Feeding Baltimore’s poor with fresh food: A man who is making it happen

Gather Baltimore's Arthur Morgan puts surplus food to good use.

Gather Baltimore Arthur Morgan points out where crops will be grown as part of the Oliver neighborhood restoration project

Gather Baltimore’s Arthur Morgan points out where crops will be grown as part of the Oliver neighborhood restoration project.

Photo by: Francine Halvorsen

Arthur Morgan is a visionary. He envisions a food distribution system that feeds Baltimore’s hungry – all of them – with fresh and healthful food.

While certainly not the first or only person to work for this objective, he is one of the few willing to deal with the complex administrative issues standing in the way of making it actually happen.

His organization, Gather Baltimore, understands that bringing fresh food to the poor requires the participation of hundreds of people and entities, ranging from volunteers in the neighborhoods to large food service distributors.

As part of his mission, Morgan has an urban farm plot at the Hamilton Elementary Middle School where a few days of the week he teaches the kids about food and nutrition. He gripes that he is not permitted to bring fresh fruits and veggies to the cafeteria, but understands the law.

On a recent Friday, I met him at his Hamilton Crop Circle where he began his food outreach four years ago. In the hoop house, he grows produce to sell at his stand at the Hamilton/Lauraville Farmers Market, which operates every Tuesday from 4 to 8 pm.

He took me on a ride-along that allowed me to experience – in three dimensions and over much of a day – the distribution network he has developed.

A Day with Arthur Morgan

Our first stop was Jeff Smith’s Farm to Table, an online aggregator service in which farmers list their available goods and restaurant chefs can order them as available.

We are there to check out how much refrigerated food storage space was available for the next few days. If Jeff Smith’s name is familiar, it is because he is the former chef at Lauraville’s Chameleon Cafe. He now works closely with Gather Baltimore.
Fundraiser Tonight for Gather Baltimore

When: June 24, 6:30 – 9:30 pm
Where: Clementine, 5402 Harford Road
What: “Six-Course Goat Dinner” featuring goat meat from Wagon Wheel Farm, local produce, wine, beer and cider
Price: $85
More info or to sign up: Eventbrite

As we drive to the wholesale food market in Jessup, Morgan explains that with so many sources for surplus food, the real challenge is adequate refrigeration.

His goal is a small commercial facility with refrigerated walk-ins and good parking. With a warehouse like that, volunteers could stop buy and pick up what they need.

Several charitable services call and ask if he has any food. The food we are going to pick up is already earmarked, but he tells them cordially that he will see what he can do.

Morgan got his distribution system going through two Kickstarter campaigns for the Hamilton Crop Circle and small grants from the Open Society Institute and elsewhere. He is now trying to secure a more sustainable financial base.

Finding a Walk-In at a Bar

Morgan backs into a slot along the loading dock at Coastal Sunbelt Produce, a regular food contributor, and signs in.

Soon a skid with crates of beans, bananas, berries, milk and lesser amounts of miscellaneous food is unloaded and we are headed back to Baltimore in his donated refrigerated truck.

“If we had more cold storage we could pick up from many more purveyors,” he tells me.

Gather Baltimore Arthur Morgan (in green rain gear) supervises loading of food donation from Coastal Sunbelt Produce in Jessup Maryland, (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Arthur Morgan (in green) supervises loading of food donation from Coastal Sunbelt Produce in Jessup. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Our next stop is Liam Flynn’s Ale House, in Station North, where Flynn meets us with a couple of able-bodied helpers who make quick work of about a third of the load.

Flynn plans to divide most of the food into two groups, one to be delivered to a senior center and the other bound to a subsidized housing complex. The remaining items will be divided into small parcels and delivered locally.

On to Oliver

Back in the truck we head to Oliver. The East Baltimore community has been the subject of a two-year effort by volunteers to reclaim the historic but depopulated area near the Johns Hopkins Medical Complex.

