Community farms and gardens play a vital role in building more just economies, improving community well-being, and addressing climate change. AFSC has a long history of supporting communities impacted by oppression gain more control over their own food system.

That includes working with community members in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore, an area that has one of the highest rates of poverty and gun violence in the city. It’s also the site of Gilmor Homes—just next door to where Freddie Gray was arrested in 2015 before dying in police custody.

“Since the 1960s, so much of West Baltimore has been leveled, and the continuous process of demolition has taken away so much from the community, including its population,” says Dominque Stevenson, director of AFSC’s Friend of a Friend Program. “Children are growing up in the midst of nothingness, when instead our city should be emphasizing more rebuilding and renovation.”

Over the years, Friend of a Friend has worked with the community to revitalize the neighborhood, including transforming an empty quarter-acre lot owned by the city into a community garden in 2016. The garden includes a chicken coop and more than  30 garden beds. An aquaponics system is in the works—for growing fish and plants together in one integrated system and using fish waste, instead of soil, to provide nutrients for the plants.

“People know this is a safe space where all community members can feel welcome and engage in conversation,” Dominque says. “The garden also brings in people from outside the community to see there is more than just violence and poverty here. There is beauty and resilience.”

In the summer, young people from the neighborhood take part in young farmers’ programs. And throughout the year, about 200 volunteers lend a hand, helping with planting, cleaning, harvesting, and organizing community events. Among them are college students and formerly incarcerated people who participated in a mentoring project Friend of a Friend facilitates for people in prison.

For the past few years the community has been working toward taking full ownership of the program, which is expected to happen this fall.

To learn more about Friend of a Friend, watch this segment from the “Laura Flanders Show”: