Oct 25, 2021

Four Baltimore urban farms harvest indigo and marigold for emerging natural dye industry

photo of man crouching down in a garden
Press Release

Innovation Works organizes local, natural dye stakeholders to promote economic development in Baltimore neighborhoods.

Four urban farms in Baltimore are harvesting indigo and marigold crops to supply Nature’s Colors Initiative, a multi-agency project organized by Innovation Works to maximize the natural dye industry and promote economic development and job creation in Baltimore’s historically disinvested communities.

The farms, Bliss Meadows, Cherry Hill Urban Garden, Parks and People Foundation, and Plantation Park Heights Urban Farm are producing the crops to be processed for natural dyes by Blue Light Junction, a local, established natural dye processing studio. The dyes will be 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.”

To date, there have been seven full harvests of indigo this season and ongoing marigold harvests will continue through November. 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.

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. A number of 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 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. 

“As we move out of the harvest season and into the next phase, we will finalize the business and growth plans, engage with more social enterprises, and organize a framework for the full value chain, all while seeking answers to big questions around product development, financial sustainability, and growth planning,” said Innovation Works President and CEO Jay Nwachu. “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.”