Editor’s note: This summer, Audacious Ideas features a series of Baltimore Community Fellows who are working on green issues—from urban farming to gardening inside the prison walls. Check out the entire series.
As I walk into the Baltimore City Detention Center for my weekly garden class, a guard remarks on how big the plants are getting. I place my belongings into a bin and get patted down, and another employee tells me about her own garden. I tell her about the direction of the program, and for better serving the juveniles locked up there, facing adult charges. When they get out, I hope to be able to provide them with community service options or assist them in getting jobs in the field of horticulture. My hope for the city is that we can use gardening in schools, churches, and transition environments to heal and build stronger and healthier communities.
Arriving at our garden site I lay some vegetables in the grass. Ten kids walk out.
“Mr. Gary, what is that?” one boy asks.
“That’s called kohlrabi, and it comes from Europe. You actually eat its stem, which has swollen out. You can eat it raw or cook it.”
“Mr. Gary, you should make us a meal with some of this stuff you talk about. We may like it.”
We check on the progress of our garden. There’s an issue with the beans.
“They sprouted when it rained, but we haven’t been watering enough, so they have dried out,” I explain. “Girls, when you water at night, don’t worry about putting in too much. We have raised beds and the water will drain out of the bottom.”
Now the kids notice that we have small cucumbers growing. There are flowers on the vines and the watermelon vine is taking over its bed. I show how the back of the flower swells into the fruit. As we start to weed, some of the students are very active and asking questions. Others just want to relax among the green plants, flowers, and fresh air.
“Well, that’s the time.” They call in the guard for the boys. Everyone goes back into the concrete and steel; all of them reluctantly.
“See you next week,” I tell them, “but hopefully not.”