Fishtown: Fresh Food Teaches Smart Spending

In an area of Kensington that borders Fishtown and Port Richmond, a garden is growing.

This garden is not full of simple potted flowers and cherry tomatoes picked for summer salads, but it’s a large and functional farm. Where there once stood an industrial building, Greensgrow Farms stands in its place a lush green haven amidst city streets.

Plants at Greensgrow are grown hydroponically, in nutrient fortified water without soil, due to the inability of the soil to sustain life after its industrial past. The innovative method of growing allows Greensgrow to provide the community with fresh vegetables, herbs and an array of produce.

For those in the community who are living on low incomes, purchasing fresh farm food is not their first concern. Greensgrow Farms is beginning a new program to help educate members of the 19125 zip code of Fishtown on choosing healthier dietary and monetary habits. The Local Initiative for Food Education (LIFE) is a program is in its first year at Greensgrow Farms.

LIFE intends to educate community members currently receiving SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, previously referred to as food stamps, on the value of fresh food. Each week the members of LIFE will receive groceries picked locally from Greensgrow and other participating farms within a 75-mile radius of Philadelphia.

LIFE participant Tamara Leone, who works with the New Kensington Community Development Corp., says, “I see that there’s an incredible need in the community and this really fulfills that need.” According to the 2000 US Census, 23.7 percent of families in Fishtown were living below the poverty level. A program like LIFE will not only improve the dietary habits of members, but also improve their spending habits while living on a strict budget.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, as of June 1, 2010, the average Pennsylvania household receiving SNAP benefits is disbursed $118 per month. The LIFE program will cost families of up to four people $84 per month, but LIFE intends to educate them about spending money as much as they plan to educate about food.

“We may find that that amount of food is too much for people in which case the cost of it will go down,” says Mary Corboy, director and founder of Greensgrow Farms. “We may find that it’s not enough food for people in which case we’re dedicated to capping it at $21.”

Corboy is encouraged that the LIFE program will help to teach low-income families how to prepare healthy food and manage their money. With cooking classes held each Wednesday at St. Michael’s Church on East Cumberland Street, members will learn how to cook and preserve their fresh produce. Fresh fruits can be made into jams that last well into the winter and blanching vegetables locks in and preserve freshness and nutrients. “What I’m really hoping for is ways to keep my food for longer,” Leone says, “I always get produce and it will spoil in a few days and I end up wasting all that food.”

The program is a hands-on way to teach participants how to use their food wisely and preserve what they can. Corboy suggests dividing items you have to much of into two separate meals to make them last longer. “If you have blueberries you could make half of it into a pie… and you could make half of it into some jam that you could have later on or in the winter when blueberries are no longer in season.”

Each week a chef teaches the class how to create healthy dishes with the food LIFE members are provided. The course includes a regular chef, with guest chefs participating occasionally to provide cooking techniques in different cuisines. In addition to being taught how to cook by professionals, LIFE members will also be able to participate in the process.

“By getting people actually involved and engaged, you’re going to learn more than just lecturing at them,” Corboy says. Each week, members will take turns participating as sous-chef for the class. “Getting them to be actually chopping up the food and talking about their own experience and their own history with food they’ll become more engaged, they’ll become more interested and they’ll be better participants in the class.”

As the first initiative of this kind in Philadelphia, LIFE hopes to grow and expand throughout other neighborhoods. In Fishtown, Greensgrow plants starter seeds hoping to educate 25 families on the benefits of healthy eating. They hope to continue spreading knowledge throughout the community with the programs success. Corboy hopes this program progresses forward through education, “What we want to do is push knowledge and learning on through this program.”

The LIFE program at Greensgrow begins its classes in food and money management this summer. To join or learn more about this initiative visit Greensgrow Farms: LIFE. The LIFE program is still accepting enrollment for eligible people living in the 19125 zip code.

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1 Comment

  1. Ashley & Jillian,
    We’re thrilled to see the LIFE program highlighted. Two weeks in, we still have space, and can now accept residents of other zip codes, as long as they are willing to travel & commit to attend each Wed through September 29th. We’ve also had great success with helping to get folks signed up for SNAP benefits. For more info, please email or call 267-283-6787.

    Greensgrow Farms
    LIFE: It’s Better with Fresh Food

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