Boys gather around a horse-drawn cart full of produce outside an arabber stable in Baltimore. The vanishing tradition of urban horsemen known as "arabbers" took root with Black families in Baltimore after the Civil War, and it persists in areas where healthful food is scarce among corner markets and takeout joints.
Boys watch as arabber Bilal Yusuf Abdullah prepares his horse-drawn cart full of produce outside a stable in Baltimore. At one time, numerous stables could be found scattered across Baltimore and other U.S. cities. But by the 1960s, urban renewal, supermarkets and other developments reduced Baltimore’s number to about 25. When the city's wholesale produce markets closed to make way for downtown developments, arabbers were pushed further to the margins.
A broken window rests against a disused horse-drawn cart at an arabber stable in Baltimore. For decades, people have been forecasting that arabbing - a name deriving from an old term for peddlers of 19th century London - was on the cusp of disappearing, and preservationists have helped keep the urban horsemen going in recent decades.
James Rich, a member of a Baltimore arabber stable, coaxes a horse into a trailer in New Holland, Pa., after it received a new set of horseshoes. It’s an obscure cross-cultural bond: a tight community of African-American horsemen in disenfranchised West Baltimore and tradition-bound Old Order Mennonites who shun most modern conveniences. But their worlds come together via a dependence on horses and a determination to live proudly on the margins of modern-day society.
James Chase, left, the leader of a Baltimore arabber stable, helps a daughter belonging to an Old Order Mennonite family carry produce boxes at her family's farm in New Holland, Pa. “We rely on Mennonite know-how because we don’t have the knowledge and the tools to do some of this stuff anymore," said Chase of the arabbing tradition. "It’s the way we can keep this life going.”
James Chase, center, walks in a field with children belonging to an Old Order Mennonite family at the family's farm in New Holland, Pa. “It’s a different world up there and I always look forward to getting back,” said Chase of the family's farm.
James Chase, left, hands fresh strawberries to his wife Shawnta while visiting an Old Order Mennonite family's farm in New Holland, Pa.
James Chase, back left, shares slices of melon with sons belonging to an Old Order Mennonite family at the family's farm in New Holland, Pa. Over time, Black Baltimore street vendors fighting to keep their anachronistic trade alive managed to forge an unlikely alliance with rural Pennsylvania’s Mennonites - generally less austere cousins to the Amish - who serve as a sustaining link.
A message reading "Give thanks unto the Lord" is carved into the skin of a melon at an Old Order Mennonite family's farm in New Holland, Pa.
A boy belonging to an Old Order Mennonite family walks in a field at his family's farm in New Holland, Pa.
James Chase, left, visits with a member of an Old Order Mennonite family at the family's farm in New Holland, Pa.
James Chase, left, visits with children belonging to an Old Order Mennonite family inside a barn on their property in New Holland, Pa. What was once a culture clash has become an anticipated weekly visit full of personal interactions and common ground.
Bilal Yusuf Abdullah, center, leads a horse to an arabber stable as neighborhood boys tag along in Baltimore. Baltimore has long been the last U.S. city to have functional horse-cart vending.
A young boy pets a horse at an arabber stable in Baltimore. The city's remaining arabbers work out of three licensed stables tucked away in areas where healthful food is scarce.
Bilal Yusuf Abdullah leads a horse-drawn arabber cart full of produce past abandoned houses in Baltimore. An arabber cart is the only option many citizens in Baltimore’s poorest areas have to purchase fresh food that doesn’t involve a lengthy bus trip or two.