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Seeds of Change

Organic Transitions Coming to Baltimore Schools

Driving on U.S. 40, shoving along with the traffic past strip malls, gas stations and drive-through restaurants, there's no apparent reason to give Nuwood Road, landmarked by an auto supply store, a second glance.

But if one did turn in and hang a quick right, he or she would see what could soon become the linchpin for bringing wholesome eating to Baltimore City schools.

Tony Geraci, the system's new food service director, plans to turn the 33 surprisingly rural acres in Baltimore County into an organic farm where schoolchildren will learn about healthy food and sustainable living, by digging in the dirt, planting seeds and watching fruits and vegetables come to life.

It's to be called Fresh Start Farm, because, as Geraci says, Baltimore, with its disheartening poverty and obesity rates, needs a fresh start.

"If you walk through Baltimore and see the trash, that's [the remnants of] what our kids eat," the former chef says, speaking of the chip bags, soda bottles and fast food containers that litter city streets. "This is what these kids know. But they'll see this farm and see that they can have their own little plant on their stoop at home. And that even in some burned-out neighborhood in the city, they can have a garden that will support life."

Geraci walked the weeded-over property recently, stepping through tangles of scrub grass, past the hulks of fallen trees, pointing to the greenhouses and a long-abandoned stone barn that, though dilapidated, might still have something left to give. Years ago, the city purchased the former reformatory/orphanage with the idea that it could be turned into a nature center, but for at least a decade, Geraci says, the land was largely forgotten.

While he and his newly hired farm manager, Greg Strella, survey the land, they enthusiastically describe their plans.

Under the shaded canopy of the forest, near the brook that runs through the property on its way to the nearby Patapsco River, they'll grow shiitake and oyster mushrooms.

In the sloping fields, they'll plant corn, squash, micro-greens, herbs, tomatoes, peppers - dozens of vegetables.

Cherry, apple, pear and peach trees will eventually fill out an orchard while blueberry bushes will sweeten the perimeter.

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