This article appeared under the title ‘Urban Jungle, Concrete Farm’ in the March 2009 issue of GRID, Philadelphia’s new magazine about urban sustainability.
On February 7, over 80 enthusiastic farmers and eaters packed a workshop called Small Space Community Food Production in State College. Lisa Mosca and Sharat Samashekara of Philly Green- a division of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society- energized the crowd about the possibilities of sustainable agriculture in an urban environment. In the crowd were some of the 120 folks, according to the official count, from Philly and the Southeastern Pennsylvania region that trekked to State college for the Pennsylbania Association for Sustainable Agriculture’s (PASA) Farming for the Future conference. They came from urban farms, farmers markets, and blogs to learn, network and, of course, eat some great local food.
“Our city is proving to be a big player in sustainable agriculture and we should be proud of that,” says Jennie Love of local food blog straightfromthefarm.com. Indeed, Philadelphia’s urban farms have increased exponentially in the last five years, as illustrated in the timeline below.
PASA (www.pasafarming.org) is a member-based, sustainable farming organization that works to improve the economic prosperity, environmental soundness, and social propriety of our agricultural system. PASA connects farmers with consumers through initiatives like Buy Fresh Buy Local (www.buylocalpa.org) and Good Food Neighborhood. Its annual Farming for the Future Conference, now on its 18th year, is widely considered the most significant on the East coast and one of the three most important in the country. Philadelphians would be pleased to recognize so many faces from the tables of our farmer’s markets, like Gina Humphreys of Urban Girls Produce and Tom Culton of Culton Organics. Over 2000 people attended this year’s conference , including a record 700 first time participants. Lauren Smith, PASA’s Conference Coordinator, was “especially encouraged to see so many young farmers at the conference”. Given that the median age of farmers in the United States now exceeds 60 years, this is a very good sign for the future of food production in our country.
Keynote speaker Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved– a critique of industrial food production- opened the conference with an engaging and impassioned plea that “food sovereignty” be restored as a fundamental right of all people. The conference featured meals cooked from food grown by member farmers, an agricultural job fair, and an awards ceremony honoring the accomplishments of sustainable farmers. The Sustainable Tradeshow filled the halls with almost 80 exhibitors showcasing everything from large-scale farm equipment to individual farmers selling their cheeses. Seventy five workshops were offered on subjects such as “Holistic High Density Planned Grazing”, “Bugs & Bunnies: How to Outwit them in the Backyard Garden” and “Solar Electric Systems 201: Basics and Beyond”. The wide variety of topics appealed to a diverse audience, including organic farmers, backyard gardeners, farmers market managers, locavores, and environmental activists. David Siller of Weavers Way Farm summed it up: “It’s really the only time all year when farmers can get together and inspire each other.”
PHILADELPHIA URBAN FARM TIMELINE
1997- Greensgrow Farm
2000- University City HS Garden (UNI)
2004-6 Somerton Tanks Farm
2005- Teens 4 Good Farm
2006- Mill Creek Farm
2007- Weaver’s Way Farm
2007- Wyck Home Farm
2007- Flatrock Farm
2007- Philadelphia Orchard Project
2008- MLK HS Farm (w/Weaver’s Way)
2008- Grumblethorpe Farm
NOTE: This is not necessarily a complete list as there are numerous individuals and smaller groups in Philadelphia that are also growing food for sale or trade. A variety of other organizations support urban farming without actually growing food themselves.