Henry Got Crops!, and Farmer Nina

    When I pulled my car into the Henry Got Crops! farm the other day, there was “Farmer Nina,” rubbing sunscreen into her face with hands soiled by dirt. The mixture gave her a bit of a self-tanner effect.

    Women pay good money for that look, I told her.

    As much as I’m enjoying exploring the city, I was in the mood for a getaway. Plus, I had to fulfill some working member hours for Weavers Way Co-op.

    What better way than to head to a city oasis to play urban farmer? Urban farming is big. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says “around 15 percent of the world’s food is now grown in urban areas.” (Another great local example is Kensington’s Greensgrow Farms.)

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    Besides having a cool name, Henry Got Crops! is a community supported agriculture farm on Henry Avenue in Roxborough. It’s a collaboration between Weavers Way, Weavers Way Community Programs and W.B. Saul High School of Agricultural Sciences — the largest agricultural high school in the country.

    The mission is simple: bring good food to the community and educate students at Saul through one of the first high school-based CSAs in the country.

    There weren’t any students on the farm when I reported for duty last week. Just Nina Berryman. Or “Farmer Nina,” as they call her.

    Berryman is the lone farm manager. Even by urban farming standards, the 20-something is young. And with her trademark overalls and varying hats, she often much more resembles one of the Saul high-schoolers.

    As we weeded side by side in one of the hoop greenhouses she built, we swapped stories.

    Berryman grew up in Vermont. After attending college in Canada, she enrolled in farming school. The first chance she got, she set out to find urban farming work. In 2008, she came to Philly to work at Weavers Way Co-op.

    And the rest, as they say, is history.

    That was something I’d almost forgotten since leaving my own gardens in Connecticut, the relaxation in the repetitive motion of pulling weeds, the ease of conversation when you’re sharing the task with someone else.

    Pardon the pun, but we covered a lot of ground in two hours.

    Not surprisingly, we talked a lot about sustainable food, and how to make it more accessible to people of all income levels.

    We also talked about the sometimes lonely and all-the-time back-breaking nature of farming.

    And about the students at Saul. She recently heard from one; an especially no-nonsense young woman who called from college to say she missed the farm.

    “That was great,” Berryman said.

    And then we reseeded row after row of carrots that didn’t grow the first time around.

    We said a few encouraging words over the seeds, and hoped for the best.

    Because as anyone who’s planted anything knows, sometimes that’s the best you can do.

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