For 2010 OSI Fellow Gary Ashbeck, the idea to establish urban gardens in his West Baltimore neighborhood was second nature.
Noticing the many empty lots, adults and children in need of therapeutic programs and the lack of access to fresh produce in his community, Ashbeck knew the gardening and cultivation skills he learned growing up in northern Wisconsin could make a difference right where he was.
By partnering with local programs and organizations, Ashbeck has been able to use urban farming as a form of therapy to help a diverse group of city residents including local youth, juveniles charged as adults in the justice system and individuals in transition.
“There is a huge change in a person when they can put a seed into the ground and grow something to eat. They will never look at themselves or the ground the same way again,” Ashbeck says.
Halfway through his fellowship, Ashbeck is proud of what he has seen so far. Community gardens, a weekly farmers market, educational programs and a garden in the Baltimore City Detention Center all have been established as a result of Ashbeck’s idea.
These work to help not only program participants, but also the entire community, which benefits from the availability of fresh, healthy produce.
Ashbeck hopes that by the end of his fellowship, he is able to make a difference in the lives of the youth and adults he’s worked with, but believes the bigger goal is empowerment.
“I would like to see graduates coming back with their own ideas to pass on to the next generation of urban farmers.”