Community Ecology Center garden

CEI and BGE partner to bring urban gardens to Columbia

With help from a BGE Green Grant, community gardens will offer area residents new skills and healthy outdoor activities – as well as delicious vegetables.

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Environment Philanthropy Community

If being outside gives you a mental and physical boost, you’re not alone. Studies show that spending time outside is good for both mental and physical health. The Community Ecology Institute wants people to have many opportunities to experience the great outdoors.

So, the institute has purchased a small farm within the city limits of Columbia, Md., to protect it from development and help urban residents connect with nature. The farm is now home to the institute’s Community Ecology Center (CEC).

The center builds on years of research demonstrating the benefits of getting people outside the buildings that normally confine their days. Bringing people from different backgrounds and cultures together for outdoor activities breaks down barriers and strengthens the social fabric.

Bottom line: The institute developed the center to show people how much fun they can have outside.

“It’s an innovative place where people can learn from hands-on experience about how to lead happier, healthier, more connected and sustainable lives,” said Chiara D’Amore, the Community Ecology Institute’s president.

Community Ecology Center team
The Community Ecology Center team.


The benefits of outdoor activities can be long-lasting. D’Amore said children who spend time in nature are more likely to develop an enduring commitment to the natural world – and take action to protect it. Farm-based education is a particularly effective way to help students learn about science and the environment, as well as to improve children’s well-being.

The center is approaching its goals from many directions. One of the first steps is developing community garden plots on the farm. This year’s $7,000 BGE Green Grant will help people with a variety of backgrounds and abilities learn how to grow their own food.

CEI is in conversation with a diverse group of organizations about cultivating garden plots. Participating clients will be able to enjoy the experiences of planting and harvesting, while learning best farming practices – and taking home tasty, nutritious produce.

Another aspect of the center involves recreating healthy habitat on farmland. The work includes planting native trees, restoring streams and wetlands, and managing stormwater with features like rain gardens. Participating in these volunteer projects will help children and adults better understand how they can help make a positive impact on the environment, and better understand the connections between soil, plants, wildlife and clean water.

Visit the center’s website to learn how you can participate in the CEC and support its work.


Now in its seventh year, the annual BGE Green Grants program has benefited hundreds of innovative community projects with more than $2 million in charitable giving from BGE. Grants range from $500 to $10,000. Organizations that receive a Green Grant are located in BGE’s geographic service area and use their award for a project that falls into at least one of BGE’s environmental focus areas: conservation, education, energy efficiency, pollution prevention, and community engagement. Prospective grant recipients must be 501(c)(3) non-profits with a board of directors and must meet additional criteria to be eligible.