Growing Farms in a Food Desert

Young trainee and Tiffany Welch at Fresh
Young trainee and Tiffany Welch at Fresh

The Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood sits in a food desert. Though there are 17 liquor stores in the area, all the grocery stores have departed, and the corner stories stock mostly candy, chips and sodas.

But Tiffany Welch has a dream that this desert will one day blossom with urban farms that supply fresh local produce to the neighborhood. And, she is well on her way to making this dream a reality.

About a year ago, she started work on this effort with No Boundaries Coalition. The first step in her plan was opening a produce stall in the city-owned Avenue Market at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue. The last grocery store in the area had vacated its anchor position in the market in 2015.

However, since her start-up, one-day-per-week stand needed to buy in relatively small quantities, Tiffany could not find any vendors who would sell to her at reasonable prices.

Then she found a partner in the Whole Cities Foundation, a non-profit started by Whole Foods, whose mission is to improve community health through broader access to nutritious food. WCF agreed to provide Tiffany with produce, including many organic items, at their best wholesale price, even though she could only buy a case or two at a time.

WCF also provided marketing materials, display pieces, training, and even helped set up a checkout system that could take food stamps as well as cash and credit cards. This is a necessity in a neighborhood where so many residents rely on food stamps.

Fresh staff and volunteers, including photographer Nell (2nd from left)
Fresh staff and volunteers, including photographer Nell (2nd from left)

With Baltimore Public Markets providing the space, and an army of volunteers to stock and work the floor, Fresh at The Avenue opened its doors in March of this year. The store is open every Saturday from 9 am to 3 pm. Plans are already in place to open 2 days per week in 2017 and keep growing from there.

As this effort takes root, Baltimore Public Markets hopes the success will attract new vendors to open stalls at The Avenue Market, creating more vibrancy for the area and new job opportunities.

To further expand access to fresh health food, financial support from the T. Rowe Price Foundation subsidized hiring a part-time driver to deliver produce to five neighborhood corner stores. Fresh at The Avenue sells to the stores at the same prices they receive from WCF and in quantities and varieties that work for each store. This greatly expands the opportunity for the community to purchase produce beyond the limited hours the stall is open.

Whole City Foundation liked the direction of the project so much that they used it as a model to create a national program to support similar efforts around the country. See this great video on this new program, featuring Tiffany and the Fresh at the Avenue volunteers and customers.

As this summer’s growing season kicks into high gear, more and more of the produce at the stall will come from local city farms, starting with the Strength to Love II right in the neighborhood, and someday others in the Farm Alliance of Baltimore City. As stall hours increase and local 21217 merchants find success selling fresh food, Tiffany believes that demand for local produce will grow, spurring farmers to put additional land in the area into production. This is already happening, as Whitelock Community Farm in Reservoir Hill has expanded this year, annexing the lot across the street.

All this work is bringing fresh locally produced food to this former food desert, and in the process, will bring new businesses and employment to the 21217 zip code.

Seeing change happen is exciting, but being actively involved is even more rewarding. Support Fresh at The Avenue by becoming a customer—the prices are great. Even better, volunteer at the store through the No Boundaries Coalition. It’s fun and you get to work with great people. Simply email Tiffany at or call 410-357-1085.