September 25, 2009 by sciwestblogger
Even though I’ve been growing two heirloom tomato plants in my backyard all summer, I haven’t tasted a single tomato from them yet. Now it’s autumn and the tomatoes remain stubbornly small and green — nothing like the voluptuous red beasts advertised on the seed packets. I knew my resources were limited but I planted and watered with dedication.
Let me describe the landscape.
My backyard farm is paved shade, with one tiny patch of sunlight and a recycled-tire planter. I’ll admit that it was a bad idea to try growing tomato plants with limited space and light (especially starting about a month too late), but I am, by nature, optimistic.
I enjoyed tending to my little plot but it didn’t feed me and I remain a little dissatisfied. It’s like preparing a batch of chocolate chip cookies and then giving them all away without even trying one – all work and no reward. I decided to look for resources in West Philadelphia that might provide a more satisfying farm experience.
Two weeks ago I volunteered at The Mill Creek Farm, an urban farm located at 49th and Brown. I went with the intention of meeting new people, helping out, and learning about urban farming techniques; I came away with so much more. I met Mill Creek’s Co-Directors, Johanna Rosen and Jade Walker, who run the farm, organize its programs, and instruct the volunteers. About ten other volunteers showed up and Jo gave us an orientation presentation. I learned about Mill Creek’s farming techniques, crops, their history and their community programs. I didn’t expect to learn about sustainable design, so I was pleasantly surprised to see and learn about a structure on the farm made entirely of cob. Jo showed the group the sedum roof, the solar panel, and composting toilet also. After the orientation, we got to work. The rest of the morning was spent making new friends while weeding and uprooting vines.
If you are interested in urban farming or sustainable structures, volunteer for a few hours at Mill Creek Farm. The farm provides tools and gloves, so just come in clothes you don’t mind getting a little dirty.
Jo and Jade are looking for volunteers though Thanksgiving. Look for more information about volunteering and where to buy their produce on the Mill Creek website: http://www.millcreekurbanfarm.org/.
Photos: Christopher P. McManus, SCI-West.