the Neighborhood Design Center
Project No. 3225

Duncan St. Miracle Garden: Supporting a Black-led urban farming tradition in East Baltimore

Since 2017, NDC has worked to support and sustain Duncan Street Miracle Garden and the community that has grown up around it, and to advance the work of its visionary leader, Mr. Lewis Sharpe.

What We Did

  • Network Building
  • Capacity Building
  • Community Outreach
  • Space Planning
  • Grant Proposals

Partners

  • Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition (HEBCAC)
  • Southern Baptist Church
  • Moveable Feast
  • Baltimore Green Space
  • Maryland Institute College of Art
  • The 6th Branch

Supporters

  • Baltimore City Care-A-Lot Program ($3,600 , 2 years)
  • Baltimore Community Foundation ($5,000)
  • Baltimore Gas & Electric ($5,000)

Some people call it “the Lungs of the Neighborhood” or “God’s Little Acre,” and when you arrive at Duncan Street Miracle Garden, located on the 1900 block of Duncan Street in Baltimore’s Broadway East neighborhood, it’s clear why. As you approach the 1 acre lot, the sounds of the city—humming traffic, car horns, hovering helicopters—fade to the background. You hear crickets chirping and the breeze moving through leaves, and smell jasmine and freshly cut grass.

The Challenge: Preserving the garden’s cultural identity in a time of change

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? 

“It's my heart. This work is a gift God gave me to help the city.”

Mr. Lewis Sharpe, Garden Manager

The Vision: A strong network and lasting legacy

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.

The Plan: Sowing a sustainable future for the Miracle Garden

We have identified several objectives to ensure the garden’s future and actualize Mr. Sharpe’s ambitions:

  • Improve infrastructure under Mr. Sharpe’s direction

  • Secure an annual stipend for Mr. Sharpe

  • Document Mr. Sharpe’s vision and methodology of gardening

  • Collaborate with artists to bring more art to the site

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. 

“It’s not about placemaking, it’s about placekeeping. Each of these places has a strong cultural identity, which is why it needs a long term cultural approach.”

Jennifer Goold, Executive Direction NDC

Mural

Honoring Mr. Sharpe’s lifelong dedication to the garden, this mural was donated by Baltimore-based street artist Gaia.


Steering Committee Meeting

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.

Block Party

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.

Social Design Fellowship

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.

Slide 1 of 3
Quinton working in the garden.

Memorialization through art

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. 

The Future

As the Broadway East neighborhood evolves, NDC will support Mr. Sharpe’s vision for the future of this historic garden.

“God gave me a vision. I could have been somewhere, making money to put in my own pocket, but instead I came here to spend money on the garden that I didn’t really have; whatever I had, I split it with the garden. This was my heart’s desire: Get this place fixed up nice and beautiful. Broadway East should be beautiful—you’ll see, it’s comin’.”

Mr. Lewis Sharpe, Garden Manager