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Baltimore City

Struggling to make rent, Pigtown Community Garden faces uncertain future as it looks for a new home

Shira Goodman can no longer afford to pay rent for the Pigtown property where she grows asparagus, celery and other fresh produce meant for neighbors.

Goodman, director of the nearly 5,000-square-foot Pigtown Community Garden, said she hadn’t paid rent for the past 11 years. After the property was sold this summer, the new landlord asked her to start paying a nominal amount in rent, something the previous owner, West Ostend Development Partners LLC, hadn’t done as long as Goodman kept the area clean, she said.

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Shira Goodman, director of the Pigtown Community Garden said the group used to use the land on W Ostend Street for free. But the new owner wants the garden to pay rent, which the group cannot afford. The garden have until Dec. 31 to vacate the property.

Goodman, 34, said she signed a lease with real estate investment firm Stax Charm City LLC this year, agreeing to pay $250 per month from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. After that, the monthly rent will rise to $750.

When signing the lease, she knew members would have to contribute money in order for her to afford it. She has been paying $250 a month since August. However, she will not be able pay the new rate when it goes up later this year.

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“We donate [fruits and vegetables] to the community,” she said. “It’s disheartening. It’s sad that these big investors are attempting to profit off of us.”

The Pigtown garden’s landlord, Stax, purchased the property for $63,000 this summer and it is valued at $19,400, according to Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Mike Azimi, the real estate company’s owner and operator, said he gave Goodman a good deal, adding he could’ve rented the property for $1,500.

Azimi, 31, is from the Washington-D.C. area and is a former real estate agent who owns more than 50 properties in Pigtown. Now, he mainly purchases and renovates abandoned homes before renting them at market rates, he said.

“If we’re all going to work together, don’t be an [expletive] to the investor. Don’t come off with entitlement,” he said, referring to the below market rent. “I gave my offer. I could’ve done other stuff [such as making it a place people can do yoga or building a bonfire, among other uses] with the property this whole year, but I wanted to do something nice.”

Azimi doesn’t know exactly what he wants to do with the land, he said, but his options include renting it for parking, storage or other uses.

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Goodman has yet to find a new location for the garden. Even though it isn’t a registered nonprofit, she said, it operates as one and doesn’t generate revenue. For example, the garden donates vegetables and fruits weekly to the women’s center, Sex Workers Promoting Action, Risk reduction and Community (SPARC), and does not bring in money, she said.

“Participants really appreciate having access to the foods they provide,” said Katie Evans, managing director of SPARC. “Many folks have also had the opportunity to be exposed to different varieties of produce that they likely would not have had access to otherwise.”

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Goodman said it’s common for a community garden not to be a registered nonprofit. Katherine Lautar, executive director of Baltimore Greene Space, a nonprofit that promotes gardening, said other organizations that do not have official nonprofit status include Mount Clare Street Community Garden and Upper Fells Point Community Garden. The neighborhood community association, Citizens of Pigtown, supports the Pigtown garden by helping the organization stay on budget with their grants, said Diante Edwards, president of the association.

More than 20 people work as gardeners for free at the garden on Ostend Street. Each pays a $50 membership fee and receives a box of vegetables and fruits per week. Weekly donations of vegetables and fruits from the garden, which is similar to a co-op, also go toward community members and SPARC.

John Ellis, 38, owns a three-bedroom house in Pigtown and started volunteering at the garden in the spring of 2019. He works as director of revenue cycle at Chesapeake Urology.

Ellis grew up in Pasadena and has been gardening since he was 6.

“Gardening is a hobby that people from multiple backgrounds have. You meet people you wouldn’t have encountered in everyday life,” he said.


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