By Chrissa Carlson, Executive Director, Friends of Great Kids Farm

Friends of Great Kids Farm is participating in Baltimore Eats for Good, an area wide campaign that brings together restaurants, retailers and nonprofits for a fun, easy to do fundraising event. Baltimore Eats for Good and BmoreEvents sat down with Friends of Great Kids Farm to learn more about their mission and work in the community.

Tell us about your nonprofit (or cause) in your own words:

Friends of Great Kids Farm, Inc., is a private non-profit organization created to support and promote Baltimore City Public School’s Great Kids Farm.

Great Kids Farm is a 33-acre working educational farm owned and operated by Baltimore City Public Schools. The campus has served students from Baltimore City in many ways since the early 1900s, but it was given new life as a working farm in 2008. Thousands of City Schools students visit the Farm each year to experience growing, harvesting, and tasting healthy foods–foods that are also served in their school cafeterias. Hundreds of teachers have started school gardens using training, free seedlings, and educational materials they received from the Farm. High school students can apply to internships at the Farm, earning wages for their work from the produce they sell, building a resume and learning essential career skills through the process.

The Farm is part of a nationwide movement to create access to and appetites for healthy foods…this after decades of a deteriorating food system has resulted in alarming rates of childhood obesity and diabetes, setting our kids up for lifelong challenges to health and career success. While there are many other organizations using farm-based education to address this issue, Great Kids Farm is unique in that it is embedded within a large urban school district, rather than operating alongside it.

The unique model includes a teacher, a farmer, and a chef, all of whom have cross-disciplinary skills in education, agriculture and, and culinary.

The Farm is positioned to work at a systemic level to infuse a City Schools education with hands-on learning, healthy eating, and environmental literacy: by creating and distributing standards-based curricula, by making gardening supplies freely available to teachers, and by developing policies and procedures to get student-grown produce onto cafeteria trays.

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Because a farm is a rather unprecedented endeavor for a school system to run, it takes a little extra help to get where we want to go. Friends of Great Kids Farm is a partner nonprofit that raises funds and support for the Farm’s programs. As Executive Director of Friends of Great Kids Farm, my job is to raise funds to grow programs, but also to attract volunteers and advocates, and make sure everyone in Baltimore City can proudly share that their public school system runs an educational farm–we need as many ‘friends’ as possible to make sure the Farm is sustained in perpetuity.

[Tweet “The goal of @FriendsGKF is to benefit every one of #Baltimore City’s 85,000 #students.”]

Follow our activities on Facebook, and follow issues and articles we think are important to our mission on Twitter.

Tell us about a project/campaign/service you are currently working on.

Last winter, the Farm and Friends undertook our first shared strategic planning process. We dug into the lessons of the first six years of operations, assessed how we can direct the resources from the school district and from Friends most effectively, and came up with a plan to expand the reach and impact of programs. City Schools is committed to the Farm, but is facing major budget cuts–so Friends is working hard to raise funds that will help us grow programs. We’re releasing the results of our strategic plan and launching a ‘Plan(t) the Future’ fundraising campaign on June 11 at an event at Artifact Coffee. We’re putting together a menu of different ways our supporters can help us raise $40,000 over the next four months–participating in Bmore Eats for Good is one of them!

Tell us about the people in your organization and the community you serve.

The Farm serves Baltimore City Schools students–there are 85,000 of them this year. Our students are 84% low income, and 92% minority. These numbers are significant because statistically speaking, minority and low-income students are at a much higher risk of obesity and other diet-related chronic disease and lower academic achievement their their white/middle-upper class peers. The Farm can play a critical role in enriching their education, encouraging healthy eating habits, providing access to healthy foods, and developing cooking and gardening skills that will help them eat well as adults.

Any teacher in the district can request a field trip, and we saw about 3,800 students on campus last year. By distributing seedlings for school gardens and vegetables to school cafeterias, we touch about 30,000 students. The students we develop the deepest relationships with are our high school interns. We have five right now, all graduating seniors–we will miss them! Dominic, Donyae’, Lemuel, Anthony, and Dre’ all come from different schools with different career aspirations, but they have formed a tight crew. Looking forward to meeting new interns this summer.  Eighteen rising high school seniors will be working at the Farm as part of Baltimore Youthworks program, and will have the opportunity to apply for work-based learning internships during their senior year.

The Farm makes amazing things happen with a tiny staff–just seven of us between the Farm and Friends. Brooks Binau is our Farm Manager and our current rookie–he joined the team in March, bringing diverse farming and food systems experiences from Peace Corps, academic studies, and small business. Beth Mathie, our Farm Educator, is a certified science teacher and coordinates all the Farm’s educational and professional development programs. She studied at Penn State, one of the shining stars in agricultural research. Chela Cooper is the Farm’s Chef Educator. She oversees the development of recipes and nutrition lessons, coordinates processing of farm-to-cafeteria produce, and coordinates the engagement of high school culinary students in on-farm training programs. She was trained at the CIA…the Culinary Institute of America, that is. Lavinia Lambert is the Farm’s custodian–she keeps us all in line and enjoys how every day brings a different experience at the Farm.

Friends hosts two service corps staff positions annually. Our current Farm Assistant is Kelly Crabtree. She was placed at the Farm through the Episcopal Service Corps and is passionate about food justice and sustainable agriculture (and dogs). She’s the only one who can keep up with our high school interns’ use of mobile technology. Our current Volunteer Coordinator is Michelle Yellin, who was placed at the Farm through Volunteer Maryland. She has recruited and trained scores of new volunteers. She’s headed to Seattle to complete a masters in urban planning with an emphasis on food systems this fall.

Tell us specifically how your nonprofit or cause has impacted the community you serve.

A few feathers in our cap:

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  • 60 schools regularly receive produce from the Farm for service on their cafeteria salad bars or lunch lines as part of the National School Lunch program. The schools we distribute to have interacted with the Farm in various ways, and have therefore had a chance to observe food growing, and sample it when it’s freshly harvested. We provide the cafeterias with posters and labels to help students connect the food they are eating  with their experiences at Farm.
  • Over 60 teachers have been trained in using schoolyard gardens and healthy foods to teach across the curriculum this year. Aside from technical gardening skills, they also receive materials to install a school garden, reference books and curriculum guides, and a trip for their students to the Farm.
  • All of our current interns are graduating from high school with firm college and career plans. We have one going to UMES, one to Allegheny College, one to Morgan, and one to Anne Arundel Community College. And one is pursuing a full-time farm apprenticeship with a sustainable livestock farm!

What are some of your and your colleagues favorite restaurants in the Baltimore area?

We have to give a shout out to some of our partners: the Woodberry Kitchen group has supported the Farm since its inception, as has Atwater’s Bakeries…and we love their food too! The Bagby Restaurant Group is a relatively new supporter, and we’re so impressed by the quality of food at their restaurants. We also love the Inn at the Black Olive–they are amazingly committed to providing healthy, organic ingredients, including the microgreens our students grow on the Farm!

What is your favorite “Baltimore” food?

Steamed crabs! Is there any competition? Although I do love making homemade sauerkraut.

Who are your favorite local celebrities and why? 

We are over the moon that our friend and partner Spike Gjerde just won the James Beard Award for Best Chef–MidAtlantic. I have so much respect for the work he has done to push local sourcing forward in Baltimore, and for making it so delicious! It is amazing for our students to look to Spike and know that they grow food that is served in his restaurants. It really validates the work they do.

Learn More About Friends of Great Kids Farm!

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