Literally tons of refuse have been removed from indoor and outdoor spaces, and an Oliver Green program was formed with many volunteers to create green spaces. Some vacant homes are being rehabbed, and both buyers and renters are encouraged.

We stop and meet Dave Landymore who is making sure everything is in order for the Sunday farmers’ market, among other things.

I ask Landymore, executive director of The 6th Branch, a non-profit veterans and community organization, what he sees on a daily basis.

“The neighborhood is getting better block by block,” he says. “We bring positive energy. We are present and available and engage the community.”

I am not surprised to learn that the ex-Marine is getting a degree in human geography. Everyone connected with Gather Baltimore seems to be in it for the long run.

Gather Baltimore Dave Landymore, Executive Director,The 6th Branch and Daniel Ortega  a volunteer load the GatherBaltimore refrigerated truck with donations from the JFX sunday market to distr

Dave Landymore, executive director of The 6th Branch, and Daniel Ortega, a volunteer, load the Gather Baltimore refrigerated truck with donations from the Sunday market under the JFX. (Photo by Francine Halvorsen)

Father’s Day Surplus

Morgan’s wife, Annie Howe, is a volunteer coordinator and also works the farm stand at the Sunday market under the Jones Falls Expressway.

On a recent Sunday, I met Morgan there at noon as the stands closed for business. The truck was parked and ready to be loaded with unsold, surplus produce.

In a flash, plastic bins were passed out to stands that requested them and in 20 minutes the truck was loaded with fresh goods to be distributed at the Oliver Stand.

Also astounding is how much produce is available during the gleaning events that Gather Baltimore organizes with a slew of volunteers. On Father’s Day, 20,000 pounds of produce was made available at the Oliver Stand.

Morgan’s a connector – bringing the bounty from the farmers’ market and from farmers’ fields to the hungry. He’s also an enabler – enabling our best impulses.
For more information on tonight’s Goat Dinner fundraiser, check the Gather Baltimore website or the Clementine homepage.

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  • krempel

    I see this guy at the Farmer’s Market on Sundays. He always seems to have a magnetic energy about him, like he’s got his eye on something big. And that was when I just assumed he worked at one of the farms.

    Now, it makes more sense. I’m gonna have to stop him and thank him next week when I see him. God bless you Mr. Morgan.

  • davethesuave

    Arthur Rocks. Probably always has. I never fail to glance at the hoop house on Harford Road (across from the Safeway at Montebello Terrace) whenever I drive by, which is daily since I live here. That reminds me, Lauraville Rocks too!

  • Liam Flynn

    Liam Flynn’s Ale House does not use our small walk-in “keg room” for Gather Baltimore. Thousands of pounds of food get distributed in our immediate area. With a good crew of volunteers, it’s completed in an hour or two. Arthur and his team make all of it possible.

    • Francine Halvorsen

      I appreciate the correction. Boy am I impressed. That is terrific!

  • cwals99

    We want to encourage the passion of growing food to give away to those needing help but we also want to use caution. I have heard from many gardeners and the U of M extension that the city’s soil has high lead and arsenic levels and those will be drawn up into some of these garden vegetables. It is far better to garden from raised beds then putting them into the ground and to have the soil brought from outside the city as all of these contaminents are everywhere in the city.

    As I ask community gardeners across the country how they protect against this next big health issue….all say they can’t think about that now…..they need to grow food. I say that we need people demanding justice from massive corporate fraud to bring money back to government coffers and funding these good programs so they can be done with safety. I’m sure none of these community gardens would object if the city said it would build raised beds and provide soil for the good work being done!

    • River Mud

      Even vegetables from certified “organic” farms still have background levels of DDT present. But your point is good. Raised beds are also a no-brainer from the standpoint of rat management – chickenwire or other metal grid can be stapled/nailed to the bottom of the beds to (at least slightly) discourage our million-rat population.

    • Andrew

      Great. Someone will find a way to sue these do-gooders for lead poisoning. Just watch.

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