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Culture & Artsby Francine Halvorsen8:58 amJan 20, 20120

An oasis in an urban food desert: Real Food Farm

FOODWISE BALTIMORE: Farming in Clifton Park and two recipes for what’s growing there now.

Above: Real Food Farm’s Zach Chissell and Jazmin Simmons at the Waverly Market offering some hot deals on cold-weather veggies.

I checked out Baltimore’s Real Food Farm on a recent early morning, and at some point during my tour – inside one of the 148-foot-long hoop houses, perhaps, or in the worm palace, or maybe the steaming mulch mound – I stopped noticing the below-freezing temperatures and just got swept up in the amazing operation they have.

You have to see it to believe it!

It’s on six acres in Clifton Park on what used to be Lake Clinton and then a high school football field. They broke ground on the farm in 2009 with the help of knowledgeable and industrious volunteers and the support of AmeriCorps, CivicWorks, the Abell Foundation, the Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation and dozens of local businesses.

Zach Chissell, projectmanager, Real Food Farms. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Zach Chissell, project manager of Real Food Farm. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

In October, it was one of 150 projects nationwide that got a Farmer’s Market Promotion Project grant from the Department of Agriculture. (They’re going to use it to promote their mobile marketing program.)

On the morning I was there, workers were starting to erect new seed-starting hoop houses and a local company was spreading woodchips and leaves.

Zach pointed out the foundations for two sheds, (one for farm storage, another for tools) as well as additional hoop houses and a storage refrigerator which he is hoping will one day be run on solar power.

2801 St. Lo Drive
Baltimore, MD 21213
410 366-8533

When I mentioned how I wished there was a truck that took food under proper controls to neighborhoods that had no farmers markets or even a supermarket, that was Zach’s cue.

He got on his bike as I followed in my car to the mansion that was formerly the home of Johns Hopkins (the man, not the institution), which houses the CivicWorks offices. There I saw the truck and learned about their mobile marketing program.

Community Runs

It went out during the summer and made two-hour-long “community market” stops in “food deserts,” low-income neighborhoods that otherwise have scant access to fresh produce.

On Wednesdays, they sold their produce at 3120 Erdman Avenue. On Fridays, they were at Lake Montebello near Montebello Elementary School.

A farmer's market on wheels, Real Food Farm's delivery truck. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

A farmer's market on wheels – Real Food Farm's delivery truck. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

The truck made a number of mini-stops, as well, to neighborhoods including Darley Park, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello and Bel Air-Edison. (Check the website for up-to-date information.)

How wonderful to see something I had only imagined, executed so well and running so effectively.

With future funds they hope to add stops or even new trucks to bring fresh, affordable food to other city neighborhoods that desperately need it.

Another feature of Real Food Farm is the CSA (Community supported Agriculture) program, where you pay a lump sum and get produce throughout the season.

They have a stand at the Waverly market every Saturday. And they’ve also got an educational component with curriculum-based classes for nearby Clifton Park schools, volunteers and interns. It’s hopping!

Curly kale seedlings. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Curly kale seedlings. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Overseeing it all is project director Zach Chissell, an authentic polymath, with training in landscaping, urban planning, and an interest in food.

Born in Baltimore and with a graduate business degree from University of Maryland, he also lived in Rome for two years and, while earning a degree in international business, assisted at a cooking school.


Here are some recipes for the kind of mid-winter root and leafy vegetables they’re selling now.


2 bunches of baby beets, scrubbed and gently scraped with a sharp paring knife
I bunch medium carrots, scrubbed and gently scraped with a sharp paring knife
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Za’atar or dried thyme
a few pinches of Aleppo pepper or to taste
1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt

Roasted baby beets and carrots. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Roasted baby beets and carrots. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Pre-heat oven to 350°
Cut carrots so that they are about the same size as the beets. Drizzle some olive oil in a shallow baking pan (I prefer ceramic or Pyrex.) Mix the rest of the oil and spices and stir into the vegetables. Place in a single layer (OK if a few overlap) in the baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and bake for 35 – 45 minutes until fork tender. Serve in baking dish to keep it warm.



2 small bunches of young curly kale
1½ teaspoon raw agave nectar – 2 teaspoons of sugar may be substituted*
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper or to taste (or black pepper)

Cooked curly kale, with agave and cinnamon.

Cooked curly kale, with agave and cinnamon. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)


Rinse the kale thoroughly, and spin-dry make sure there is no grit. (I must say the kale from Real Food Farm was pretty much grit-free.) Rinse. Trim the stems and freeze for vegetable stock.

Cut the kale in approximately 2-inch slices and rinse again.

Bring about an inch of water to boil in a non-reactive pot. Stir the kale, with water clinging to the leaves, into the boiling water. Stir for a minute until water comes back to a boil and add agave nectar, and spices. Lower heat to medium and cook stirring once or twice for 4-5 minutes until tender.

Pour through strainer and immediately place in pre-warmed serving dish. Garnish with chopped egg or chopped walnuts.

*Slightly sweetened kale is of Scandinavian origin – clearly not necessary – but an interesting variation.

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