There’s an Agro and Afroecology workshop to explore how people of color can regain control of their land and relieve food insecurity in their neighborhoods. There’s a workshop designed to teach black men to build trellises for growing plants. At the end of the summer, there’ll be a roundtable of activists discussing urban farming.
All these events exploring the intersections of race and agriculture will be free to the public, and all will be hosted at the same unlikely venue:
A miniature farm right in the middle of Center City.
Yep, that exists. Back in June, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society transformed JFK Plaza with heaps of soil and dozens of planters into the Farm for the City. The project was developed with the goal of addressing food insecurity, providing more green space, and helping Philadelphians better understand urban farming.
Essential to understanding urban farming, PHS officials say, is the inclusion of intersectional voices.
After all, it was indigenous Native American people who first grew food on Pennsylvania soil, explained Charlyn Griffith, the farm’s program curator. And then it became African-American people — at the time enslaved — who were responsible for harvesting crops. In the modern day, the city’s plethora of community gardens aim to address food insecurity in neighborhoods largely dominated by people of color. So it’s only natural, Griffith said, for PHS to center those voices in its programming.
“I am a person of African decent,” she said. “I’ve been most interested in making sure underrepresented communities are made visible.” Griffith added, “We have long and deep legacies of growing food, while also being responsive to systemic racism and economic injustice that has plagued our neighborhoods.”
Hence, the packed schedule of events lined up for the rest of the summer, all of which were thought up and organized by Griffith.
“Enslaved, kidnapped Africans were brought to this land to then cultivate the type of botany and agriculture that is celebrated in this region,” Griffith said. “There is no reason for the representation to be exclusively white people.”
Later this summer, the farm will bridge agriculture with the sanctuary movement in a workshop scheduled for August, discussing the relationship between migration and the growth of food.
“We’re addressing a variety of issues,” said PHS spokesperson Kevin Feeley, “including food insecurity among immigrant populations and opportunities for refugees to better acclimate to new neighborhoods.”
Then there’s the community reading series, which includes two events:
- A poetry reading hosted by African-American poet Denise Valentine
- A reading of several books exploring intergenerational stories of black agriculture: Mama’s Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe and Mama Miti by Wangari Maathai
And that’s just a small sampling of Farm for the City’s entire event series.
“We’re making sure black and brown leadership is uplifted, their stories are told,” Griffith said, “and resources are made available.”
Ultimately, all this programming has a tangible goal: reducing food insecurity in the city.
In Philly, 21 percent of residents don’t have regular access to affordable, nutritious food. Neighboring counties fare much better: Bucks has about an 8 percent rate of food insecurity, and Montgomery County falls around 9 percent. The farm might make a dent — it’s expected to produce 1,000 pounds of fruit and veggies, all of which will be donated to the homelessness nonprofit Broad Street Ministry.
And long term, the best way to solve the problem, Griffith insists, is by including the communities experiencing it.
“They may need support,” she said, “but they have the solutions to their problems.”