Feb 17, 2022

Baltimore Nature’s Colors Initiative

Kenya Miles, founder of Blue Light Junction, bends to harvest fresh indigo leaves.

Innovation Works is facilitating an ecosystem wide effort, the Baltimore Nature’s Colors Initiative, to help maximize the natural dye industry and promote economic development and job creation in Baltimore’s historically disinvested communities. The 2021 farming season included four urban Baltimore farms that grew and harvested indigo, marigold, calendula, and other plants to supply raw materials for natural dye.

photo of man crouching down in a gardenThe Nature’s Colors Collective is the group of farms, farmers, and natural dye processors involved in growing, harvesting, and processing the plants into natural dyes. The Collective for the 2021 farming season consists of the farms Bliss Meadows, Cherry Hill Urban Garden, Parks and People Foundation, and Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm, and the natural dye proceeding studio, Blue Light Junction. The dyes produced by the Nature’s Colors Collective are used to color textiles, cosmetics, and food.

“It has been a pretty fun and fulfilling project,” said Jordan Bethea, a farmer at Bliss Meadows. “Most of my friends are in the arts and creative community, so throwing my energy into that community makes my heart feel good. I’m excited to see what the project does with this year’s harvest.”

Each urban farm is led by a knowledgeable farmer who is passionate about the natural dye market and supporting their communities.

“This project allows us the opportunity to connect deeper to the richness of plant technologies; food, color and medicine,” said Kenya Miles, owner of Blue Light Junction and a farmer at Parks and People.

A group of volunteers harvest indigo from a community farm in Baltimore, MD.Innovation Works received a grant in March 2020 to use and expand on the efforts of the Baltimore Natural Dye Initiative. This Initiative’s origins trace back to 2017 when Maryland’s First Lady, Yumi Hogan, visited the Natural Dyeing Culture Center in her hometown of Naju, South Jeolla Province, South Korea. Several local partners, including the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), the Maryland Department of Commerce, and the Maryland State Arts Council, collaborated to fortify local capacity for growing, processing and working with natural dyes.

Building on this original initiative, Innovation Works helped organize the Nature’s Colors Initiative with partners like Blue Light Junction, MICA, the Agricultural and Community Development Services, LLC (ACDS), and Baltimore urban farms. The goal of this initiative is to conduct additional research, execute an experimental growing season, and develop a sustainable economic model that will create long-term economic opportunities.

“The goal is to engage a coalition of local value chain partners, from farming to processing to manufacturing, to build a self-contained, values-oriented circular economy that grows Baltimore’s natural dye industry,” said Innovation Works President and CEO Jay Nwachu.