A group of Baltimore congregations is connecting with black farmers to promote healthy eating and economic empowerment.
by Adelle M. Banks
Heber Brown III can speak with conviction about eggs. And not just any eggs. Free-range eggs that he had ferried up Interstate 95 the previous day to extend the work of his Black Church Food Security Network in Baltimore.
“I’ve never thought so much about eggs in my life before,” he said as he recalled his weekend buying eggs from black farmers in North Carolina and selling them to restaurants in Baltimore for the first time. He also saved some half dozens to sell for $2 after worship at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, a congregation of about 80 people.
“The cage increases the anxiety of the chicken,” said the 37-year-old pastor and “beginner farmer,” recalling what he learned from experts two states away. “You want a chicken to be cool, calm, and collected and eating what God made them to eat because that’s going to result in a better egg at the end of the day.”
The network’s goal is to provide alternatives to the less nutritious and more expensive foods sold at convenience stores in neighborhoods that don’t have good access to groceries. In addition to providing healthy food to hungry people in a majority-black city, the network builds economic power in urban and rural churches that can grow their own food and connect with black farmers in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina.
“We thank God for food pantries, we thank God for soup kitchens, we thank God for food banks,” Brown said in a sermon. “But food banks, soup kitchens, and food pantries will not change the underlying conditions that have our community hungry in the first place.”
Brown, who wears a red, green, and black stole with West African symbols when he’s in the pulpit and a Baltimore Orioles baseball cap when he’s not, is finding that a growing number of people are open to his message, which combines economic, health, and environmental justice. He spoke to black Christian clergy at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference in February in Memphis, Tennessee, and to students and faculty at the predominantly white Methodist Theological School in Ohio in April.
Photo: Tanya Snow (left), Pleasant Hope Baptist Church executive assistant, and Sha’von Terrell, a member, organize fresh eggs to distribute to church members on April 15, 2018, in Baltimore. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks.