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Center for a Livable Future


Food System Lab @ Cylburn

The Food System Lab @ Cylburn is an urban teaching farm in Baltimore City, operated on the grounds of the Cylburn Arboretum by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF). Our diverse educational programs emphasize the important connections among the living components of a small-scale agro-ecosystem and offer a compelling introduction to an equitable, healthy and sustainable food system. Visitors engage directly with a variety of food production practices, including aquaponics, a system of agriculture that combines fish farming with hydroponic plant farming.

Visit Us: The Food System Lab is free and open to individual drop-in visitors for information and tours during the following times:

  • Wednesdays, 10am – noon
  • Sundays, 1pm – 3pm (We will be closed Sunday, Dec 24, Wednesday, Dec 27 and Sunday, Dec 31 due to the Christmas and New Year holidays.)

Groups of five or more are by appointment only (see below).

School and Group Programs

Group Tour /Program Inquiry Form

We offer tours and longer theme-based programs targeting elementary, middle- and high-school students, college and university students, and adults. Our greenhouse can accommodate groups of up to 25 people. The Farm Manager will work with you prior to your visit to tailor the program according to your group’s size, schedule, and learning objectives.

  • Tours: Our interactive tour explores the operation of our urban farm and the relationship between the fish, plants, microorganisms, worms, soil and water. The tour can last as short as 20 minutes or as long as one hour, depending on the group’s age, interest, and availability.
  • Elementary School Programs: For elementary school groups, we offer a 30 minute tour, followed by 30 minutes of hands-on farm tasks. The tasks usually include planting seeds and transplanting
  • Theme-based Programs for Middle Schools and High Schools: These 90-minute programs examine our urban farm in the context of the broader food system. Students take a tour of the farm, and engage in activities designed to raise awareness about the complexities of our food system and encourage a deeper level of thinking about our relationship with food. We currently offer the following themes:
    • Baltimore’s Food Community: Come explore Baltimore’s unique food environment with a visit to our urban farm. We introduce the concept of a food system and dive into the Baltimore Food System with a three-layered map. A central question is: what is the potential of urban agriculture in our region to improve food systems and address hunger?
    • Seafood and Aquaculture: As ocean fish harvests plateau and the population grows, the aquaculture (fish farming) industry continues to expand. We discuss aquaculture and take a look at how aquaponics offers advantages and disadvantages compared to conventional aquaculture practices. We also discuss how the 5 most commonly consumed types of fish in the United States are produced.
    • Water Quality and Agriculture: Agriculture is the single largest user of freshwater resources on the planet, accounting for 70% of freshwater use by humans, and agricultural practices can have a large impact on environmental water quality through discharge of pollutants and sediments into local waterways. Aquaponics, as a closed loop water system, can teach us how to balance agricultural production with water quality. In this activity, we discuss the water quality parameters for aquaponics systems, including pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and Total Dissolved Solids. We then take water samples from the system and perform water quality tests for each of these parameters. Lastly, we analyze the results to determine their significance for the health of the system.
    • Aquaponics Engineering: How does an aquaponics system work? In this lesson, we identify the component pieces of an aquaponics system (fish tank, filter, grow bed, pump) and examine how they work together as a whole. In small teams, students then assemble miniature aquaponics systems out of plastic containers, and introduce water, fish and plants to create a small agro-ecosystem.

There is no charge for groups of fewer than 25 for the standard tours or 90-minute programs. Please inquire with the Farm Manager about larger groups and expanded programming options.

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For more information, please contact:

Jesse Blom
Food System Lab Manager and Educator

Additional Resources

CLF’s Aquaponics Research: