Maryland: Great Kids Farm Day of Service honors George Freeman Bragg

By Angela F. Shepherd
Posted Aug 13, 2012

[Episcopal Diocese of Maryland] Nearly 40 people representing six Episcopal Diocese of Maryland congregations gathered at Great Kids Farm in Baltimore August 4 for a Day of Service focusing on agriculture and the environment to honor the legacy of the Rev. George Freeman Bragg, Jr.

Bragg served as rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, Baltimore, from 1891-1940.

In 1899, Bragg and others assumed responsibility for the fledgling “Simmons Home,” a forerunner to Great Kids Farm that was then an orphanage for African American children located in Baltimore. The name was changed to the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children and continued as a place of refuge and education for adolescent males.

In 1912, a 33-acre farm was purchased in Baltimore County and the school relocated. At that time students stayed onsite where they learned skills in agriculture, carpentry and masonry. They also constructed some of the buildings that are still in use today.

Bragg also was a historian, newspaper editor and advocate for justice. He died in 1940. The Diocese of Maryland sold the property to Baltimore City Schools in the 1950s.

Bragg’s feast day, August 3, is included in Holy Women Holy Men, a major revision of Lesser Feasts and Fasts, the church’s commemoration of various saints and occasions not included as major holy days on the calendar of the Book of Common Prayer. Holy Women Holy Men is currently in trial use by the Episcopal Church.

The first Day of Service, intended to be an annual event, began with a short program that included prayer, a history of the farm offered by volunteer Diana Cohen, and Marc Cold’s personal story of being a student at the farm in the 1970s. The event, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Maryland Home for Friendless Colored Children, was supported by Friends of Great Kids Farm and the Maryland diocese.

Ten-year-old Leyla Robinson, daughter of the Rev. Allen Robinson, rector of St. James’ Church, and his wife Allison, read the collect of the day.

Cold shared his story of growing up in a foster home and being taunted by other students. In the 1970s, the school provided a safe haven for Cold and others in the foster care system who rode a bus to the county location five days a week. It was there that adolescent males could share their experiences and learn from one another without being teased by their peers, explained Cold, who is now married with children and runs his own business.

On the morning of August 4, trying to avoid the heat that would come later in the day, the Day of Service group was divided into two and quickly trimmed and weeded beds of mint, oregano and sorrel.

One team was led by Beth Mathie, certified science teacher, and the other by Greg Strella, farm manager. Children and youth enjoyed feeding the goats. Their efforts helped to prepare Great Kids Farm for another academic season.

For many years the school system used the site as a nature and horticultural center. In 2008, Friends of Great Kids Farm was organized to support a new and creative Baltimore City School initiative.

Today, Great Kids Farm is much more than a field trip destination.

With a focus on agriculture and the environment it is a working farm highlighting food science, agriculture and animals and is fully integrated into the overall curriculum. Ninth through twelfth graders enjoy paid internships and students and teachers come to learn how to grow gardens in the city.

Vegetables from Great Kids Farm are sold at a local farmer’s market and purchased by local restaurants.

This fall, a culinary arts program will be added. In addition, an Episcopal Service Corps intern from Gilead House will join the staff in September.

— The Rev. Angela F. Shepherd is canon for mission in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland.