Charles DeBarber, giving a tour of Filbert Street Garden – and maintaining the appropriate six feet of distance from a reporter – introduced him to a new member of their menagerie, a tiny black-and-white kid named “Ed.”
Very few animals here are named for people, explained DeBarber, caretaker for the bees, geese, chickens, ducks and other creatures at this community hub atop a hill in far south Baltimore.
“It’s the rarest honor we offer,” he said gravely, lifting Ed, born just days before, into his arms.
So who is this adorable miniature goat named after? Turns out to be 10th District Councilman Ed Reisinger, who helped fight a Department of Public Works plan to build a water pumping station on the Filbert Street lot last year.
The veteran politician, who is retiring from the Council in December, also sponsored a bill imposing strict emissions controls on the Wheelabrator trash incinerator, the city’s largest polluter.
In Curtis Bay, where environmental and community activism has blossomed in recent years, Reisinger’s efforts have made him an unlikely hero.
Goat Herd Growing
For his own part, Ed the goat carries a heavy symbolic load.
He’s the fuzzy face of a project entering an ambitious new phase at a traumatic moment for the city, as residents struggle through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“He’s a symbol of renewed life at the garden,” DeBarber said.
Ed is one of two kids born at noon last week to Cheese, one of the garden’s adult miniature goats. The second kid got the name of Winter because she was born on the last day of the season.
The other mama goat, Hazel, is pregnant and expecting any day.
[UPDATE: Sad news. Hazel died giving birth Wednesday and her kids were stillborn, Marvin Hayes informs us.]
A newly built goat shed will be their home base on this one-acre parcel that the gardeners had leased from the city through the adopt-a-lot program.
Relocating the garden to make way for the proposed pumping station would have meant abandoning the fruit trees, garden beds, Baltimore Compost Collective, irrigation system and other features developed over the last decade.
Save the Filbert Street Garden! Rodette Jones from Free Your Voice on Vimeo.
After months of meetings, petitions and negotiation, DeBarber reports, the city finally gave Filbert Street Garden the deed to the land. And with a newly attained nonprofit status, the garden is looking forward to accomplishing some of its longtime goals.
Munchers and Mousers
The new goats have a job to do: Eat the grass and keep the fenced area from being overgrown.
In order to increase the size of the herd, they needed to double the size of the goats’ habitat. They installed fencing and play equipment for the goats. Mission Continues, a nonprofit for veterans, built a new barn for the goats with a loft for the garden’s two cats.
DeBarber calls for one of the cats to come out from behind a box in the loft.
“Cat Tony! Cat Tony! Come here, meow meow,” DeBarber says. Gesturing to his 11-year-old son, he says, “That’s human Tony.”
Human Tony specializes in socializing feral cats. His brother, Peter, is the garden’s “chicken whisperer.”
Cat Tony and his feline colleague, Pumpkin Spice, came to the garden from the Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter’s Working Cat Program last month. Not suitable for life indoors, the two cats control the local mice and rat population.
Life and Death
Not all of the news at Filbert Street has been good. One recent morning a red fox trotted through an open gate and grabbed two chickens and a miniature duck.
Filbert, a big white goose who serves as the garden’s mascot, flapped his wings to scare the fox away from other birds, and a volunteer ran in around 8 a.m. and chased the fox away.
DeBarber said he had forgotten to close a gate the night before.
“It’s on me that we lost them,” he confessed. “He’s gotta eat, too. We just gotta make sure he doesn’t eat our animals.”
Starve the Incinerator
The Baltimore Compost Collective, which the garden hosts, has also received upgrades: a new concrete pad as well as six new wooden bins to increase its capacity.
“We are the model for composting for Baltimore City,” said Marvin Hayes, who oversees the collective.
As forcefully as Hayes lauds composting, he denounces trash incineration. Both of Baltimore’s incinerators are in Curtis Bay, which has some of the highest asthma rates and worst health outcomes in the city.
“It’s real, man. People are dying,” Hayes said. “Starve the incinerator, feed the soil, feed the community.”
Food Needed Now
Garden manager Rodette Jones, who comes to the garden twice a day, said there’s no reason why Baltimore couldn’t create a good composting program right now.
“They doing it on the West Coast. We can do it here,” she said.
In addition to composting activities, Filbert Street in normal times has gardeners growing vegetables and fruit, children participating in educational programming, and the whole neighborhood coming over for Easter and Halloween events.
These efforts have been dealt a setback by COVID-19 and the necessity to practice “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.
“We postponed some volunteer days and delayed our annual plot distribution to mid-April,” DeBarber said.
But he and the others vow to keep the garden going and hope to resume a normal schedule as soon as it is safely possible.
Filbert Street produces two tons of food per year, mostly potatoes and some 3,200 eggs – most given to the neighborhood.
In DeBarber’s view, the garden’s nonprofit status helps clarify its relationship with the land and the community.
“This property isn’t Filbert Street Garden’s. It’s the community’s,” he said. “We’re the stewards – that’s it.”