As an urban farmer, Colin Lyman is acutely aware of the changes in the seasons and the change in the world that surrounds his community garden in the heart of Baltimore, Maryland.
Lyman was not raised on a farm, and yet, here he finds himself, in the middle of Baltimore, tending to a quarter of an acre of land for The 6th Branch, a community nonprofit that aims to help the community through various volunteer projects.
"There’s no fence around our farm so anybody can stop by and get produce," Lyman said as he checked on seedlings that have been growing in a greenhouse this winter.
The land that Lyman is farming has become a lifeline for this urban community through the course of the pandemic. It's not much right now but come summer, this lot is filled with food. From cucumbers to squash, they can grow about 2,500 pounds of produce here, and all of it goes directly back into the community at a time when the need has never been greater.
"We can’t feed 100,000 people, but we can feed 50 people," Lyman added.
Food banks nationwide are struggling to keep up with the increased demand. So, community gardens like this one are bridging the gap by donating fresh produce directly to food pantries.
Community gardens nationwide are sending the produce directly to food banks, many that wouldn’t have enough supply to meet demand without those donations.
By some estimates, about 50 million Americans are struggling with food insecurity right now, and nearly 17 million of those people who are hungry are children.
As a community gardener herself and director of food programs for the nonprofit WhyHunger, Suzanne Babb has been advocating for more funding for community gardens.
"A community garden is a way for folks to get nutritious food," Babb said.
Her worry, though, is that food banks and community gardens are all being asked to do too much right now. Congress has recognized the need, which is why the American Rescue Plan Act included $12 billion in key investments to food assistance programs.
"It’s really not getting to the root of the problem which is poverty. How do we create a more just and fair food system? We need to think about all the parts of the solution, community gardens play a critical role in that," Babb said.
Until the need for food permanently changes, people like Lyman will be out tending to their community gardens, using their hands to make sure Americans get fed.
"The people I interact with are the same people I interacted with pre-pandemic. The need has been here, and it will be here,” Lyman said.