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Full Circle: An Urban Garden Sprouts in Hamilton

“Want some raspberry bushes?”

Arthur grins at me. Who could refuse?  First order of business: wrangle nine raspberry vines out of Arthur’s blue pickup and transfer them to my back seat. 

“What kind of soil do they need?” I ask.

 “I dunno,” he chuckles. “I could make something up if you want.” 

In a soft grey Lantern Parade T-shirt, faded jeans and flip-flops, Arthur Gray Morgan prefers to “follow the flow.”  That’s not to say that he doesn’t have vision or energy. In the past few years, Arthur’s passion, the Hamilton Crop Circle, has become a symbol of the area’s sustainable sensibilities. In 2010, Hamilton claimed three spots on City Paper’s New Restaurants of the Aughts, two of which get their produce from Hamilton Crop Circle.

Today, Hamilton Crop Circle has gardens all over Hamilton—on rooftops, in vacant lots, and at schools—City Neighbors Charter and Hamilton Elementary Middle, where students and teachers learn how to grow the food they eat. It sells its greens at farmers' markets—both Sunday’s downtown market and Hamilton's more modest one on Tuesdays. It supplies local restaurants, including Hamilton Tavern, Clementine, Four Seasons Baltimore, Woodberry Kitchen, the Wine Market, Brewer’s Art, Chameleon Cafe and the new Cajun pizza and po’ boy joint Tooloulou, located just a block from one of it’s garden. 

Hamilton Crop Circle, certainly one of the best reasons to live in Hamilton these days, started from seed “three or four years ago,” Arthur explains, leaning in over his salvaged picnic table as the birds’ cacophony envelops us. He grins like a garden gnome. Originally, it was “a bunch of us [who] didn’t have a vision. We were just hanging out.” 

They began by digging in their backyard, growing whatever they could. This group of neighbors who intended simply to feed themselves and families eventually produced enough food to sell to Hamilton Tavern and Clementine.   

The community gardeners respected the land they were using and everyone brought different energy. But Arthur “ran hard with it,” and a nascent vision of larger opportunities budded. Soon, someone had painted on a small board: “Hamilton Crop Circle.”  Then came the mission statement. The Circle was “growing into something bigger” and became a sole proprietorship built around a solid core and a growing number of supporters. 

What was once a large empty asphalt lot has turned into a thriving urban garden. “We got away from farms but now people are coming back to them,” says Regina Lansinger, director of Hamilton-Lauraville Main Street Inc. “It’s coming kind of full circle from where it used to be.

The major campaign on Kickstarter came last year, which grossed $15,000 and spread the word beyond the immediate area. 

“He always has the best seasonal items,” says Kenneth Petty, general manager of the Wine Market. “He takes a lot of pride in what he does.” The Locust Point restaurant uses Hamilton Crop Circle’s field greens and vegetables in season – now it's asparagus and ramps.

The urban garden has inspired food businesses throughout the neighborhood to source locally, Lansinger says. Tooloulou’s owners, Shawn and Helen Lagergren, will soon begin buying their mushrooms from a local farmer; their milkshakes are made with ice cream from Prigel Dairy in Baltimore County. The bread and rolls come from Hamilton Bakery, which opened last year

And, of course, their greens come from Hamilton Crop Circle.

Spreading his hands as if to encircle the small table—or perhaps the entire philosophy of local foods—Shawn’s enthusiasm for the food scene in Hamilton is contagious: “This neighborhood is so amazing! Everybody here, we all have our own individual flavors. We’re going to cook our food from scratch!”

Shawn and Helen both credit the Circle for much of this:  “Arthur has been one of the key components to the whole neighborhood being accessible,” Shawn explains. “He’s the string that attached everybody together. He lives here. He loves here.”

Arthur’s roots can take some of the credit for this growth. He grew up in Wrightsville Beach in North Carolina. His mill worker grandfather used to pull eighty-hour weeks, coming home at night to work his farm in the dark. In part, it’s one reason Arthur is so humble about Hamilton Crop Circle’s progress: he knows what real farming is. 

Yes, urban gardens are certainly one manifestation of the growing—and environmentally necessary—trend of urban villages.  It’s true, too, that master gardening classes are popular as people learn to make their own Victory Garden.”

But there is probably not as much to be learned from classes, Arthur says he believes, than from simply having learned over time. “Farming is hard work!” 

It hasn’t been easy, Arthur acknowledges. He’s sometimes found it difficult to buy unused lots from the City, and it’s difficult to barter for fuel. Most gas companies prefer cash or credit; Arthur prefers to give greens or time. For the most part, though, his local interdependence is working out: “Everybody’s living right and walking to work. They’re trying to make it stick.”  

The Hamilton Crop Circle is doing the same thing—trying to make it stick. Newly built hoop gardens will allow it to sell fresh greens year-round, and there are plans for an outdoor classroom at Hamilton Elementary Middle School. 

Arthur dreams of a giant field in which neighbors from all over come together, exchanging ideas, bartering skills and goods, collaborating on a garden or a restaurant or a juice bar—planting their own seeds. 

For a man who loves to watch things grow, Arthur has found his home. 

Rachel Wilkinson teaches English at Loyola Blakefield High School. She is a Baltimore native who lives in Lauraville. 


Arthur Morgan of Hamilton Crop Circle on the roof of Hamilton Tavern.

Pole beans on the roof of Hamilton Tavern.

Pole beans on the roof of Hamilton Tavern.

Arthur Morgan of Hamilton Crop Circle at Hamilton Elementary/Middle School.

Farmer's Market Pizza, which uses seasonal ingredients from Hamilton Crop Circle, at Tooloulou Pizza.

All photographs by STEVE RUARK
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