Spilling just over the area of one city block, Greensgrow Farm is an urban green space in Philadelphia’s Fishtown neighborhood flourishing with flowers, plants, vegetables, trees, fruit and even a gaggle of chickens. A space that was once the grounds of a former steel plant is now a bright cornerstone of the neighborhood consumers can visit to buy fruit, vegetables, raw milk and local cheese. A team of staff and dedicated volunteers make it all possible, day in and day out, as they live and breathe what it means to spend a day in the life of Greensgrow.
Greensgrow began in 1997 when Mary Seton Corboy found an old, vacant lot with her former partner Tom Sereduk and had the crazy idea to grow hydroponic lettuce. While the growing of lettuce for local restaurants, such as Johnny Brenda’s and Standard Tap, still continues today, the farm itself has become nothing short of the most sustainable city block in Philadelphia. Over the years, the space has grown from land to grow lettuce to a full-scale farm with a mass of plants and greenery, numerous greenhouses, water recycling programs, a bio-diesel truck making fuel from used restaurant grease, green roofs on stationary buildings and enthusiastic staff farmers who care for it all on a daily basis.
The dedicated workers at Greensgrow spend their days tending to the flower beds, pruning trees and bushes, harvesting vegetables and watering plants. Every Thursday and Saturday, the same folks are welcoming everyone who visits the farm with a gorgeous display of fresh fruit, vegetables and plants for sale during their Farmers’ Market hours. Other staffers can be seen assembling boxes for the Greensgrow CSA; that is, Community Supported Agriculture, a model where consumers purchase a “share” for the growing season on the farm and regularly receive a box of Greensgrow goodies.
Dave Prendergast, Farm Manager for Greensgrow, says the great thing about working at Greensgrow is there is no set schedule like a normal day job. “I always try and challenge our team to develop new way of taking on a task. Plant the idea in their head and watch them run with it. Our latest project on the farm is developing a vertical aquaponics system. I gave the team the concept and the materials but then let them just run with it.”
Staffers can also be seen tending to the chickens and helping neighbors with planters and window boxes. The only place you can’t see the staffers buzzing around is inside their impressive flushless solar composting toilet, perched in a private corner on site at Greensgrow. The entirely eco-friendly bathroom built on the grounds even includes a sink and magazines! Some of the other staff at Greensgrow spend their day wandering the yards in the neighborhood, pollinating plants and making honey. That’s right–part of the Greensgrow team consists of honey bees to supply local honey to the ‘hood! No one, big or small, rests during a day at Greensgrow.
Greensgrow workers not only want to make their own space accessible, sustainable and beautiful, but they want to enable the whole neighborhood to grow and prosper as well. That’s why the folks at Greensgrow are invested in community projects to encourage locals to take part in value-added projects or cultivate their own ideas. The Greensgrow Community Kitchen is one such project at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Kensington where local artisans can utilize the space to grow their own dreams in food, canning and culinary creation with the support of Greensgrow.
The Community Kitchen is also home to workshops and classes put on by Greensgrow’s Philadelphia Project, where local “green” experts lead sessions about sustainable living, nutrition, and gardening. The mission at Greensgrow is as much about educating and enabling the success of the community as it is about growing and tending to resources for neighbors to enjoy.
Prendergast, when asked about the best part of the day at Greensgrow, offered a simple, positive thought. “We here at Greensgrow are a family and enjoy sharing our home with all of you,” he said, “so the best part of the day is when we open the gates to welcome everyone in.” Don’t wait for an invite—head on over to Greensgrow to check out the best that urban farming has to offer. For CSA information, farm market hours or information about volunteering on the farm, please visit www.greensgrow.org.