Monday, August 3, 2009

Mill Creek Farm

I spent the past weekend visiting with different farmers around Philadelphia.  It was so amazing to learn about the rich history of community gardening in the city, and to see it in action first hand. It seemed like on every block at least one house if not more had a front lawn busting out with tomatoes, okra, and greens creating a luscious urban landscape.

My first stop was at Mill Creek Farm in the Mill Creek neighborhood of West Philadelphia. The farm is located on a previously vacant lot that was once home to row houses that were built on top of an underground creek (hence the name, Mill Creek). Unfortunately, those homes collapsed over 30 years ago due to poor structure and wet conditions and the land sat vacant. The Philadelphia Water Department leased the land from the Redevelopment Authority for a storm water management project in 2003- the farms founders got wind of this and made a proposal to start growing food there. The 1/2 acre farm has been around for 4 years and is doing lots of truly amazing things in the neighborhood. The farm's mission is to "improve local access to nutritious foods and to promote sustainable resources by growing and distributing produce and by demonstrating ecological methods of living."

On the right is Johanna Rosen or Jo, one of the founders of Mill Creek Farm who I was so honored to interview for the project. I was able to spend some time with her out on the farm too- here she is with a farm volunteer giving some cabbages a much appreciated hand weed. 

This is Jade, another Mill Creek farmer and founder who I wasn't able to interview on this trip, but who was fabulous nonetheless. Here they are scaring off white flies from the curly Kale with some neem oil. When sprayed all the white flies would furiously flee from the kale plants creating what Jade called the "dandruff effect." 

One of my favorite things about Mill Creek farm was their tool shed/packing/washing station. Here it is from a distance.

This cob structure has solar panels which provide power to the farm when they need it, collects greywater, is decorated in a beautiful mosaic of recycled and found materials, has a living roof and a composting toilet!
A lovely place to poop.
Some contrasting signs explaining the benefit of the composting toilet hung on the wall behind it. 
Some photos from the beautiful mosaic.

On the top of this structure it says, "This is a living roof, come look." I, of course had to look. Here is what I saw.

And more sedums! Sedums are succlent plants that don't need much water to live. 
The living roof was really beautiful, I did some shooting from up there, and was able to snag some beautiful birds eye photos of the farm. 

From the living roof, I also had a great view of the large community garden located right next to Mill Creek Farm. I was told that this community garden has been there for over 30 years and met some of the gardeners, one of whom was concentrating on growing medicinal herbs.

Mill Creek has a farm stand twice a week, holds community workshops of all kinds, trains youth to work on the farm (there was a queer youth intern who I interviewed!), and donates a lot of produce to local food banks. Mill Creek Farm is definitely a safe place for queer people- its run by queer folks, and Jo told me that often their volunteers are queer as well. Here are some photos from around the farm of their beautiful Saturday farm stand.

Wall of tomatoes!
Onions drying.
A beautiful hedgerow of fruit trees. 

Jo and Jade told me that this banana tree behind their compost does something magical to speed up the decomposition process. 
Okra, Jade told me is the farm's biggest seller by far. Here is a lovely okra flower.

Many thanks to everyone at Mill Creek Farm for showing me around and for all of the important and hard work you do!

And remember...
More from Philly soon...

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