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.
We live in a time when the social contract between individual and society has become implicit. We forget that as individuals we engage in our community, our government, and with our neighbors because they are there for our benefit as we are for theirs—to make our lives better than if we went on alone.
For the members of low-income, underserved communities such as Brooklyn/Curtis Bay however, this contract has failed. No source of healthy food, prioritization of industry over community, and a lack of municipal and social services have made this community one of the least healthy in our entire nation.
So while I started this work hoping to help my neighbors develop a source of healthy food and a place to learn more about the world around them, my priorities have shifted. Especially in working with the kids, I can see sparks of independence and freedom flickering. When a student surrounded by a life that promotes helplessness and dependence sees food just spring up from the dirt, and when that food actually tastes good—better than what they buy at the grocery store, better than the convenience store, I see a spark. “I can do this, for myself. I can do this better than they are doing it for me. I’m not as helpless as everyone seems to think I am.”
I want my students to renegotiate their contract with society. If the deal is that life in our society is supposed to be better than you can have on your own, then the first step is recognizing how well you can do for yourself. My students will hold their world to a higher standard because they trust in their abilities, they know that they aren’t helpless, and they hold themselves to that same high standard.