Strength to Love II Farms providing fresh food, job opportunities in West Baltimore

Posted at 5:09 PM, Sep 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-09 18:30:25-04

Without skipping a beat, Clayton Williams quickly rattles off all of the vegetables growing in the greenhouses between Kavanaugh and Mullin Streets in Baltimore's Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.

"You have your mustard greens, arugula and salad mixes here," he points to one row.  "Then in the greenhouse across the street we have kale, peppers, tomatoes, beets and collards."

He begins to smile after he lists all the produce growing on the property of Strength to Love II Farms (SLF).  "Wow we're really doing it," he says with a hearty laugh.  "Sometimes I get so wrapped up in the work I may have forgotten to take a look around."

It's a pretty impressive operation happening at the farm, right in the middle of a bustling city.  Cars whizzing by mix with the sounds of overhead sprinklers watering freshly planted seeds.  Williams is the farm manager and says when he steps inside one of the 16 greenhouses on the property, the noise of the city fades.

"We call it tunnel vision.  You get in here and everything else starts to fall away," he said.

Williams oversees about four to five farm workers at SLF. They all have different backgrounds, the majority have never worked on a farm, and many are recently released from prison.

"Being on the farm gives them an outlook of what it means to be gainfully employed and how to keep a job," said Janice Spells-Bell, the program director at SLF. "Most of the people here have never had a job before."

SLF started back in 2013, as part of Intersection of Change, a non-profit started by Elder C.W. Harris and his wife Emilia Harris.  They buy abandoned properties in the Sandtown-Winchester area and turn them into things like a rehab center for women, an arts center, or an urban farm.

SLF not only provides job opportunities in the community, it also addresses another serious problem often plaguing city neighborhoods, food deserts.

"We want the people in the community and all around to know that we're here, that we have good, healthy organic produce and we do it to serve this community right here," said Williams.

The produce on the farm is sold in local farmer's markets, at a couple area colleges like Goucher and in a few corner markets.  Spells-Bell says the hope is to expand so their food is sold at every market and corner store in West Baltimore and beyond.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm and excitement about the farm being here and the produce that's being grown," she said.

Spells-Bell and Williams talked about hopes to expand the farm, to get into aquaponics, add an orchard and get into more educational and cooking classes.  Whatever the future holds for SLF, Williams is excited to be part of it.

"I love being here.  I love seeing things grow.  Every time I see seeds come up, its like 'Wow it's actually happening!"