One "El" of a Farm
June 17th, 2011 - By Therese Madden
Look under the elevated train in West Philadelphia and you'll find The Walnut Hill Community Farm. Here young adults not only grow food, but also learn to grow a business.
You never know where you are going to find a farm in Philadelphia these days. Stepping off the El at 46th and Market, just look down — and there it is, a farm! Right in the midst of the 'clangity clang' and the bustle of the city. It's the Walnut Hill Community Farm, for years it was a junky looking empty lot. According to 18-year-old, Lorenzo Cannon-Ulmstead, this is a welcome change. "I'm from West Philadelphia, I've lived here all my life and we have things that go on in community that are not so positive, so I think this a way to give them something to look forward to."
Lorenzo is part of the youth growers cooperative. They grow and sell vegetables here. Any money they make is theirs to split evenly among the members of the co-op. There are 5 of them, all young men working together, planting, maintaining, harvesting, and selling on Market Street. Which is what Lorenzo is doing right now at the farm stand, "we basically sold out of all the spinach, so spinach is gone, zucchini, radishes, collard greens…"
This program is a partnership between the Enterprise Center, a Community Development Corporation and Philly Rooted, an organization dedicated to helping create more urban farms. It's meant to teach young adults about both food and business — plus give them an opportunity to earn some money. Nic Esposito is the farm manager and co-op organizer, "we're hoping that they can make the equivalent to about $8 an hour and we come say, come work for us and make $8 an hour rather than go to McDonalds and make $8 an hour. You can work for yourself, you have a flexible schedule and you have something you can walk home with, with pride at the end of the day."
And there is pride. Cameron Taylor is 17-years-old, he says, "truthfully, it might seem a little cheesy, but I like seeing the satisfactory of customers faces. They actually get to see we are young men out here making change for West Philly. We get compliments and everything last week we got a compliment on our broccoli." A compliment on their broccoli! "She said that she never had broccoli like that before, but that it's one of the best tasting broccoli that she ever had."
Looking forward to hearing more reactions like this, the youth cooperative has been selling their vegetables in other markets as well. Even though they haven't made much money yet, Lorenzo understands that just like growing food, growing a business may take time. "I just think in this type of venture it's very important to have patience, so I'm definitely trying to extend my patience, or have more of it as this goes on.