Urban agriculture is not necessarily a new idea, but the concept has gained momentum over the past 5-10 years. With rising food costs, prolific urban food deserts, and other food-related problems, enterprising individuals have invested creative effort to produce food in close-in urban areas. From rooftop gardens to small scale urban farms to “guerrilla gardening,” Philly has it’s fair share of urban gardens and food producers. In this blog post, I try to cover a few of the great organizations working to bring healthy foods to our city.
Greensgrow Farms: “Growers of Food Flowers and Neighborhoods”
One of Philadelphia’s best-known urban farms and winner of “Best of Philly: City Nursery 2011″, Greensgrow offers CSAs, a nursery, a farmers market, and any number of interesting urban agriculture and food projects. Started in 1998, Greensgrow has become a national leader and go-to expert for urban farming, and we’re lucky to have them here in Philly! They’re now accepting applications for Summer 2012 CSAs. Follow them on Twitter: @greensgrow.
Urban Tree Connection
Located in the Haddington Area of West Philadelphia, Urban Tree Connection operates with a mission to engage children and adults from some of Philadelphia’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods in neighborhood greening and gardening activities. Neighborhood residents help cultivate and harvest UTC’s small-scale farm, which provides healthy produce for neighbors in the area.
Mill Creek Farm
Also located in West Philadelphia, Mill Creek farm launched operations in 2005, jump-started with funds donated by The Philadelphia Water Department and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Like the other urban farms, Mill Creek operates with a mission to provide healthy, local produce to urban areas with limited access to fresh foods. They offer educational field trips for schools and community groups and volunteer opportunities for anyone wanting to help out.
Started by a few West Philly residents at 51st and Chester, this small-scale urban farm operates on a once-trash-laden, vacant lot. Now, it’s home to herbs, produce plants, over a dozen chickens, and some really great people. (Well, they live in the house next door). During the summer, they sell produce from a Thursday afternoon farm stand.
There are so many great farming projects happening all over the city. I’m interested to hear from you. Do you have any favorite Philly farms? An interesting urban agriculture project that you want to share? Feel free to post below.
Also, if you’re interested in staying connected to urban farming in Philadelphia, you can join the Google Group: Philadelphia Urban Farm Network.
Yesterday afternoon, my first issue of Passages, the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s bimonthly newsletter, arrived through the mail slot of my West Philly rowhome. With a back “yard,” read concrete slab, that measures 15′ x 5′, limited sunlight, and absolutely no natural greening skills whatsoever, it seems a bit out of place on my coffee table, sitting next to issues of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. While I’ve always had local food leanings, e.g. buying from farmer’s markets when possible, I became a complete local food convert after attending PASA’s annual Farming for the Future conference in early February and learning more about the varied benefits of local food. Here are just a few of the many reasons to support local ag.
- Community Food Security
Some studies indicate that low-income neighborhoods have 30% fewer grocery stores than other more affluent areas. More than that, the stores that do operate in less affluent neighborhoods do not often provide quality fresh produce. Small-scale urban farms and gardens provide access to fresh produce to neighborhood residents. They also offer security to people experiencing difficult economic circumstances and help ensure that all people, regardless of address or economic circumstance, have access to healthy foods.
- Access to Nutritious Foods
With more nutritious food readily available, people consume more vegetables and fruits, improving nutrition in areas that have limited access to healthy foods. A study conducted by the Community Food Security Coalition indicates that a 10′x10′ urban plot can yield an entire household’s vegetable needs in a typical 130 day growing season.
- Improved Physical Environment
As residents clear out debris and trash to plant gardens and grow vegetables, the neighborhood aesthetic improves, improving the quality of life for everyone in the area and instilling an increased sense of neighborhood pride.
- Improved Mental & Physical Health
The Community Food Security Coalition study also indicates that gardening provides physical exercise and serves as a mechanism for stress reduction.
- Keeps Food Costs Down
In 2008, half of the world’s population lived in urban centers and that number continues to climb. This represents a major population shift. A century ago, most of the world’s people lived in rural areas; however, people continue to migrate to cities. This will likely present food security concerns, infrastructure strain, and rising food costs, as we attempt to transport increasing amounts of food from rural areas to population centers. Urban agriculture has the potential to ease this strain and ensure that the poorest people have access to healthy food.
Those are just a few reasons to love urban agriculture, and we’re lucky because there’s so much happening in the urban agriculture space around Philly. Many innovative entrepreneurs and community activists are reclaiming discarded sites and transforming them into food-producing gardens that galvanize our communities. Let’s support their efforts and buy local produce!