Returned Volunteer Takes on Food Deserts of Baltimore
By Guest Contributor on Monday, January 27th, 2014
By Jared Kebbell
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala, Charlotte Keniston didn’t expect to learn lessons about food and agriculture that could transform the lives of people in the United States, but the family farming practiced at her site in the village of San Sebastián taught her many lessons that proved to be surprisingly applicable in the U.S..
After joining the Shriver Peaceworker Fellows Program at the University of Maryland – Baltimore County, she moved to a section of Baltimore called Pigtown, where she found herself in the middle of a food desert (an area that lacks access to sources of affordable, healthy food). In Baltimore, this represents a major public health challenge.“Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the world and the United States is one of the richest, but when I arrived in Baltimore to start the Peaceworker Program, I realized that the food situation here was actually much worse than it was in San Sebastián,” Charlotte said.
“While in Guatemala, I spent a lot of time cooking and eating with people. I learned that healthy food doesn’t just nourish the body, but growing food and eating it together can also nourish the community.” Becoming a Peaceworker Fellow proved to be an invaluable tool in transplanting these lessons to Baltimore. “The conversations I had in weekly Peaceworker sessions challenged me to view my neighborhood through a ‘Peace Corps’ lens- to see the possibility for positive change.”
As Charlotte explored her neighborhood and researched the food challenges in Baltimore, she met neighbors who were similarly concerned. Together they formed Pigtown Food for Thought, a neighborhood food-justice coalition. In the two years since it’s founding, Pigtown Food for Thought has begun a dramatic transformation of the area. The new community garden they built produces bountiful harvests of fresh, green vegetables. The bi-weekly cooking exchange event for neighborhood kids promotes knowledge of cooking nutritious meals and has served dozens of them to area residents. And Pigtown Food for Thought has even successfully lobbied for the opening of a neighborhood grocery store.
“For me, Peace Corps is about learning to see the world differently, about working with your neighbors to create positive change. And the Peaceworker program is all about applying that same philosophy here at home.”
The Shriver Peaceworker Fellowship is a graduate service-learning program that supports a select group of 12-15 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as they pursue graduate degrees, engage in community service in the greater Baltimore region, and participate in ongoing ethical reflection and leadership development. The Shriver Peaceworker Fellowship award package includes a tuition scholarship, living stipend, and health insurance. Separate applications are required for graduate degree programs. For more information, visit www.shrivercenter.org/programs/peaceworker, call 410-455-6313, or Click here to watch a 15 minute presentation on the program, application process and frequently asked questions.
Thank you to Jared Kebbell of the Shriver Center for this story.