community,” the group said in a statement, “and our ability to keep this promise is being infringed upon.”
Housing Authority officials have scheduled a Thursday meeting with the Cherry Hill Development Corp., “the organization which had the now-expired agreement to use the land in question,” said Housing Authority spokeswoman Ingrid Antonio. It’s unclear when the agreement expired.
“At that meeting, we will discuss the land’s future use,” Antonio said in a statement. “We also cannot overlook the fact that the Black Yield Institute group is occupying the land without permission. Our hope is they will be able to relocate and continue their farming elsewhere.
“Importantly, in keeping with our mission, HABC’s longer-term plans call for building badly needed affordable housing on the property.”
Eric Jackson, founder and servant-director of the Black Yield Institute, said the group is the latest in a line of stewards who have farmed the land under the expired lease for a decade.
“They had every right to evict us from the land. However, it doesn’t make sense, considering the farm had been in operation for over 10 years with that outdated lease,” he said. “The way they’ve gone about it is really the issue, from my perspective.”
The Black Yield Institute plans to attend the meeting with the Housing Authority and hopes “to extend our time on the farm and understand why they made such a decision,” the group said.
Its petition to save the farm had surpassed 38,700 signatures as of late Sunday afternoon.
“Land insecurity is real. In the midst of a global pandemic, black people are already having a difficult time accessing fresh, healthy produce,” the petition reads. “Removing a proven community asset doesn’t make any sense, right?”
The Black Yield Institute said the farm provides fresh produce for the community at its Pop Up Markets and offers community cooking classes and youth gardening programs. More than 700 volunteers have earned community service hours in the past 18 months, the group said.
The Urban Community Garden “continue[s] to provide food, education, and hands-on volunteer experience to the Cherry Hill community,” according to the farm alliance. During the pandemic, volunteers passed out 30-pound boxes of fresh fruit, canned goods and vegetables grown in the garden, like okra, kale and collard greens, to hundreds of hungry seniors and families.
“The land is the prime opportunity to address food insecurity since it was going to be vacant anyway. Why not grow food on the land?” the petition says. “The Housing Authority of Baltimore City should give the farm more time so that we can address an issue that the pandemic has only made bigger.”