11 Baltimore Organizations Win Grants to Tackle Food Waste

Co-Authored with Anne Draddy, Baltimore Office of Sustainability

Last September, NRDC and the City of Baltimore announced a partnership to tackle the issue of food waste, in conjunction with the release of the City’s Food Waste Recovery Strategy. This Food Matters partnership seeks to equip the city with critical resources and expertise to help reduce food waste, rescue food for those in need, and help build a local economy through composting. 

The Strategy sets forth a path for Baltimore City to reduce the amount of food that is lost or discarded by residents and local businesses, boost food donation citywide, and expand community and commercial composting of food scraps. Among other goals, the strategy aims to reduce commercial food waste in Baltimore City by 50 percent and residential food waste by 80 percent by 2040.

Today, we are pleased to announce the expansion of NRDC’s partnership with Baltimore to fight food waste. With support from The Rockefeller Foundation, we are providing grants to 11 local Baltimore non-profits, whose ongoing work will contribute to the achievement of our goals to reduce food waste in the city. Below is a list of our awardees—congratulations to these incredible local leaders.

NRDC Food Matters Funds Award Recipients

Coppin State University

Coppin State University’s Department of Natural Sciences stands firmly on the university motto of nourishing potential and transforming lives. The school is uniquely positioned in the heart of West Baltimore (2500 W. North Ave) and has charged itself with bringing awareness and crafting solutions for Baltimore’s Urban Agriculture Industry while creating a model for Sustainability and bringing awareness to the issue of food waste in Baltimore City and the impact it has on urban communities. Coppins feels it is time to change the narrative around these key issues and create increased community engagement.

Countered Fresh Food Market

Countered’s solution to food deserts - a model for what a healthy corner store should look like in Baltimore’s most underserved neighborhoods. One that sells food from farms that would otherwise be thrown away, stores excess produce from food retailers in the region and serves as a community anchor. Countered provides fresh rescued produce/food to over 7,000 residents in Reservoir Hill and Penn North. Countered is supporting food rescue efforts to help launch a robust community education program that expands food waste prevention efforts in West Baltimore.

Food Rescue Baltimore

Food Rescue Baltimore (FRB) reduces food waste and strengthens communities by recovering excess, unsaleable, and unwanted food from distributors, supermarkets, and producers, and distributing it in food insecure neighborhoods of Baltimore, thus ensuring their equal access to nutritious food. FRB also educates communities about healthy food choices, and how to prepare meals with fresh food typically found at their rescue sites.

Fort Worthington Elementary and Middle School

Fort Worthington is a 21st century community school supporting innovative and sustainable processes. The school will implement a program aimed at starting a food waste prevention program to create a composting station at their community garden which will provide students with experiential learning opportunities on food waste reduction.

Institute for Local Self-Reliance

Founded in 1974, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) is a nonprofit advancing recycling, zero waste, decentralized energy, independent businesses, and other facets of a homegrown economy. ILSR has a long history of advancing composting as a means to create jobs, enhance soils, sequester carbon, and reduce waste. ILSR has also launched operations on the ground, in Baltimore, where the organization started the compost cooperative at Real Food Farm and the youth-engaged operation, the Baltimore Compost Collective, at the Filbert Street Community Garden. In 2014 ILSR launched the Neighborhood Soil Rebuilders (NSR) Composter Training Program to meet the need for trained operators for community-scale composting.

South Baltimore Community Land Trust

The South Baltimore Community Land Trust (SBCLT) hosts the Filbert Street community garden which has developed over ten years to become the center of Baltimore's zero waste activity. SBCLT and the garden support the Baltimore Compost Collective, a youth powered composting operation that has over 60 residents registered for a monthly curbside food scraps pick-up service. Youth participants come directly from SBCLT’s participatory action research program they take for college credit at Benjamin Franklin High School. Destiny Watford, an alumnus of the school co-teaches and manages this program along with Meleny Thomas - a long time resident and educator and Prof. Nicole Fabricant of Towson's University's Anthropology Department.

Strength to Love II Farm

Strength to Love II is a community-based program in west Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood that uses a 1.5 acre farm to offer employment to citizens returning to the community from incarceration. The farm helps address what its leaders call food apartheid issue in the surrounding neighborhood. As a program of the nonprofit Intersection of Change, the farm is driven by a mission to enrich the economic, social and spiritual lives of those dealing with poverty-related issues in their community. In the coming year, the farm will work to reduce the generation of wasted food by ensuring their foods nourish those experiencing food apartheid.

The 6th Branch

The 6th Branch is a veteran-led neighborhood development organization that works in four neighborhoods in East Baltimore - Oliver, Johnston Square, Darley Park, and Broadway East. 6th Branch works with community associations and leaders to identify vacant and abandoned lots connecting volunteers with these lots to transform them into community green spaces. The organization cultivates more than 13 acres of green space across the city with the help of nearly 2,500 volunteers each year. Their motto is "Grab a Shovel.” 6th Branch works alongside neighbors and volunteers daily to serve their country by serving the City of Baltimore.

