11 Jan Urban Farming Builds Community with Flowers and Fruit
An orchard of fresh fruit and over 80 varieties of flowers and foliage has taken over several once-vacant lots in Belair-Edison. Thanks to Maya Kosok, she has brought her love of farming to the community by opening Hillen Homestead urban farm.
When Maya moved to Baltimore in 2000 she began working for Real Food Farm, a Civic Works initiative. As her passion for community work and farming grew she was looking for an opportunity to implement what she learned with Real Food Farm and the urban farming she experienced during her time on the West Coast.
She learned of the vacant Belair-Edison lot in 2015, but the plot of land located on the corner of Kenyon Ave and Brehms Lane has some history. It started in 2008 when a Belair-Edison resident and owner of Five Seeds Farm, Denzel Mitchell, acquired the city farm plot and six vacant lots across the street from his house. He planted fruits and vegetables for restaurants around the city. As his business grew he needed more land and decided to move his operation, but hoped someone would continue his work in the city.
“I already had my first location by Clifton Park, but when Denzel introduced me to the vacant lot I realized this was the opportunity to have more inventory to maintain a long-term business,” says Maya.
Hillen Homestead sells to florists, neighbors and DIY brides, but her number one priority is community engagement.
“Neighbors know they can come visit me throughout the season if they need a bouquet for a special occasion. We often share seeds, compost, and plants with nearby gardeners. We also share the fruit from the orchard with neighbors, which includes figs, pears, apples, and persimmons. We are passionate about putting vacant land into production, growing in Baltimore City, and cultivating meaningful relationships with neighbors and customers alike.”
“It’s important to me that we stay engaged with the community. I enjoy working with the kids that come by and ask about gardening or the neighbors that want tips about how to grow in their backyard.” Every Spring and Fall Maya hosts a volunteer and community cookout to get the neighborhood engaged and invested in the farm.
Maya has been able to grow her business and increase interest in gardening and farming from neighbors and nearby gardeners. “There is a high-demand for local products; where the food market was 10 years ago, is where the flower market is today.”
“The majority of flowers sold in the United States are not grown here. Since they must be shipped, techniques like removing their scent makes them last longer. But think about the first thing you do when you receive flowers. You put your nose into the bouquet and take a deep breath. At Hillen Homestead, we strive to use sustainable practices.”
Maya finds it her duty to steward the land and educate others to do the same. She uses no-till techniques, landscape fabric for weed suppression, and locally sourced compost for fertility.
Maya is hoping to find other ways to engage the community in 2018 and provide continued education about the importance of urban farming to the nearby community.
You can find Maya at the urban farm towards the end of March harvesting the land to get ready for the kick-off of the season in April. Keep up to date on the upcoming season on their website.
*Photos by Laura Ferrara and Andy Cook