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Abandoned parking lot turned into hoop house gardens

Ernst Valery

Could an abandoned parking lot soon be converted into an oasis of health?

That’s what a group of northeast Baltimore residents are working on Thursday as they gathered to construct two large hoop house gardens amid the blight and vacant houses of Aisquith Street near North Avenue.

The new urban garden will consist of a pair of 20-by-96-foot beds, said Ally Schonfeld, 23, the project manager and a recent graduate of Goucher College.

Schonfeld said as soon as the frames are completed, plastic will be placed over the asphalt and then woodchips, to help contain the nutrients of the soil that will go on next. Within a week, there will be the beginnings of crops there, she predicted.

The project is sponsored by the faith-based Lamb Inc. and the Ark Church, which is located nearby at 1263 E. North Ave. EVI Inc., a local investment group headed by Ernst Valery, is also a sponsor.

The group is seeking more sponsors even as it has begun building the garden in summer’s heat.

Valery said Thursday the new gardens in the Oliver community will help spark a new sense of pride. Vegetables, herbs and fruit will be sold and donated to local residents and businesses once they mature.

“Baltimore has to be reaching out to neighborhoods that are not so good,” said Valery, a local developer who graduated from Cornell and Columbia with business degrees. He is also redeveloping the Chesapeake Restaurant in Station North.

“It’s private developers helping them make it happen and that’s what it’s all about.”

As gospel music played on a boom box Thursday afternoon, volunteers of all ages from the Ark church hammered, drilled and put together the garden’s structure and steel hoops arching over where the soil will soon be laid.

“This will help all of us out,” said Margaret Conner, a 63-year-old member of the church’s usher board, as she drilled pine planks that make up the garden’s raised beds. “They need it here to help grow their own food.”

Valery, who also owns the small Milk and Honey grocery in Mt. Vernon, is planning to build off the success of the new urban garden and add a small café nearby on North Avenue soon. A market could soon follow, he said.

“It’s redefining the quintessential bodega,” he said.