Feeding Cities: Gardening, Greening and Learning in Philadelphia

The president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society talks about developing community farms on empty lots across Philadelphia.

Credit: Steve Eng

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As the 2013 Feeding Cities conference unfolds this week in Philadelphia, Next City, a media partner for the event, will feature regular updates from bloggers covering its talks and workshops. Click here to see a rundown of our coverage.

Despite a population density of more than 11,000 per square mile, Philadelphia “has no shortage of unused or underused land,” said Drew Becher, president of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS), during today’s lunchtime keynote address on local success stories in urban food security.

With that in mind, PHS has developed community farms on empty lots across the city, which benefit local areas by reducing crime, increasing property values and beautifying neighborhoods. The process of engaging with the farms has improved understanding of healthy food production and encouraged local social connections.

Managing a plot in an urban farm, or even supporting its management, can be a daunting and off-putting prospect. Aware of this barrier, PHS runs training schemes for groups and individuals, teaching food skills with a view to inspiring pupils to take on their own plots. Should participants decide they want to take the plunge and get involved in one of Philly’s farms, PHS will guide them through the necessary administrative steps.

Other food education opportunities are also available, such as a unit that teaches how to prepare freshly grown vegetables because, as Becher puts it, “a freshly picked eggplant looks like something from Mars.”

In the last two years, PHS has started to think beyond the boundaries of Pennsylvania, working with 13 counties across three states to develop Plant One Million, a tree-planting scheme that has so far introduced 267,000 trees to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

“Can you get fruit or nut trees through the program?” asked one audience member. Becher announced that you can, observing a trend in recent years toward planting trees that also act as a food source — a positive sign, considering the topics explored here in Penn over the last couple of days.

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Tags: philadelphiablighturban farmingtreescommunity gardens

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