Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture


Greensgrow Philadelphia Project

By Mary Corboy
CEO Greensgrow
August 2002

Greensgrow Philadelphia Project
2501 East Cumberland Street
Philadelphia Pa 19125
Mary Seton Corboy, Director
215 427 2702
215 922 7913 (fax)

Current Program:

Greensgrow Farm is the centerpiece of the Greensgrow Philadelphia Project. Built on an abandoned 'brownfield' site in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood of Philadelphia, Greensgrow Farm is both a working farm (five years) and a center for urban agriculture.

At Greensgrow we believe that urban agriculture has a dual role to play in our food system:

First, it can serve as a tool for educating urban consumers about food, (how food is grown, why buying locally produced foods is important) and give urban consumers a voice in food production issues (what food is grown, whether or not pesticides, antibiotics or hormones are used in production).

Second, it can serve as an alternative distribution mechanism-allowing rural growers access to urban markets and providing locally grown and processed produce, meats, fruits and dairy products to consumers in low income neighborhoods that are often neglected by large grocery chains.

Begun as a commercial hydroponics lettuce farm supplying high-end gourmet greens to restaurants, Greensgrow now operates a CSA and Farm Market while continuing to serve the Philadelphia restaurant community with the products of our and other local farms. We serve as a clearinghouse of information on urban agriculture issues, advocate adoption of urban agriculture as a tool for neighborhood redevelopment and act as a de facto extension agent for individuals, organizations and institutions seeking information on alternative growing systems and reuse of 'brownfield' land for green use.

Greensgrow Farm was built on the site of a former galvanized steel plant. It was remediated by the EPA and sat abandoned for eight years. The site is a full city block surrounded by a fence (erected by EPA). At the time we took over there was no water, electric or gas service.

Currently the site consists of a 6000 sq. foot heated greenhouse, three raised beds (4500sq feet) with 'french drains' and irrigation lines covered in high tunnels, a 4,000 sq. foot hydroponics system (NFT), a 1500 sq. foot nursery 'hoophouse', assorted flower beds, bee hives, a farm market area, a retail nursery area and a recently acquired additional 6000 sq. foot lot across the street that will become a vermiculture project.

Greensgrow's site has evolved over the years as we have tried to remain open to trying different systems and plantings in an attempt to develop a sustainable project. Our current focus is the development of NUAC (see below).

2002 Project

Working in collaboration with a network of for-profit and non-profit organizations, local and state governmental agencies, and local higher and secondary education institutions, the Greensgrow Philadelphia Project (GGPP) is developing the Neighborhood Urban Agriculture Coalition (NUAC). NUAC will create a successful model for how small agricultural enterprises can become established in heavily urbanized and low-income areas to offer their communities fresh produce and other local farm products, while supporting our rural farming neighbors.

NUAC is a comprehensive, practical approach to ensuring access to fresh food products in low-income communities via the establishment of small, locally owned and run urban farms that work together through the NUAC co-operative. NUAC farms, based on the Greensgrow Farm model, will be sponsored by and developed through Community Based Organizations that are already active and integrated into neighborhoods throughout the city. In addition to their own produce, grown in a variety of systems developed specifically to grow in the urban environment and proven successful at Greensgrow Farm, NUAC farms will distribute the products of rural farms that are part of the NUAC co-operative.

NUAC farms will ensure a constant (year-round) supply of fresh farm products, (including dairy, meat, poultry and seasonal produce) produced with input from the urban communities they serve. Thus it will give a much-needed voice to the ever-changing face of the urban population while opening new and untapped direct markets for rural family farms.

Under the NUAC model the urban farm will offer both a CSA and a Farm Market to its neighborhood. Greensgrow began its own CSA this year to determine how best to develop the concept. Payments could be made through a variety of plans ranging from receiving a discount for full payment to paying weekly. Members picked up their boxes at the Farm on the day of the Farm Market. Each share consisted of a "basics" package which includes a pantry share of eggs, butter, yogurt, bread, cheese and, alternating weekly, meat, poultry and fish plus a range of seasonal produce garnered from Greensgrow and farms in our co-operative.

Fifteen farmers/producers are in the co-operative at this point. Members are queried at a regular basis to determine satisfaction/concerns. This early querying led us to change the pantry supply from butter every week to alternating butter and yogurt. All items in members' boxes are also available at the Farm Market to buy (along with other seasonal foods that didn't make it into the box). In addition, a number of local residents have started bringing select baked goods and specialty items to be sold at market. We are looking into building a small commercial kitchen, both to encourage legitimizing this "cottage industry" as part of the model and to use for demonstration purposes.

Because of our permanent location in the neighborhood and because we are a part of the neighborhood, Greensgrow can extend its services to the community in many small ways that traditional farmers markets or rural CSAs cannot. For example, the Director of the local senior center came to us to ask if there was a way that we could help the seniors who couldn't come to the Farm. We came up with a plan where (the morning after Market Day) we wheel over a cart of produce so that seniors who are wheelchair bound or can't go outside because of heat conditions, can make their purchases (utilizing senior WIC coupons).

Our customers can request special ethnic items (fresh pierogies, black bread, zapallito squash, black kale) or vegetarian items (seitan, local tofu) and we use our relationship with other food based organizations such as Philadelphia Fair Food Project, PASA, The Food Trust to find and bring them to market. These same organizations may give our name to a rural producer looking for a new market. The urban farmer becomes, in essence, the neighborhood grocer of years gone by, supporting a network of local food producers while answering the food needs of his/her specific community.

In direct conflict with the laws of supply and demand, America's inner cities continue to fail in delivering fresh, nutritious high-quality food to its poor residents ("In the Philadelphia region the number of supermarkets in the lowest income neighborhoods was 56% less than in the highest income neighborhoods." FM TRUST). Rural farms, located just beyond the city limits, continue to disappear at an alarming rate (farmland loss in the region surrounding Philadelphia ranged from "9% in Lancaster County to 44% in Montgomery County, PA (US DEPT OF COMMERCE). In between stands the behemoth of corporate America's food distribution system with its centers of influence in agribusiness, Madison Avenue and Europe.

At the same time, many urban areas are suffering from the impact of
  1. the de-industrialization, that has taken place over the last forty years,
  2. the visual effects of post-industrial brownfield blight and decay and
  3. the economic decimation of entire neighborhoods due to closure of the industries that built them.

The Neighborhood Urban Agriculture Coalition (NUAC) offers a holistic approach to addressing these individual issues that adversely affect the lives of all urban residents: an environmentally friendly and entrepreneur based re-use of blighted land that will bring fresh produce and other farm products to inner city neighborhoods.

While not all American cities have been as hard hit by de-industrialization as Philadelphia and therefore do not suffer the blight issue at the same scale, America's inner cities do suffer the same pitiful statistics in terms of failure to provide healthy food to their urban populations. The NUAC project was designed for replication in any urban (or suburban for that matter) area where access to fresh local produce and farm products is an issue.

NUAC is designed to increase entrepreneurial urban agriculture, ensuring that monies stay in the community, while increasing local input into food related issues in communities. Greensgrow's main initiative over the next three years will be developing and "selling" the NUAC concept to CBOs and organizations whose goal is increasing low-income communities' access to healthy, locally-produced food

Search Our Site[new]

pointer Return to Contents' Page pointer

Revised Thursday, September 19, 2002

Published by City Farmer
Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture