Take a walk through Highlandtown or Station North and it’s clear that Baltimore has done an exemplary job of creating an environment that is not only welcoming to artists, but encourages their creativity. From housing communities and educational opportunities to tax breaks, Baltimore has rolled out the welcome mat, and like a friendly neighbor brought over a casserole for its artsy new residents. I’d like to see the city turn its attention to creating a similar environment for a community of artisanal food makers.
The locavore movement has helped highlight the rich resource of locally grown food that surrounds Baltimore. Combine that with the city’s burgeoning culinary scene stocked with a cadre of young innovative chefs, and the time seems just right for a new initiative that would make Baltimore a draw for foodies worldwide. Partnerships between the school system, Baltimore Culinary College, interested local chefs and area artisanal food makers would help create a generation of young artisans with a passion for making great bread, cheeses, desserts, cured meats, etc. who carry on some of the city’s best traditions and create new ones. It could also give adults who have the desire to pursue a career in the food world, but no outlet for their interests, a path to begin a new career.
Imagine Baltimore and Howard Streets or local neighborhood main streets revitalized and home to cheese shops, bakeries, dessert shops, etc., the smell of their edible works of art wafting out onto the sidewalk, encouraging shoppers to stroll from one establishment to the other. Their high-quality goods would also make it into local restaurants, further developing a micro-economy that would extend from the local farmers to area restaurateurs. This new category of small business entrepreneurs would create more jobs for city residents.
It would provide an alternative path to young people uninterested in pursuing more traditional options such as college. It would also encourage artisans from other cities and countries to come to Baltimore to see what we’re doing, share their expertise and very possibly move here and open their own shops.
The benefits of this infusion of skilled artisans would extend beyond our bellies and pocketbooks. It could also have a significant impact on our health, exposing lower income residents to a healthier way of eating as well as providing a different shopping experience for them if the city were to provide incentives for storeowners to open locations in neighborhood main streets while also providing incentives/assistance for customers to shop there. This would help transform the city’s food deserts into landscapes that offered an alternative to the over-processed and manufactured products that are passed off as food today.
It’s an audacious idea, but then so were arts districts a decade ago.