Tucked away in an almost shell-like architectural spiral of brick alleyways, in the heart of one of Baltimore’s residential neighborhoods lies a treasure of innovative community magic. Kenya Miles, artist, teacher, and visionary entrepreneur is pioneering a space for the intersections of making, teaching and co-creating with plants. Kenya is the initiator of an organically developing community workspace, Blue Light Junction.
The unassuming entrance opens into an expansive warehouse space with tall ceilings, bright white-washed walls, an abundance of tabletop space and a few clustered chairs designating meeting spaces. The evidence of ongoing projects lie across the tables–drying seeds and packages awaiting shipment further afield to dye houses and gardens, cotton bolls harvested last year saved for hand spinning projects, marigolds, black-eyed susans and boxes on boxes of carefully saved and marked indigo seeds from Maryland grown crops descended from Korean, Japanese and Californian mother plants. Along the back wall, large stainless steel pots awaiting color extraction, whether for fiber dyeing, or to create pigment for paint or even perhaps extracts for medicine making. This is the space for exploration and learning and carries an open invitation for participation. Kenya holds the keys to this initiative but hopes she will not be alone as she invites others to participate in using the space for their own classes and meetings as well as utilizing the space for plant dyeing, creating herbal medicines or what you will. This is a vision for a community model which is unfolding as the community responds.
The adjoining dye and medicinal garden is a short walk down the alley. Just before you come to the garden stands a community fridge–an important marker of the importance of developing the spaces to meet the needs of the larger community. Across the way from the dye garden lies the larger and bountiful cooperative community food garden. There is nothing exclusive in this space, only abundance. Under a little arching gate lies the sprawling, lush garden, happily peopled by a number of volunteers. Most of the visiting gardeners are moving watering hoses here and there, weeding along the woodchip pathways and pulling vines from the far fences. The garden itself is maintained by Kenya, Rosa Sung Ji Chang (artist and author of the Indigo Shade Map, https://www.indigoshademap.org/, tracing indigo growing, extraction methods and relationships historically through a global lens) and the other veteran gardeners.
Hand painted signs mark out the prolific dye plant mainstays–indigo, madder, weld, coreopsis. Healthy communities of yarrow, amaranth and a little cotton nursery lie on the outskirts and in between. This is, as Kenya noted, “proudly a no-till garden”. A reminder that although we may cast our eyes to the larger agricultural farms for movement towards sustainable and regenerative practices, even our smaller spaces can contribute towards the lessening of our carbon emissions through intentional relationships with the land. The plants at the annex garden at Hidden Harvest Farm are allowed to meander, run their course, emerge in their own time, and [some so-called “weeds”] stay in situ as they too hold the potential for color on fiber or extraction for medicine. The intention is to produce a space which can almost manage itself–with a little help. The beds have been well composted from another local initiative, Veterans Compost, a veteran-owned Maryland based business with a focus on collecting local food waste to produce high quality organic compost and garden soil. Many of the plants at the annex are perennials or self-seeded annuals. Weeding happens carefully as all plants hold potential to bring color and medicine. Kenya notes, “This year is a yellow dock year.” Clearly there is something new to be explored as the stands of often overlooked plants have their place in the garden too
Kenya Miles is a practicing artist (see: https://travelingmilesstudio.bigcartel.com/ for more info). Kenya teaches at MICA and at a variety of programs around the country. Her work stretches to a number of urban/rural farms near Baltimore where she is working to encourage collaborations in dye plant farming. Kenya is an active member of the Baltimore Dye Initiative; a Baltimore based multi-agency project exploring the economic impacts of growing and using natural dyes in our region. It is this same agency that has supported hugely productive yields of self seeding marigolds and indigo after the initiation of the project with Parks and People in Baltimore three years ago and has clearly sparked growth and dialogue in the field of natural dyes, textile history and sustainable plant cultivation. And last but not least, Kenya is mom to her vibrant young son, Indigo.
To find out more about Blue Light Junction, check out: https://www.bluelightjunction.com/. The best way to find out about current happenings instagram @blue.lightjunction. Look out for the indigo harvest, classes on fresh leaf dyeing, future on-site indigo pigment extractions as well as seed saving harvest later in the season.
Have an idea, need a space for work with plants, pigments, dyes and medicinals or need dyeing resources–get in touch! To volunteer at the garden contact Kenya Miles at Blue Light Junction.
For more information about Hidden Harvest Farm: https://farmalliancebaltimore.org/farms/hidden-harvest-farm/