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Dulaney graduate creates workshop series on 'urban homesteading'

Anna Glenn was raised on a property near Loch Raven Reservoir, in Cockeysville, on which she, her parents and two younger sisters raised rabbits, turkeys, goats, chickens, ducks, strawberries, blackberries, Brussels sprouts, onions, beets, sweet potatoes, kale, lavender and asparagus.

Now, Glenn is bringing the skills, wisdom and knowledge of how to grow food and animals in an otherwise suburban or urban setting — a practice some call "urban homesteading" — to a series of workshops in Baltimore County and city sponsored by the University of Maryland Extension.

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Tapping into the recent popular trend of people preferring to consume locally-sourced foods, the goal of the series is to teach participants that healthy, tasty edibles are readily available to them in their own backyards, and how best to cultivate those foods themselves.

The third installment in the series, which will explain the art of "Backyard Foraging," is scheduled for May 18, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at the Baltimore County Center for Maryland Agriculture and Farm Park, in Cockeyesville. Future classes include those titled "Backyard Chickens;" "Cultivating a Food Forest;" and "Year-Round Farming with Microgreens," among others.

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The series is the result of a collaboration between Baltimore Master Gardener Lynn Supp and Glenn, whose official titles on her University of Maryland Extension business card include member of the Horticulture Faculty, Extension Assistant and Master Gardener Coordinator.

She was a devoted 4-H member as a student at Dulaney High School, majored in Agricultural and Animal Science at the University of Maryland, and earned a Masters Degree in Agricultural Leadership Education and Communication from Texas A&M University.

Her father, John, an attorney with the U.S. Department of Labor, and mother, Gail, a laboratory surveyor with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, bought the four-acre property on which they raised their three daughters — Anna, 25, Melissa, 22, and Abigail, 19 — 26 years ago.

With their parents pitching in beside them, the girls learned firsthand the lessons of weeding, cleaning, watering, feeding and the general care of the plants, vegetables and animals on the family property. In that hands-on environment, Glenn discovered a love for what has become her life's work.

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"My job is to educate Baltimore County residents on safe and sustainable horticultural practices," she said of her role as the extension service's home horticulture expert in Baltimore County.

Her father learned gardening and growing by taking a master gardeners course 30 years ago. "That gave me the fundamentals," he said.

The family's land, which is as hilly as it is wide, boasts a natural spring, spring house, small barn, above-ground pool, fenced-in pen for Orville the goat and a reconfigured and remodeled Civil War-era house. Gail leveled the top of the property so that the barn could be built there.

"It took me two summers to finish it," she said.

She had some help, though, in getting the immediate area outside the barn ready for other occupants.

"Anna dug the holes and installed the fence posts surrounding Orville's pen," John said, adding that Orville's late brother, Wilbur, also shared the space at one time.

Anna Glenn is an enthusiastic gardener with a fondness for growing her own food, something she even manages to do even in the limited space of the apartment she shares with her husband in Bel Air, in Harford County.

There, under grow lights, she raises microgreens — peas, lettuce, herbs and radishes —that can be harvested in as soon as 10 to 14 days. She also has an indoor worm bin that breaks down kitchen scraps into compost material.

"Living in an apartment now, I don't have the access to all that same resources that we had when I lived with my family on four acres," she said. "But there are a lot of ways to grow things even when you don't have much room."

The 10-part series on urban homesteading she created began in March with a lecture on organic vegetable seed starting; it will continue through December at several sites, including the Baltimore County agricultural center and three Baltimore City locations. Each of the lectures cost $15.

"I started this series because I wanted to be able to offer programming that was relevant and attractive to residents living in urban areas," Glenn said. "I was also looking for ways to engage millennials, like myself, in the programming that University of Maryland Extension offers. The series has also been a great way for me to indulge my own gardening interests, since everything we are doing are things I already do or things that I want to learn how to do myself."

Understanding food

The second seminar in the series, on how to grow edible mushrooms, was led by Mary Clark, a master gardener volunteer, on April 23. The demonstration drew 40 people to the agricultural center, some from as far away as State College, Pa. and Virginia Beach, Va.

Clark maintains a 15-feet-by-30-feet vegetable garden on a two-acre property in Glen Arm, where she has turned most of what used to be a lawn into a wildflower meadow.

A fellow master gardener volunteer who attended Clark's mushroom lecture, Cathy Lane, said that she tries to grow only native plants on her four-acre plot in Hunt Valley, although the definition of what plants are native to the area can be up for debate. Nevertheless, invasive plant species exist that she tries to eliminate.

"I just try to do the right things for the environment," she said. "And there's so much to do."

Glenn said that the series title is not meant to attract people only from urban areas. Suburban and rural folks can also use the information from the lectures and apply it to their situations, she said.

" 'Urban homesteading' is definitely a hot topic right now, as so many people are looking for new ways to eat healthier, grow their own food, invest in their local communities, practice sustainability, and connect with their agricultural roots" she said. "It's a term we thought would be attractive to a lot of people, but it's not just for people who live in urban areas. The skills that participants learn in our workshops can be applied on any scale."

Glenn is an exceptional employee whose series is reaching people who might not always have thought of themselves as having an interest in growing their own food, said her boss, Jeffrey Myers, the Area Extension Director for Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

"She's finding a way to reach a brand new audience," Myers said.

Said Glenn: "We want to help people understand where their food comes from and to learn everything that goes into producing it. Too many kids today don't realize that their food comes from the soil, and not just from a grocery store."

This story was updated on May 19.

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