Tag Archives: urban farming

City Gardens – Philadelphia and Berlin

I didn’t WANT to go into Philadelphia yesterday, but was forced by the urgent need to be fingerprinted. Every volunteer who works with children must be fingerprinted. I also had to fill out extensive forms. The computer rejected my NJ mailing address and rebuked me for failing to list my parents under “who have you lived with since 1975?” Getting clearance to work with kids isn’t easy.

These days, fingerprinting is accomplished at the UPS store. (Cost is $27.) You touch a glass plate and the computer records your prints. No more ink!

Errand accomplished, I met my son for a stroll in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. We unexpectedly found ourselves at the gate of the Schuylkill River Park Community Garden. A sign invited us in, asking that we refrain from picking anything, and stay out of the garden plots. Fine! What a beautiful place! In the central gazebo, we found information about the organization that runs the garden. You can check it out at www.srpcg.org.

Parts of the garden are dedicated to growing food for a distribution program. Every individually worked plot is different! Wildly different! Some are devoted to tomatoes, others to flowers. Sunflowers tower here and there. I was impressed by the number of birds to be seen, especially at the central arbor/gazebo. I felt jealous of gardeners who don’t have to worry about deer, and may even be protected against rabbits!

The day was hot. We saw no one working, but the place didn’t feel deserted. I’m sure if I had given in to temptation and snitched a cherry tomato, I would have been caught.

This is an aristocrat among Philadelphia’s community gardens. I see other, more casual gardens from the train as I come and go from 30th Street station, and I know there are cultivated lots in many neighborhoods. When we left, we wandered down to the bike trail beside the Schuylkill, another improvement that makes Philadelphia a pleasant city.

This surprise visit reminded me of the garden plots in Berlin (Germany), where I spent a summer as a student. World War II was almost 30 years in the past, but people were still contentedly living in sheds in the gardens! Periodically, the government tried to relocate them, but without success. The garden plots in Berlin were big – I’m guessing 25 by 50 feet or more. The sheds looked sturdy. Most plots had a grass section and lawn furniture. One evening an apartment dwelling friend took me out to his plot with his family. This was a ritual – evening drinks in the garden, a ten minute drive from home. Surely it made apartment life more pleasant.

I Googled ‘Berlin allotment gardens” and found this excellent article. http://www.slowtravelberlin.com/berlins-community-gardens/

The author observed “The gardens were immaculately groomed, yet densely populated with vegetables, flowers and often a fruit tree or two. It made me wonder if Berlin’s multicultural quilt included elves and gnomes.”

Author Jonathan Thompson suggests similar gardens would improve American cities. I agree, and would love to see them added to the urban landscape.

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“Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer” by Novella Carpenter

Penguin Press, 2009, 269 pages.

This book presents a striking contrast to “The Good Food Revolution – Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities” by Will Allen, which I reviewed on January 29, 2015.

For starters, Allen farms in chilly Milwaukee, whereas Carpenter lives in sunny southern California. Allen is incredibly systematic and diligent, and good at using “the system” to get grants and organize groups. Carpenter is eccentric, rebellious and individualistic. Both manage to raise food in a city setting. Each has a progressive to liberal/radical political agenda. Other than that, they have little in common.

Carpenter did not own the urban land she farmed, describing herself as a squatter. She lived, by choice, in a neighborhood most of us would never consider – violent and poverty stricken, a marginal community full of marginalized, struggling people. To her, sharing was an integral part of being an urban farmer. She gated but did not lock her garden, and rarely interfered with people who helped themselves to her produce. She scavenged extensively, often in the dumpsters behind restaurants.

But these two farmers share a vision of a highly altered urban landscape, and I consider most of the changes they advocate to be highly desirable from an environmental point of view.

One of Carpenter’s especial goals was to raise meat on her urban farm, and the book plots her passage from poultry to rabbits to pigs. She raised two hogs (not pigs, but full sized hogs). Her monetary investment was minor, but the labor of feeding the fast growing hogs on dumpster sourced food sounded overwhelming. I wonder if she did it again.

One reason I can’t imagine living Carpenter’s life style if that it seems overwhelmingly dirty. She kept poultry in her apartment, rabbits on her deck, pigs beside her building.

Both Carpenter and Allen are well worth reading. I would love to see both cities and suburbs producing food (and flowers!) and supporting birds and other wildlife.