Does the Mill Creek Farm offer programs for school groups?
We offer sliding scale educational field trips for school groups. The trips often consist of 1/2-1 hour tours of the farm and facilities coupled with discussion and a question and answer session. If the group has more time, we either facilitate an on-farm task, and the students benefit from hand-on learning, or we work with the teachers ahead of time to create a specialized lesson in relation to their in-class work, i.e. plants’ root systems or urban land use. We encourage classrooms to come for multiple visits to be able to build on their knowledge and have them feel more comfortable at the farm. It is really great when they can come for fall and spring visits to see the land in different seasonal phases.
What is the history of the Mill Creek Farm?
A Little Taste of Everything (ALTOE) is a non-profit agency whose mission is to increase access to nutritious, affordable foods and provide food system education for low-income populations in Philadelphia. ALTOE grew out of a youth-driven project at University City High School (UCHS) in conjunction with the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI) and received its non-profit status in 2005. ALTOE evolved from previous efforts to improve food security in West Philadelphia communities through school gardens and farmers’ markets.
ALTOE’s mission is put into action through the Mill Creek Farm (MCF), an educational urban farm project. In August 2005, the Philadelphia Water Department awarded ALTOE 1.5 acres of vacant land, at 49th and Brown Streets in the Mill Creek Neighborhood of West Philadelphia, on which to start the project. Initial funding for MCF came from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Grant for Stormwater Management and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS). The Mill Creek Farm had a successful first season in 2006, and has continued to grow and progress as a model for local food system development and sustainability education in succeeding years.
The Mill Creek runs under the land we work on and was enclosed in a sewer ~100 years ago. Housing was built on fill that was not stable for the foundations and began to subside. It was eventually torn down in the 1970s. Since that time there has been a community garden on the western portion of the block, but the eastern portion sat vacant except for trash and weeds until 2005.
What is Mill Creek Farm’s mission?
Mill Creek Farm is an educational urban farm located in West Philadelphia that is dedicated to improving local access to fresh produce, building a healthy community and environment, and promoting a just and sustainable food system.
The Mill Creek Farm implements its mission through farm-based learning programs, by cultivating and distributing fresh produce, and by demonstrating ecological technologies and creative resource use to provide for basic needs.
Our programs provide free and affordable fresh produce, green space, habitat, education services, social events, youth development, and demonstrations of “green” or “appropriate” technologies and building practices.
We envision a world in which everyone has access to affordable, healthy, culturally appropriate food, and where local communities work collaboratively to build a food system that is socially just and environmentally and economically sustainable.
The neighborhood in which we farm. We work with our neighbors to strengthen our community.
Experiential education. We provide hands-on, farm-based learning opportunities.
Our environment. We demonstrate innovative ways to foster sustainable living.
Community and collaboration. We work with and exchange ideas with others.
Urban food production. We foster the connection between people and the food they eat.
Equity and justice. We believe healthy, affordable food is a basic human right.
We believe in food justice: that everyone has a right to affordable, healthy, quality, culturally appropriate food that is accessed in a way that is community-controlled, environmentally sustainable, and socially just.
What do you grow?
We grow peas, potatoes, asparagus, garlic, onions, okra, carrots, beets, leeks, pears, apples, peaches, berries, herbs (culinary and medicinal), flowers, beans, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, cabbage, mustard greens, lettuce, scallions, broccoli, cucumbers, chard, kale, collard greens, spinach, turnips, radishes, sweet potatoes, summer squash, and zucchini.
The assortment and varieties are chosen based on past marketing experience (consumer demand) and in partnership with City Harvest, where we get the majority of our seeds and seedlings.
What are your farm management practices?
Pests: To fight pests such as harlequin beetles and flea beetles we use several non-toxic methods, including physical barriers such as REEMAYâ row-covers, organic sprays (garlic, neem, and hot pepper), and picking them off by hand.
Weeds: Our most common weeds are mugwort and crabgrass with strong rhizomal root systems. We do all our weeding by hand, with tools such as digging forks.
Fertilizer: We use compost, fish/seaweed liquid, worm castings and compost tea. Soil management: We practice crop rotation and use crop diversity, including companion planting and cover crops such as buckwheat, clover, rye, and oats.
Most of our material inputs come from the City Harvest project.
Who works at Mill Creek Farm?
MCF has two full-time staff, who are also the co-founders. Every summer we offer a six-week paid internship for students from local area high schools. We also host weekly open community volunteer days for groups, neighbors, members of Mariposa Food Co-op, and open to interested individuals.
Who can volunteer? How and when?
Anyone can volunteer! Please check the "participate" section of our website for the schedule of workdays, or email us to join our low-traffic list-serve and receive monthly updates. We hold workdays at least one day per week from March through November with varying times and days to accomodate the most peoples schedules.
Who owns the land?
Currently, the land that the Mill Creek Farm maintains, along with the adjacent community garden, is owned by the City of Philadelphia through the Redevelopment Authority and is leased to the Philadelphia Water Department. We are trying to get the land put in a land trust with the Neighborhood Gardens Association (NGA) to protect it from future development. In order to do that, we need the support of Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell to get the title transferred from the City to the NGA.
What programs does Mill Creek Farm currently offer to the West Philadelphia community?
We offer sliding scale educational field trips for school groups, professional groups, conferences, and tours. We also host youth and other groups for community service projects and volunteer workdays. In addition, we host barbeques, community gatherings, and educational workshops for neighbors and other community members.
Where does Mill Creek Farm’s funding come from?
As a non-profit organization, we need to be creative about where our funding comes from. Currently, we receive most of our funding as grants from local foundations, with significant contributions from individuals through private donations and our annual celebratory fundraiser. We also have income from our produce sales and educational programming. To maintain our integrity as an access point for healthy, fresh, affordable food in West Philadelphia, our diversified funding helps keep the price of our produce low and allows us to donate some of our harvest.
Did you have to do soil testing?
In general, soil quality and health depend largely on prior land use. Our main concern was lead and other heavy metals frequently found in urban soil. The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society handled the initial testing for our site and found, because the land had been fallow for over 30 years, that there was zero-to-minimal traces of any contamination. UMass and Penn State extension services both do soil testing and can advise on what to test for.
Do you have a greenhouse?
We do not have a greenhouse, cold-frames, nor a hoop-house onsite. In the past we have used the greenhouse at University City High School in conjunction with the Urban Nutrition Initiative and most recently the greenhouse at the ADS prison in North Philly through the City Harvest project.
Do you compost?
We compost onsite using a series of three piles in varying stages that we turn regularly.
What type of irrigation system do you use?
We use a drip system.
Do you have refrigeration onsite?
What kind of facilities do you have onsite?
We have a covered sink and washing area.
We have a tool shed constructed from cob* and reused materials, and decorated with a mosaic of found materials. The cob walls were built over a six-week period in the spring of 2005 with the help of over 70 local volunteers, ranging in ages from 3 to 45.
*Cob is building material consisting of earth (clay and sand), straw, and water. It is similar to adobe, but used wet instead of baked into bricks first. This gives it strength because it becomes all one piece and allows it to be sculpted. Cob is great thermal mass, fireproof, resistant to seismic activity, and inexpensive – sometimes even free! Cob structures, some dating back to the 11th century, can be found in a variety of climates around the world. In Pennsylvania, one can only lay about one foot of cob a day to allow for the layers to dry.
This building also houses a BioLet composting toilet, purchased for us as part of our start-up support from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Philadelphia Water Department. We really like this model, as far as store bought models go. The composting toilet is a dry toilet with two chambers underneath the seat. After each use one adds a scoop of dry material (we use a peat moss / sawdust mixture). With our usage, it takes three to four months to fill one chamber. When the first chamber is full, it’s moved to the back and when the second chamber is full we empty the material in first chamber, which has broken down over time, on to our healthy banana tree. FYI: In the global south many people use banana trees/groves to filter toilets and graywater as bananas are incredibly good at breaking down organic materials.
The roof of the tool shed is a living roof or green roof. Green roofs can provide many benefits including decreasing rainwater run-off during storms, increasing energy efficiency of the building (heating and cooling), increasing the oxygen in the atmosphere by providing more plants, attracting beneficial insects, and reducing the urban heat island effect (concrete and black tar roofs like those popular in Philly absorb heat from the sun). There are many designs for living roofs, depending on the structure of your building they can support varying amounts of growth. All designs use somewhat of a “lasagna” technique–layering different roofing materials and growing mediums. The growing medium of the one demonstrated at Mill Creek Farm is a mixture of expanded slate and compost.
Where does your food go?
Most of our produce is sold directly to residents of the neighborhood at the farmstand we operate on our farm, or at the farmer’s market two blocks away. Twice a week we donate produce to church-based food cupboards and we sometimes donate to a women’s shelter, all located in West Philly. We regularly sell produce to Mariposa Food Co-op, and irregularly to several cafés in West Philly. We rarely sell outside of our West Philadelphia community, which is our target, but on occasion when we’ve had a surplus we could not otherwise move, we’ve sold to restaurants in Center City and the Fair Food Farmstand at Reading Terminal market.
We keep logs of the amount of produce donated throughout the season. In 2009 we donated over 900 lbs. of produce and we sold $5,100 in produce.
How can I donate? Is my donation tax-deductible?
You can donate through our paypal link on our website, send us a check in the mail, made out to "A Little Taste of Everything/The Mill Creek Farm" addressed to:
The Mill Creek Farm/3451 Walnut Street Suite P-117A/Philadelphia, PA/19143, or you can give us cash directly at the farm.
Your donation is tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law.
How else can I support the food justice movement that the Mill Creek Farm promotes?
Support local agriculture and local economies in general and continue to educate yourself! Please also visit our links page for other resources.
Do you have a mobile market?
The mobile market project is currently not in operation.
If you have a question not answered here, please contact us.
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