Anyone who steps foot in the garden can sense that it is a special place. Even compared to the other wonderful urban farms in Baltimore City, Duncan St. feels especially warm and peaceful. It has the serenity and beauty of a rural farm, transported to the city.
The garden was started in the 1970s, by the Pharaoh’s Social Club, as a place to gather, eat, and talk. Mr. Brown led this initial group of neighbors and homeowners in planting the vacant lots. By 1988, when Mr. Sharpe arrived in Broadway East, many of the original residents had moved or passed away. He stepped in, planting vegetables, fruit trees and flowers and, as he tells it, “transforming the space from an eyesore to a beautiful garden.”
Mr. Sharpe, now 80, was raised in rural Virginia where he learned to farm at a young age from his grandmother. After moving to the city, he kept the family farming tradition alive. Today, he is at Duncan Street for several hours each day and is a testament to the profound impact one dedicated, kind person can have. The garden is a natural outgrowth of his care and presence, which has renewed a vital relationship between the land and the collective spirit of the community.
As the city around the garden changes, with new buildings, strategic plans, speculative development, and demolitions, how can the physical character of the garden—the spiritual center of the block—be preserved? How can the vision, legacy and leadership built by Mr. Sharpe be sustained for the long term?
Most of the land, once city-owned, has been transferred to a land trust managed by Baltimore Green Space. However, the unique character of the Miracle Garden is not guaranteed and surrounding neighborhood is not immune to change. Although substantial investment is vital for the health of Broadway East, it is critical that we support the long-term presence of the garden amidst large-scale development plans.
Already a mural by Pontella Mason, a celebrated Baltimore painter, bordering the garden was torn down during a vacant house demolition. As these houses come down around the garden and new construction begins nearby, we must both document and maintain the rich culture Mr. Sharpe has sown.
NDC is collaborating with Mr. Sharpe to ensure the future of the garden by growing his network of supporters, gardeners, and agencies, and by fundraising to complete the many projects on his list so that he might see his dream fully realized.
We have identified several objectives to ensure the garden’s future and actualize Mr. Sharpe’s ambitions:
By developing a phased plan, we can both document the garden as it is today and ensure that Mr. Sharpe’s ideas are activated in years to come. Jimmy Leonard, NDC volunteer architect, developed this plan from conversations with Mr. Sharpe.
Honoring Mr. Sharpe’s lifelong dedication to the garden, this mural was donated by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia.
A diverse set of stakeholders surrounds the garden, from neighboring Southern Baptist Church and local nonprofits, to the Johns Hopkins medical campus less than a mile away. NDC partnered with Mr. Sharpe to convene these groups to begin an ongoing conversation that will give the gardner a voice in decisions affecting Duncan Street.
In September 2019, we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Miracle Garden with a big cookout that welcomed residents and friends of the garden and underscored Duncan Street’s important place in the character of the neighborhood.
Quintin Batts, a graduate student in MICA’s Social Design program who was also raised in a black farming tradition, supported Mr. Sharpe’s work during a 6-month-long NDC fellowship. After graduating, he continues to work on the farm.
Sharing stories—of the garden and from the Bible—is central to Mr. Sharpe’s love of art; he often dreams of filling the blank walls of vacant row homes bordering the garden with fantastic scenes. The internationally-acclaimed street artist Gaia was able to make this a reality through his visual tribute to Mr. Sharpe in 2017.
In addition, NDC and Mr. Sharpe partnered with Baltimore artist Rachel London to produce a ’zine that tells the story of the garden through illustration and text.
As the Broadway East neighborhood evolves, NDC will support Mr. Sharpe’s vision for the future of this historic garden.