A Century of Learning
For over a century, the land that is now Great Kids Farm has given generations of young people the opportunity to study the world they would come to inherit. What is now Great Kids Farm began with the vision of the Reverend George Freeman Bragg, a civil rights advocate and Episcopal priest. In 1912 he and his congregation purchased the 33-acre farm property just off Route 40 in Catonsville, Maryland, and founded a school and foster home for African-American boys from Baltimore City. In addition to traditional academic training, the boys received instruction in agriculture, animal husbandry, carpentry, masonry, and other trade skills. Using stone from the property, they helped construct the buildings that stand today as a monument to the meaningful roles young people have played at this site over the last century.
In the 1950s, the property was sold to City Schools to house the Bragg School, continuing the Reverend Bragg's mission of providing Baltimore's youngest residents with rigorous educational and professional opportunities. Since the 1970's, when the campus was utilized as a Nature Study and Horticultural Skills Center, young people have blazed trails through forested areas to watch birds, study water quality, and discover a natural world beyond their urban neighborhoods.
In 2008, City Schools’ Food Service Director, Tony Geraci, discovered that City Schools owned a piece of under-utilized farm property. Visions of a farm and educational center took shape - a place to allow children to connect deeply to the sources of their food, and commit to leading their communities towards a healthier, greener future. It was the launch of Great Kids Farm, and the launch of the school system's farm-to-school food reform program.
Turning an overgrown, abandoned site into a thriving farm was no easy task. In November 2008, the transformation began. Thousands of students, along with skilled volunteers, put in countless hours, often in the cold, to clear brush, prepare beds and build beehives. Goats helped clear the fields. Financial supporters stepped forward to make the work possible.
By September 2009, three acres were under cultivation, bees were buzzing, chickens were laying eggs, fruit trees were taking root, greenhouses were overflowing with plants and thousands of worms were creating compost. Since then, these crops and animal populations have continued to grow, reaching more and more children, and inspiring more and more volunteers and donors to get involved.
In July of 2010, under the leadership of Michael Thomas, the Farm began its impressive transformation into a place where students now study careers, professional skills, and a full-range of academically aligned lessons. This transformation has included major campus renovations, new learning spaces such as a certified kitchen and animal science pasture, and has resulted in programs that form deep, curriculum-based connections between the living resources at Great Kids Farm and the students and teachers that utilize the Farm each day.
The rich history of this place, which has served young people as a school, a nature study center, and a horticultural skills center, is evident across the landscape from the stone buildings and mature trees all the way down to the marbles we find in the soil of our vegetables fields where children, who are now grandparents, once played on the playground.
In the past century, skillful students and caring teachers built these stone buildings by hand, planted these trees from seed, and took great joy in sharing learning experiences here. We fully expect the study and work of the students at Great Kids Farm today to leave an equally impressive legacy for those who will inherit this world from them.