Yesterday I had a chance to attend a workshop about creating farm revenue in urban spaces and walked away with my head spinning. A very talented and enthusiastic guy by the name of Nic Esposito, who self proclaimed himself as just a “west-philly-grundge”, passed on his success and knowledge of how to start a small farm on urban land.
Working with several organizations in Philly, including UC Green, to green up urban areas, Nic earned enough of a reputation and was approached to see if he could do something with a particular vacant space in West Philly. In its lifetime the empty space had served as a place to get high, in trouble, and as a site for cherry pickers to park while constructing a new SEPTA station. This is the space today:
In an area that traditionally viewed fresh and organic produce as expensive and out of reach, the community now has direct access to home grown. It gets even better though. Nic is working with a group of college students who are treating the non CSA part of the garden as a traditional farm. The students are learning the day-to-day operations along with selling the produce at Farmers Markets and to small stores and restaurants. The proceeds are there’s to keep.
The workshop spoke to many of the challenges and creative solutions to questions such as how to get land, community participation, water, and even wooden blocks for the plots. The answers to these questions are truly inspiring from a sustainable and community perspective. For example, the blocks and bricks come from many unused scraps throughout the city. The water from rain will be gathered on the SEPTA station (red brick building on left) will go into barrels and then be used in the garden with the help of a battery and solar panel.
Even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, which has 400,000 vacant lots, chances are there are vacant lots in your city. These places are typically gross and home to activities such as loitering, drug use, and other crime. See who you can contact in your cities to simultaneously improve the urban area and give people better access to fresh produce.
Lastly, I want to mention the organization that put together this workshop, SAITA (Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance). SAITA pulls together interns throughout the southeastern PA farms and creates a network in which they learn about new sustainability topics. Luckily, these workshops are opened to regular people too. Its just really impressive that an organization like this exists to bring together like-minded young people and create an environment where they can learn together about relevant topics.
Thanks SAITA and Nic Esposito!