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Friday, September 30, 2016

Ramps to Success

Written by  Sage Piper
Baltimore Food Hub, breaking ground Baltimore Food Hub, breaking ground

Two vital projects will energize and transform Baltimore neighborhoods

If you happened to be driving around town last week, say down Greenmount Avenue or across Oliver Street on your way to the east side, you may have assumed that life was pretty much business per usual on these unassuming Baltimore streets. Nothing to sing about. But happily, I’m here to tell you differently- oh yes, how wrong you would have been!

For last Tuesday morning two inspirational happenings were being celebrated that are enough to give hope to even the most cynical and downtrodden Baltimore heart ... signaling that opportunity, creativity, and investments are underway in the city... and the cries of the last year and a half have not fallen on deaf ears.

First stop: the ribbon cutting celebration at Open Works Baltimore in the 1400 block of Greenmount Avenue. This amazing space – the newest “makerspace “in a city that now boasts several – is the culmination of a $12-million makeover of a former distribution warehouse and Goodwill store. Open Works is a community artisan lab for the city’s creative makers, small manufacturers, artisans, entrepreneurs, and craftspeople. It will offer work space and tools to members (or anyone who wants to buy a $25 one-day pass) who might otherwise not be able to afford it, and they will be able to share not only tools but machines, rooms, experience, and ideas in a space that boasts a woodworking shop, computer lab with 3D printing, digital media lab, paint room, sewing room, and a metal shop with laser cutting machines. They will also offer open classes and workshops and provide educational opportunities to the nearby public elementary and middle schools. Open Works’ goal is to lift not only the city’s growing creative community but the entire community as well – as part of a number of buildings nearby which are transforming “gritty” Greenmount into a blossoming arts district and breathing new life into the area.

Congressman Elijah Cummings was on hand for the Open Works celebration – and he spoke eloquently of his own father-in-law – a smart, creative, and entrepreneurial man – whose mind teemed with ideas all of his life, but who never had the means to do anything tangible with those ideas. Cummings realized that what his father-in-law lacked was the ramp that would enable him to link his ideas to reality, and thus he was always “on the outside, looking in.” Cummings’ eyes shone as he praised Open Works for being the ramp that would take so many young artists, architects, and creative people over that vital bridge to access and opportunity to thrive, succeed, and follow one’s ideas through to the next step.

Well, the ribbon had barely been cut (with scissors printed out by Open Works’ 3D printers) and refreshments dipped into when it was time to leave Open Works and head out – to 1801 East Oliver Avenue in East Baltimore. There city, federal, community, and business leaders were gathering to break ground on the site of the new Baltimore Food Hub project.

A $32.5 million historic renovation project, the Baltimore Food Hub is located on a 3.5 acres of abandoned and dusty brown land in the heart of Baltimore’s Broadway East community that has been disinvested and unused since its days as the Baltimore City Water Works Pumping and Repair Station. In fact, it is so bleak, it was chosen for scenes in The Wire, and Cutty’s gym was fashioned in one of the existing buildings on site. The heart of this exciting project is to bring a large-scale food hub to East Baltimore and to set up teaching kitchens and a catering social enterprise that will provide jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to the low-income residents in the community.

Baltimore Food Hub’s renovation plans are many, including a connected campus with commercial and teaching production kitchens, space for food manufacturing, job training, an urban farming operation, and an all-season market. By “clustering” several food services in a single site – the constellation of food businesses in a particular area that are responsible for getting food from the farm to the dining hall – the project will link the East Baltimore community to Maryland’s greater food manufacturing economy.

It will be a powerful job creation engine bringing new life to the area, and it will provide opportunities for workforce development, education, microenterprise, and local economic opportunity. Baltimore Food Hub envisions more jobs for minority and women owned businesses through a catering business serving anchor institutions in Baltimore and beyond. The onsite urban agriculture and all-season market will provide a source of fresh produce to the East Baltimore community now living in crippling food deserts.

Open Works Baltimore and the Baltimore Food Hub offer the best of innovative planning and investing in economic development that empowers local Baltimore communities without displacement or dispossession. These projects feed the soul of all of us who work every day for the healing and thriving of every sector of our city. So no – it was not such a regular Tuesday morning in Baltimore, after all!

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