It is no secret that Baltimore has problems. It is a city with a long history of extreme racism that haunts every street. It is a city filled with poverty. The elite and the oppressed live on top of one another. Tensions escalate quickly. The militarized police, who blatantly defend the privileged, have been known to seed eruptions of violence to justify their own atrocities –as was the case during the Baltimore Uprising. Humans are set up for incarceration because they happen to be poor and not white. Some are murdered –often by the police. Vast neighborhoods are without access to food beyond what can be purchased at a corner store or liquor store. The job market is hard to enter beyond minimum wage. Countless homes are left vacant while the homeless are denied space. Shelters can be as dangerous as the streets. Despair is common.
Yet, there are tiny oases in Baltimore. Here, the pain that hangs over the city is dampened slightly. These are a few passionately run non-governmental organizations and collectives. These are some of the few places where the disadvantaged can experience kindness and be treated like humans.
In the western corner of the Hampden neighborhood, lies one such oasis. In this oasis is a garden filled with green veggies, tomatoes, berries, grapes, carrots of many colors, and more such delights. There are community plots for rent. There is a section for experimenting with urban permaculture. There is a warehouse full of concerts, Food Not Bombs, and other events. There are houses occupied by a growing intentional community. This oasis is the Baltimore Free Farm.
The group of friends who founded BFF knew nothing of the intentional community movement when they first dreamed up the project. They had not heard of Twin Oaks, Acorn, or any of the other older communes. The idea of formal consensus was foreign. Income sharing was unheard of. Yet, when they were laid off from their construction jobs, the original BFF members came together to build a garden, and around that garden they built a community.
They chose a small patch of vacant land just far enough from Hampden’s famous Avenue to be out of gentrification’s reach –at least at the time. It was covered with weeds and trash. The soil was poor and toxic. Together, the four friends cleared the land and got to work on the soil. To protect the land they worked on, the friends began camping on the property. They were soon joined by more friends. Eventually they moved into the abandoned houses down the hill from their garden space. They began to renovate the spaces –albeit very crudely — and built a culture together. Accidentally, they had formed an intentional community.
BFF has come a long way since then. The Baltimore Free Farm is now a community in dialogue with the Federation of Egalitarian Communities. As a result, BFF is in the process of becoming income sharing. The eventual dream is to have a community business to support all of the members. Yet, BFF is also engaged with interaction with the broader Baltimore community thanks to the very public warehouse space. This makes BFF a very dynamic community that attracts diverse perspectives.
As with many urban communities, it is easy to become involved in political action within the city. Much of BFF’s work centers around food justice –an important goal in Baltimore. BFF hosts three days of Food Not Bombs a week. BFF also hosts a weekly food give-away called Food Rescue Day. Several individual members are also part of groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ).
Baltimore Free Farm is incredibly exciting. BFF’s unintentional beginning is a poetic expression of the hunger for community in our world of increased alienation. It is a dynamic, multifaceted place that is somehow cohesive. It will be exciting to see how BFF grows.
For more information, follow Baltimore Free Farm on Facebook or email the community at firstname.lastname@example.org.