by Kate Koch-Sundquist – For millions of families across America, safe, accessible outdoor space is a privilege they can only dream about. But for the 26,000 residents of Baltimore’s Frankford neighborhood, all of that could be about to change. Here, a revolution is underway, and it’s called BLISS Meadows.
The brainchild of Atiya Wells, Baltimoreans to Live In Sustainable Simplicity (BLISS) Meadows is an initiative to create equitable access to green space through the formation of a 2.5-acre community farm adjoining 7.5 acres of additional open space. The long term vision includes farm animals, native plant meadows, food production, children’s activities, demonstration gardens, and environmental education.
This might sound like a tall order for a small neighborhood in this city of just over 600,000, but if anyone can pull it off, it’s Wells. Raised in Newark, New Jersey, Wells didn’t go on her first hike until she was in her twenties, but nature has been her passion ever since. A pediatric nurse by trade, Wells says that caring for children unable to go outside bolstered her determination to ensure her own children spent time outdoors as much as possible.
When Wells began attending workshops and conferences on nature education, she quickly realized that many programs were inaccessible to members of her own community due to economic demographics, and that the racial make-up of participants was vastly unbalanced. Soon after, Wells founded Baltimore’s first chapter of the Free Forest School. Now, she regularly visits schools across the city to collaborate with educators on ways to integrate nature into their curriculum, and she hosts plant walks and walks for people of color around Baltimore.
In her own northeastern neighborhood of Frankford, with a population of 80% African American residents, clean, green space is hard to come by. Here, city parks are unmaintained and 20% of land is covered by pavement. Wells wasn’t deterred, though, so she founded an LLC called Backyard Basecamp, gained access to a 2.5-acre lot, and, along with a team of friends and volunteers, began to farm. This was the beginning of BLISS Meadows.
Now, after being offered the opportunity to purchase an adjacent property, including a house, Wells has hit the fundraising trail. The team hopes to purchase and renovate the home for use as an indoor classroom space, bathrooms, a community kitchen (so that neighbors can truly experience a farm-to-table meal), secure storage for farm program tools and equipment, and perhaps even a co-op market. The lot’s current owners have given Wells 30 days to raise the funds to purchase the home and the land it sits on. In a short three weeks, she’s raised over $23,000, but still has $37,000 left.
The Baltimore community has gathered around her, with support coming not only from neighbors but also from their local community association, including its president who has long hoped for a project such as this in the neighborhood. For Wells, the yearning is personal.
Her two children, Kori, six ,and Kai, two, already love BLISS Meadows. Kai will take any excuse to dig in the dirt, and Kori asks quite often to visit the farm, where she loves watching insects and seeing what she can find near the ponds, all of which are within walking distance for this outdoor family.
To support Wells and her community as they bring green space and sustainable food to downtown Baltimore, check out their Go Fund Me at BLISS Meadows Farmhouse in Baltimore City. They have just one more week to raise funds before the land will be sold to a developer.
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a writer, adventurer and mother to two boys aged 6 and 7. She is also the founder of 365Outside, a movement that encourages outdoor play for everyone, 365 days a year. Kate and her family are based in Essex, MA.