The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, which produces the annual Philadelphia Flower Show, is bringing a Green Resource Center to Montgomery County. The site at the Norristown Farm Park is expected to be fully operational in the spring.
“I think it’s going to be a beautiful addition to a really incredible park,” said Julianne Schrader Ortega, vice president of PHS and chief of its Healthy Neighborhoods initiative.
The new center will include a 2-acre teaching farm, a greenhouse partially powered by solar energy, a wash station, community garden beds, a shading area for seedlings, and a pavilion for public programs.
“We’re planning on doing lots of hands-on education for folks that are interested in learning how to grow and share food,” Ortega said.
Using CARES Act funding dedicated to food insecurity and jobs, the county hopes the site will help reverse some of the damage done by the pandemic to community and local food sources.
County officials point to a Map the Meal Gap study that found that 7% of Montco residents were experiencing food insecurity in 2018 — a figure that jumped to 11% in 2020.
“That is why the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners approved $1 million in CARES Act funding for the county’s Food Security Assistance and Workforce Development Program,” said Dr. Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the county commissioners.
As food insecurity becomes a more widespread problem in Montgomery County, food pantries have experienced a 50% increase in visitors in recent months, according to the county.
“We really feel like the time is now for us to really support people who want to grow food for themselves and their families and their neighbors. And we’re going to do that through this PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park,” Ortega said.
The Pottstown-based YWCA Tri-County Area, a local chapter of the national organization working toward gender and racial equity, is also joining in on the efforts to increase work opportunities in the county.
“I think this is so exciting for both of us to be thinking outside the box for what people traditionally, historically know us for,” said Stacy Woodland, CEO of the organization.
YWCA Tri-County Area currently has numerous workforce development programs for people in the county.
“And we’re hopeful that all of those things will support the connection to the Green Resource Center — whether they’re going to be doing farming, whether they’re going to be really figuring out more healthy ways for eating and cooking, and really have hands-on education and soft skills training with the Horticultural Society,” said Woodland.
The YWCA trains about 200 people a year through its Food for Success program. In addition, some of the produce grown at the Green Resource Center will go to the YWCA’s new Dignity Kitchen — which is both a physical space and the title of a new workforce development program.
The Dignity Kitchen, which has not yet opened, is located in the Human Services Center in Norristown. The goal is to train people in culinary arts, a field that can often be overwhelming for newcomers, according to Woodland.
“We see ourselves with the first cohort of culinary arts trainees coming in spring, and really working to use them to tailor the program to be exactly what people need,” Woodland said.
The 12 participants selected will undergo training for 12 to 16 weeks. Woodland hopes these opportunities will open the door to paid positions around the community.
“We feel like it’s really important as part of our effort to be providing tools for job training and self-reliance for the future,” Ortega said. “So we’re really pleased to be partnering with the YWCA on this.”
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