Grace Lutheran Church volunteers help build West Baltimore hoop house

Grace Lutheran Church volunteers worked to erect a hoop house on a vacant lot in West Baltimore on Thursday.

Daivion Addison, 8, used his small hands however he could to help 18 Grace Lutheran Church volunteers erect a hoop house on a vacant lot in West Baltimore on Thursday.

Daivion, who lives next to the lot, asked volunteers from the Westminster church whether he could help while they built the structure that will be used to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for his community.


"I saw they were building a new thing in my neighborhood and I wanted to help," Daivion said. "They're going to grow plants so people can eat healthier and stop eating junk food. I want them to grow lettuce, grapes, grapefruits and apples."

While citrus fruits will probably not be grown in the 72-by-22-foot hoop house, Judith Carmichael, Bon Secours Baltimore Health System Foundation's director of marketing and public relations, said she hopes the structure will help produce other fresh fruits and vegetables, including kale, spinach and lettuce.

Carmichael said residents of West Baltimore are living in what is widely considered to be a food desert, or an urban area in which it is difficult to buy affordable or good-quality fresh food. Bon Secours partnered with Baltimore-based urban farming company Big City Farms and Grace Lutheran Church volunteers to build the hoop house at the corner of North Fulton Avenue and West Fayette Street to help improve the quality of life for community residents.

Grace Lutheran Church's co-pastor Kevin Clementson said the church's members regularly go on service trips to areas around the country affected by disasters, but this year they saw a great need in West Baltimore and an opportunity to help.

"With all the recent news, we wanted to partner with Bon Secours to make a difference," Clementson said. "The hoop house will provide green, leafy vegetables that will improve the quality of the community's nutrition."

Watching the group construct the house from the sidewalk, Betty Smith said she thought the hoop house was a good idea. Smith, who lives around the corner from the lot, hoped the finished structure would benefit the community.

"I hope they take care of it correctly," Smith said. "This community needs a lot of help. I hope they grow fresh produce and mix some flowers in with it to make it pretty."

The project is a result of a citywide initiative to raze the ample number of vacant houses and open up green spaces, according to Bon Secours project manager Michael Rosenband.

"This lot used to be six homes," he said. "When the lot became part of the Adopt-a-Lot program, Bon Secours adopted it, hoping to grow food and create jobs. You can't just go into a community and expect things to change. The solutions come from within the community."

Grace Lutheran Church member Betsy Reilly, of Westminster, said she has been impressed by the Bon Secours organization.

"I think the hoop house is a great idea," she said. "It will grow a lot of healthy foods for the community and improve their nutrition."

Church member Andy Myers, of Westminster, also helped raise the hoop house and agreed that it was a worthy project.

"I think it will provide a place for the community to learn and grow as a whole through the communal process of growing food," Myers said.

Westminster resident Eileen Zepp, another Grace Lutheran Church member, said the project was appealing because she loves to garden.


"They'll be able to grow food for the neighborhood all year," Zepp said.

Garrett Cox, 13, worked to build the structure with his father Dave, mother Tiffany and brother Wyatt, 15.

"I volunteered with my church because people in Baltimore are in need of nutritious foods," said Garrett, of Westminster. "This is a good way to grow fruits and vegetables for the community."

"This is in an area where food isn't as available as where we are," Dave added. "It's creating an opportunity for the people of the community to provide for themselves."

Sophia Gilbart, 14, said constructing the hoop house was a great way to provide support to those in need of some.

"I've always had a roof over my head and food on the table," said Gilbart, of Taneytown. "My parents have been able to provide above and beyond for me. I feel like I should give back and help people who haven't had the opportunities I have."

Pastor Clementson's daughter, Beth Clementson, said that by the end of the weekend, the group will install heavy plastic that will roll down over the structure. Hoop houses with roll-up plastic sides provide variable amounts of protection from the sun and act as insulation, boosting internal temperatures during cold weather.

After completion, Bon Secours Community Works will use the hoop house to create a workforce development opportunity for its program participants, who will tend to the garden and run a produce stand where community members can purchase the fruits and vegetables.

Rosenband said the group had made tremendous progress.

"There's still a lot of work to do after this, and we're looking to build on this momentum," Rosenband said.