Baltimore farm-in-a-box a potential catalyst in urban revitalization

Leafy greens grow profusely at the tiny East Baltimore farm, but not in parallel rows in the ground. They pop out of vertical white troughs that hang from a metal ceiling.
Light-emitting diodes glow 18 hours a day, providing the equivalent of full sunshine. Electronic sensors gauge temperature, pH levels and the nutritional needs of plants, driving automatic adjustments to the heat, water and food they are provided.
This retrofitted ex-shipping container in a parking lot in Broadway East is hardly your grandfather’s farm. And in his skinny jeans, black sneakers and recycled-materials T-shirt, J.J. Reidy will remind no one of the guy with the pitchfork and overalls in Grant Wood’s “American Gothic.”
Reidy, 29, is the founder and CEO of Urban Pastoral Collective, a two-year-old business with a dual mission: to produce and sell fresh, whole foods in an urban setting and to help leverage the value of such foods into a movement that transforms the way Americans live and interact in cities.
Reidy and his business partner, Christian de Paco, 27, are staking their mission’s “grand vision” on a core belief: that food is not merely a basic human need; it’s also a powerful social connector and, if handled properly, a potent driver of change.
“[Christian] and I have worked around the world — in Africa, in South America and elsewhere — and food brings people together more than anything we’ve experienced,” Reidy says. “From Ethiopia to Baltimore, food is the common connector that can take blighted neighborhoods and bring them to life.”
It’s a next-generation approach that blends the goals of a nonprofit with the aims and ammunition of a for-profit business.