Introducing Strength to Love II
Strength to Love II is a community-based non-profit program addressing food apartheid issues in west Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood. The program operates a 1.5 acre urban farm that distributes organic produce grown within its 14 greenhouses, while providing agricultural training and workforce development for youth and citizens returning to the community from incarceration. Strength to Love II is part of an umbrella organization, Intersection of Change, which was founded in 1996 to address poverty-related challenges in Sandtown-Winchester and surrounding communities.
The Challenges of Sandtown-Winchester
Though once a thriving Black neighborhood of west Baltimore, Sandtown-Winchester has been declining since the second half of the 20th century when unfavorable economic development practices began dismantling its foundation. The area now suffers from higher-than-average rates of abandoned housing, resident incarceration, unemployment, and poverty. The blighted condition of the neighborhood is simultaneously the reason for Strength to Love II’s existence and one of its greatest challenges.
The program faces additional significant hurdles related to distrust and stigmas surrounding healthy foods amongst residents, resulting from a long history of agricultural disenfranchisement and injustice affecting poor and Black communities throughout the United States. In poor and food insecure communities like Sandtown, this stigma festers, especially in our youth, when buying and eating healthy foods is considered too expensive and out of reach for so many, and mostly only available through a food pantry.
When I recently spoke with Program Director Bryan Wright for an update on the farm’s work, he was forthcoming about these challenges, while also clearly committed to staying the course. Among many regular setbacks, the farm is often vandalized and just that morning, he and his team arrived to find the farm van damaged by bullet holes from a shooting the night before. Due to the stigmas around healthy foods and farms, it has been hard to get residents to understand the farm’s purpose and patronize the new farm stand. Yet, thanks to his unwavering commitment, valuable agricultural experience, and holistic perspective, the colorful farm is slowly growing into a positive and productive community gathering space, and a symbol of hope for a healthier, more equitable food system.
Transformation Takes Time
Bryan brings a unique perspective to Baltimore. Growing up in the south in an agricultural community, he remembers farms and gardens everywhere, and the act of growing, sharing and enjoying food, particularly freshly-picked produce, as the heartbeat of the community. Ever since studying abroad in West Africa, he has wanted to serve as a catalyst of change through the promotion of agriculture and natural medicine. He believes that agriculture needs to be normalized for today’s youth, and that regaining control of food production will be transformative for people living in poverty.
Since taking the helm of Strength to Love II in 2018, Bryan has been working tirelessly with a small team of local residents turned farm workers to repair the farm’s infrastructure. He has stayed focused on growing the right foods for the community, and upholding principles of sustainable regenerative agriculture. As a result of these efforts, “the farm is a visible symbol of transformation in our community that has successfully converted vacant land into an operational farm by growing organic produce for local consumption”, according to Intersection of Change.
Our 2022 Give One grant was provided to the farm to expand their farm stand into a multi-vendor farmers market to support community residents through economic opportunity and expanded healthy food distribution. The grant would also be used to start the Urban Youth in Agriculture Program (UYAP). This program is designed to train youth between the ages of 12-19 in urban agriculture. UYAP is a STEM based program that will allow the participants to address food insecurity, community development, leadership, economic development, and environmental stewardship. After a year of planning, UYAP is set to launch its first cohort in 2023.
At the end of our last conversation, Bryan left me with a powerful analogy: Changing our society is like growing a perennial plant. He explained, it doesn’t grow fast; it must first develop roots, then it will bear fruit. And this can take years. “Strength to Love 2 is a perennial type of project… this is more than food production—it is powerful community-building work,” he said.
To learn more about Strength to Love II, please visit their program page on the Intersection of Change website here.