In the heart of Baltimore's Park Heights neighborhood, Johns Hopkins Center for Health Equity Community Advisory Board member Richard Francis, known as “Farmer Chippy,” is sowing the seeds of positive change. Through the Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm (PPHUF) initiative, Francis says he is providing “access to sustainable education and preventative healthcare focusing on food security and holistic wellness.”
Using his experience as a biomedical field service engineer, Francis is growing an organization that “spreads love, supports the community, and brings healthy food to the city [of Baltimore].”
Since opening in 2014, PPHUF has established several successful initiatives, including urban farming spaces, youth education, and produce distribution programs.
“The organization's main focus in 2024 is food security,” Francis says. As defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, food insecurity is the “economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food” and results from a lack of access to nutrient-dense, healthy foods. Individuals who face food insecurity are at disproportionate risk of health complications. By offering access to nutrient-dense foods to underserved youth and their families, the farm has become a beacon of sustainable education and preventative healthcare.
In the last year, PPHUF has erected two new 2,700-square-foot high tunnels (plastic-covered hoop-house structures, similar to greenhouses) and leased 10 additional abandoned lots to be converted into grow spaces. A significant milestone in PPHUF’s journey has been the development of the Agrihood Baltimore Food Hub, which hosts the organization’s education and food distribution programs. To expand the programs held in the space, the food hub is being expanded to include a demonstration kitchen, which will be completed this year, thanks to a $10,000 grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. In addition, Morgan State University architecture and construction management students are contributing their expertise to design the “Urban Seeds Kitchen.” This culinary space aims to educate school children on nutrition, provide the community with healthier food options, and host cooking demonstrations in collaboration with partners including the American Heart Association, Johns Hopkins University, and the Creative City Public Charter School.
In addition to these partnerships, PPHUF serves as a bridge between the local government and the people of Park Heights. Collaborating with the Pimlico Community Development Authority, the Mayor and Baltimore City Council, and the MD State Delegation, PPHUF has created a Health & Holistic Wellness pipeline, promoting comprehensive well-being in Park Heights.
PPHUF's impact has garnered local recognition and accolades. In 2023, the farm received the Maryland Sustainable Growth Award in the Preservation/Conservation category, showcasing its commitment to sustainable agricultural practices. Most recently, American Heart Association's EmPOWERED to Serve Business Accelerator: Maryland Black Farmers named Farmer Chippy one of five finalists for a grant award. The winner of the award, which includes a $72,000 grant, will be announced on February 7, 2024.
PPHUF has also recently contributed to ongoing academic discussions on advancing sustainable farming practices through their research on the potential use of wood mulch for agricultural production, published in Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems.
Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm stands as a testament to the transformative power of community-led initiatives. Farmer Chippy and the dedicated team at PPHUF continue to cultivate not only crops but also hope, resilience, and a healthier future for the Park Heights community.