Leonard “Felix” Wills
Once a common site in many American cities, arabbers—street vendors hawking fruits, vegetables, and other household goods from colorful horse-drawn carts—are a rare breed now only found in Baltimore. Their jingling carts and street cries may seem antiquated, but they serve a real and important function: they bring much-needed fresh produce to city residents who otherwise would have little access to fresh food. The term “food desert” might be new, but Baltimore arabbers have been working to solve the problem of access to healthy food long before any think tanks or urban gardens got involved
Leonard “Felix” Wills has been arabbing for well over 50 years. Like most arabbers, Felix has had many helpers and apprentices throughout much of his career; he himself received a Folklife Apprenticeship Award from Maryland Traditions to apprentice under master artist James Cooper in 2008. In 2019, Wills is the master artist, focused on teaching the restoration and rebuilding of traditional arabber wagons using existing antique gear and other parts from broken wagons to his apprentice, Ahmaud Chase (who is unable to attend the festival). Wagons are becoming harder to come by, which is just one in a litany of hurdles faced by Baltimore’s arabbers.