For Walker Marsh, the sunflowers bursting from the half-acre plot at 1400 N. Gay Street are budding symbols of freedom and economic growth.
Marsh, a 28-year-old farmer, turned the once vacant lot into Tha Flower Factory, a flower farm located in the middle of a busy intersection in the Broadway East neighborhood. His vision was brought to life thanks to a $63,800 grant from the city.
On any given day, Marsh can be found weeding, watering and tending to his rows of flower blossoms, yet farming wasn’t always his passion.
After graduating from Milford Mill High School and short stint at Virginia State University, Marsh bounced around jobs before landing a gig at the Real Food Farm as a Civic Works AmeriCorps member. He reluctantly accepted the agriculture assignment however, believing that, “like other black youth, I thought [farming] was some slave type work,” but came to discover a satisfaction in working with the earth.
“My first experiences being around the plants and weeding, putting my hands in the dirt, there was just something grounding about it,” he said. “It was a calmness I’d never felt before and I was like man, I want to keep doing this because it just made me feel good.”
The farm opened for business selling cut flowers on Aug. 13 after more than a year of planning and preparing the ground for seeding. Marsh won funding to start the farm through the 2014 Growing Green Design Competition, which awards initiatives that transform vacant lots in the city. His flower farm is backed by entities including Civic Works, the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, and has been praised for its ingenuity by city officials and neighbors alike.
Locals were initially skeptical of his idea and couldn’t quite see the vision, he said, but have since come on board as enthusiasts. Some have stopped by to ask questions, while others have even helped ward off passersby inclined to pick flowers without paying.
“It’s been nothing but love,” he said. “Everybody’s like, man you’re doing a great job it’s coming along. I just get nothing but love out here and it’s really great.”
Chrissy Goldberg, Food and Farm Director at Civic Works said Tha Flower Factory brought color, excitement and new energy to the empty lot where trash once piled up.
“To see sunflowers reaching up toward the sun in the middle of Gay and Washington Streets in Broadway East is just pretty amazing,” Goldberg said. “This is a central corridor for the city, so to have something community oriented and bright and vibrant right here in this particular plot is just really wonderful.”
This summer, a group of five young people joined him on the farm for a 20-week employment program through the Community Conferencing Center. Over time, Marsh hopes the farm will expand to include a nursery for year-round planting, and even more job opportunities for residents interested in agriculture.
“I think flowers add a spiritual element,” he said. “It just makes any area look better if you have flowers, especially in areas that don’t have what you would consider something beautiful.”
Tha Flower Factory just launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $10,000 toward the cost of a truck, drip irrigation and other supplies for the farm. Learn more about the crowdfunding initiative HERE.