The Be. Organization

Founded in 2014, Be. is led by Executive Director, Tonee Lawson. Be. has implemented youth programs in areas of social emotional learning, literacy, STEM enrichment, and college readiness for over 400 youth in Baltimore. Their Girls Empowerment Academy engages young girls in self-empowerment and STEM enrichment programming. Be.’s STEM topics span from science in the kitchen to microbiology. The Food Playground hosted by Be. also provides a hands-on comprehensive culinary focused STEM program for adolescent girls of color. The pilot program will serve girls grades 6-8 across Baltimore City with priority acceptance given to girls residing in underinvested neighborhoods and food deserts. Sample lessons include “no waste cooking,” “from farm to table,” “composting,” and “chemistry with pancakes.”

United Workers Association / Baltimore Compost Collective

The Baltimore Compost Collective (BCC) is a project of United Workers - in partnership with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance and Filbert Street Community Garden. The Baltimore Compost Collective is a youth entrepreneurship program that trains participants in workforce skills, food access programming, and community-scale composting in the Curtis Bay neighborhood. It provides first-time employment for area youth, giving them experience working with a green start-up enterprise and entrepreneurial skills. Youth are trained in composting best management practices - receiving guided, hands-on experience managing a small-scale composting operation and its exp. The program also supports Filbert Street Garden’s outdoor education and food access programming. BCC anticipates that the success of the Baltimore Compost Collective as a model for community-oriented composting operation that will lead the City to invest in a distributed composting infrastructure that builds community and equity.

Whitelock Community Farm

Whitelock Community Farm is a vibrant open space that grows food and activates community to promote social equity in the neighborhood. The farm works to create educational, skill building, and leadership development opportunities; increase access to healthy, affordable food; foster positive community activity; and promote dialogue about food access, neighborhood development, and environmental justice.  As part of this work, Whitelock Community Farm operates a community composting system, which has diverted over 13,000 gallons of food waste, and organizes workshops to teach neighbors about composting methods.

With $100,000 in funding in-total, the eleven grant recipients we’re announcing today will help build and strengthen local nonprofits and mission-driven small businesses who are advancing food waste prevention, food rescue, and/or food scrap recycling, including:

  • Starting or expanding food waste prevention efforts, including food waste awareness and education
  • Maintaining, expanding, or improving food rescue operations or capacity. This includes but is not limited to:
  • Expanding donation of nutritious foods
  • Making rescued foods more accessible in the most underserved neighborhoods and/or to people with disabilities
  • Expanding or improving existing composting operations to increase or improve their capacity to process food scraps
  • Establishing a community composting location to increase access to composting services
  • Developing or creating a composting training program for city residents
  • Using food waste prevention, food rescue, or food scrap recycling to invest in your community, create jobs, or otherwise address root causes around food insecurity issues

A critical element of NRDC’s Food Matters project is a commitment to equitable, transparent, and mutually-beneficial partnerships with Baltimore-based organizations. In an effort to run an inclusive and transparent grant-making process, we sought the counsel of equity and human-centered design experts from Weav Studio. Weav Studio’s operating philosophy is that those closest to a societal problem are best-equipped with the knowledge and experience to define the solution. With Weav, we asked the local community partners who ultimately applied for the funding to also help design the project goals, the size and type of the grants awarded, and to contribute input on the selection process. Along the way, we learned invaluable insights from stakeholders, local advocacy organizations, last-mile food pantry organizations, food rescue organizations, neighborhood organizations, community gardens, urban farms, churches, and community resource centers.

Through these conversations, we learned that increased transparency in the grant-making process was of highest importance to our community partners and stakeholders. With little time and staff capacity, folks told us that the decision to apply for funding often came down to their determination of their actual likelihood of receiving the funding, but the determination was made in the dark—they felt that they lacked a real baseline or context for making that determination. Our goal was to build a diverse and robust application pool for our selection process, so we designed and made public our scoring rubric for applicants. Potential applicants could then see exactly how they would be scored and how these scores were weighted. Moreover, we asked two community partners who work closely and deeply in our focus areas, but who weren’t applying for funding, to serve on our selection committee.

In our time working with Baltimore, we have seen incredible local efforts to address social and environmental challenges facing so many of our communities. We believe local leaders should be at the center of addressing the obstacles we face for a healthier, safer and more equitable world.

We are so excited to announce our winners, and support this robust community of organizations selected from an extraordinary group of applicants.

About the Authors

Margaret Brown

Senior Attorney, NY Regional, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

Elizabeth Balkan

Director, Food Waste; Food & Agriculture Program

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