Gathering Farmers' Market Leftovers for Our Daily Bread
By Rob Kasper, The Baltimore Sun
June 25, 2010
Just as the Sunday morning Baltimore Farmers' Market underneath the Jones Falls Expressway was winding down, Arthur G. Morgan was gearing up for action.
At noon Morgan hustled around the market picking up blue plastic bins filled with donated produce. Exchanging pleasantries with the merchants, he collected mounds of carrots, baskets of cucumbers, mountains of greens, a bin of apples, some herbs and several boxes of ripe Eastern Shore tomatoes.
He piled the goods into the back of his aged Silverado and drove a few blocks up the Fallsway to Our Daily Bread. Working under a hot sun, he unloaded his first batch of goods at the loading dock behind the soup kitchen, then rolled back to the market, to gather a second load. Morgan did get some help from his wife, Annie Howe, but mostly this was a one-man operation.This is the second year that Morgan has volunteered his time, his labor and his vehicle to ferry food from the Sunday morning market to Our Daily Bread, a Catholic Charities operation that serves more than a quarter million meals a year to Baltimore's hungry.
With his piercing eyes, full beard and bald head topped with a straw hat, Morgan, 41, could pass for a rural preacher, albeit one with tattoos . His answer to the query of why he performs this task is direct. "It is getting food to people in need," he said. Later he added "hunger is a bad thing, I don't understand it."
His friend Cheryl Wade, proprietor of the Mill Valley General Store at 28th and Sisson streets, describes Morgan as "the most humble, hardest working person you will ever want to know. Arthur's goal is to make a living farming so he can give food to people," she said.
Morgan is not quite there yet, but he is trying. Heading up a group of volunteers known as Hamilton Crop Circle, he has spearheaded a number of urban farming efforts including scooping up excess goods from the Sunday market. For instance, vegetables grown in community gardens in the Hamilton neighborhood in northeast Baltimore are sold to neighborhood restaurants such as Clementine, Chameleon Café and the Hamilton Tavern. The staffs of the restaurant, in turn, save their vegetable scraps in barrels, which Morgan picks up and turns into garden compost.
"It is a circle and it all goes back to Arthur," said Chameleon Café's Jeff Smith.
When he isn't ferrying vegetables, Morgan is often driving a dump truck. He learned how to operate heavy equipment by working with his father, Dennis "Whitey" Morgan who owns D & M Equipment, a local trucking operation. Last week, for instance, Morgan was delivering truckloads of compost and manure, known in the gardening community as " soil amendments," to some Parks & People gardens in the city.
Morgan makes "compost tea,", a fertilizer made from byproducts of the worm farms that he nurtures in the basement of his Hamilton home. He sells the tea at the Mill Valley General Store at the Sunday farmer's market. .
"Arthur is resourceful," says his wife, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art. As for his education, Morgan said he attended the University of North Carolina at Wilmington "for about ten years "before eventually deciding that labor was my future" and leaving college. He moved to the Hamilton neighborhood about four years ago. There he met his future wife. The couple married in March.
Some of Morgan's acquaintances, have formed a group called "Friends of Arthur," said Wade, who is a member of the group. These "FOAs" write grants and figure out other ways to keep Morgan's head above water, or as Wade put it, to help him " continue the beauty of doing what he does."
The Hamilton Crop Circle is raising money for its urban farming programs on the web site Kickstarter.com. Patrons make pledges via their credit cards, and if the group's goal of $15,000 is reached by the July 29 deadline, the transactions go through. If not, the credit cards are not charged. As part of the campaign, Hamilton Crop Circle has posted a video at hamiltoncropcircle.blogspot.com outlining their work.
While Morgan is a man of the soil, he has his eyes on the roof. Roof gardens, he says, are the next big thing in urban farming. Morgan help set up the functioning vegetable garden atop the Hamilton Tavern, lugging soil to the roof in 5 gallon buckets, then planting vegetables in elevated yellow plastic bins. Mill Valley also has plans to grow vegetables on the structure's 5,000 square foot roof.
Meanwhile down on the ground, Aaron Kennedy volunteer coordinator for Our Daily Bread, said the kitchen is grateful for the mountains of fresh produce that Morgan brings on Sunday. But he notes that cleaning and cutting the vegetables in a timely manner is demanding for the volunteers who staff the kitchen.
"Processing 400 pounds of collard greens or broccoli might seem intimidating, but thankfully some of our volunteers are drawn to it," Kennedy said.
After Morgan made his drops on a recent Sunday, workers at Our Daily Bread started processing the kale and greens, Kennedy said, then a few days later moved on to the zucchini and squash.
"By the end we had a day or two supply of fresh vegetables ready to go, " Kennedy said. .
Back at the market, Joe Bartenfelder spoke for many of his fellow farmers when he explained why they give Morgan their excess vegetables.
"We would rather see people make use of it than have it thrown away."
Related Item: Our Daily Bread Employment Center