Sunday, 3 October 2010

Bragg Nature Centre, Baltimore, USA

Time for another of our looks at life in the USA.

The Bragg Nature Centre is to be found adjacent to Patapsco State Park, Baltimore. Originally a home for wayward youngsters run by the Episcopalian Church (the US equivalent of the Church of England, I believe), the building was donated by them to Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS) when they no longer had a use for it ( in the US, a `public` school is a state school, like our comprehensives, not like an English public school, which is, of course, a private school. We`re so logical ! ).

Until roughly ten years ago, the centre, which has extensive grounds including a wood, meadows and a pond, was used to teach children about nature. However, as is so often the case, money became an issue and classes there came to an end. A caretaker and his family remained, pluckily chasing away vandals and fighting the ravages of time and the elements, but the buildings became increasingly neglected and the only area in productive use seems to have been a section called Plant Side, where pointsettias etc were grown for use in festive Xmas displays in schools. 

A sad story, like many you may have heard from time to time. Fortunately, this one has a happy ending. A man named Tony Geraci became Director of Food Services for BCPS and had ideas about improving the diet of the area`s schoolkids. The land, he reasoned, would be ideal for growing organic vegetables.

Turning his thoughts into deeds, a staff of young farmers, assisted by a small army of volunteers, turned the centre into a productive venture providing fresh, organic vegetables for local schoolkids. Soon they were joined by a flock of free-range chickens and a herd of goats.

This summer, a federal stimulus package saw teams of builders descend on the site to renovate the various buildings. The caretaker and his family are moving out, but the future of this very positive intiative seems assured.

I tell this story just because it`s a positive one and we can all use a few happy endings now and then. Campaigning left-wing journalist Tim Wheeler is the father of the caretaker at the centre and pretty much all the details here come from his article Saving Bragg Nature Center : Another Obama Success Story (29 September 2010). As you`ll guess from the subtitle, his article is not confined to the story of the centre itself, but also looks at the impact of stimulus packages on the US construction industry, with quotes from representatives of an American building trade organisation, the Association of General Contractors. I personally don`t have strong feelings about Obama one way or the other, to me the most admirable characters in the story are Mr Geraci and possibly the resourceful young caretaker Nick Wheeler, but it does seem to me that a project like this that is positive in it`s own right and also boosts construction in the area, must be a good thing.  Maybe our UK politicians should take note !

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