December 23rd, 2010 - By Therese Madden
What happens when a vacant lot turns into a farm with fresh local food… maybe it’s a modern-day Old McDonald!
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It all started 2 years ago when Andrew Olson was apartment hunting. The deciding factor for where he chose to live is not typical. “No offense to my landlord, but it’s not the nicest apartment, but she was really cool and I jokingly asked if I could have chickens and she said yeah, sure,” he says. And this was the beginning of what is now Farm51. With the help of family, friends and neighbors, Olson cleaned up the 2 abandoned lots next to the house.
“They were in complete disarray and junked cars and garbage and weed trees and all sorts of stuff so we spent months and months just cleaning them up.” The junky lots were transformed into an urban farm, Farm 51. It’s on 51st Street in West Philadelphia. During the growing season the place is almost magical, swiss chard and cabbage cover the front yard, flowers and basil spring from the sidewalk. But even now, in the dead of winter there’s activity.
Without all the crops there’s more room for Olson’s 3 dogs, 7 cats, and 20 chickens, to play. There was a rooster, but someone complained. Other than that the neighbors embrace the farm, some even come around to help get ready for next year’s growing season. Yahya D. Bey and his son, Yahya Jr. live a couple of doors away, and they help out a lot. “The reason why I started helping is because last year he planted a garden on the side over there and he had some good vegetables and I used them,” he says. “I used them in my meals and I said if your going to do this again I’m going to help out this year.”
He also says being around the farm is good for his son, “it’s something all young children need to see especially in an urban setting. They see where there food comes from and gives them chance to eat healthy because everything here is grown organically, so they’re going to get a good insight to how things are grown, see the chickens grow, see the eggs come out, see the turkeys get as big as they got, it’s amazing.”
Oh yes, the turkeys. After the chicken experiment was a success, Olson and his partner, Neal Santos thought they would try their hand at turkeys. They raised three. Two made it to the thanksgiving table, “this is our turkey, who’s become, we put him with the flock of chickens cause he was all alone and he seems to have adapted well, roosts with them at night and hangs with them all the time. For some reason, today she’s feeling a little bit of a loner just hanging in a room by herself all the other chickens are cruising around.” Olson says having the turkeys definitely started some interesting conversations with the neighborhood kids.
“A lot of people ask us, what are you going to do with the turkeys are you going to eat them? Half jokingly. And we’ll say yeah we are going to eat them. The kids hear that your going to eat them and say, ‘that’s cruel,’ well, what are you having for Thanksgiving? Turkey. And where does it come from? The store. Where does it come from before the store? So it definitely, I think it made the kids think about the whole process, if only for a few minutes.”
That’s Andrew Olson, founder of Farm51 in West Philadelphia.
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