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Rising Stars: Meet Charles DeBarber

Today we’d like to introduce you to Charles DeBarber.

Hi Charles, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
Filbert Street Garden began in 2011 to tackle the food desert of South Baltimore. It has grown tremendously and has taken on many more roles, but that is the root issue we began with and still fight today.

Our garden provides… (5) tons of food a year for residents. 50+ gallons of honey. 3800+ chicken and duck eggs a year. Processes 7 tons of organic waste with our partner, the Baltimore Compost Collective (BCC). Provides pollination within a 2-mile radius of the garden with our 25+ honeybee hives. Provides free internet through FilbertNet to give the community a ‘data oasis’. 1/3rd of our domesticated animals are rescues. We provide 50+ residents with space to grow food. We’re a key location for recreation and agricultural education in the region!

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Oh, we wish. 🙂 The garden started out with no money. We struggle with manpower each season while the community’s needs only grow. I recall six years ago when I (Charles) began with the garden, I had to build our first chicken coop out of pallets I salvaged and plywood that I found on the side of the road. The only new part of our coop (complete with a solid paint job, mural, and trim!) were the shingles and some of the hardware I used to assemble it. We built the largest community garden beeyard in Maryland by asking local clubs to donate old equipment they were throwing out. We’re repair rot and make it work.

Our greatest struggle a couple of years ago was when DWP was looking at reclaiming the land our garden sits on. It caused a tremendous backlash that led to us working the DWP on obtaining adjoining lots to build the filtration plant they desired. We were touched so many folks came out for that effort. There is a great article from last year too, where our baby goat Ed made national news when he was kidnapped and then returned a day later unharmed.

COVID-19 presented so many new challenges. It cut volunteers in half while increasing demand for recreation and food output by double! It created digital equity needs that made us have to offer internet as Curtis Bay has no library.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I’m a volunteer as the Animal Husbandry Coordinator. 🙂 I can say for Animal Husbandry we lead the way in the city. Chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats, honeybees, sheep! Our menagerie is well cared for and we give free classes on animal husbandry in the city to ensure animals are kept in safe and sanity conditions. I am most proud of my beeyard. Our honey is a popular local treat! I’d argue we see the most tourists of any community garden in the city in part due to our animals.

How do you define success?
Did positive results come from everything we’ve attempted at the garden? Not always… At least now how we initially envisioned the results. Filbert Street Garden started as a way for residents to grow some of their own food. They needed more, so we had to grow with those needs. We can’t meet every need, but we can make a difference. I know the garden did for me and I credit it for saving my life.

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