Germantown: Farming in the City

Amanda Staples holds out Snap peas grown at the Germantown Kitchen Garden.


Amanda Staples holds out snap peas grown at the Germantown Kitchen Garden.

Only a few years ago, 215 E. Penn St. was an abandoned lot, overrun by 15-foot bushes and weeds. Now it’s a half-acre farm in the city.

The Germantown Kitchen Garden practices local agriculture, supplying fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs to the Germantown community.

Amanda Staples, 31, and her husband Matt McFarland, 32, bought the property and moved to Germantown in October 2008. After the initial six months it took to clear out the lot and start planting, Staples and McFarland began their project. As well as feeding their own household of 12, they now also sustain a Community Supported Agriculture group and hold a weekly farm stand.

The CSA group consists of eight households that sign up to receive a box of fresh produce every Thursday from May to November. Staples’ CSA box is $20 a week, and usually ranges anywhere from six to 12 items. The farm stand is held in front of the lot every Wednesday, and is available to anyone interested.

“That’s why I do the stand too, because I don’t have to promise a certain amount every week,” Staples said. “It’s just about what’s there.”

Though the Germantown Kitchen Garden started out as both Staples’ and McFarland’s full-time job, McFarland recently took another job and now only works in the garden part time. Staples, however, is still engaged in the project full time.

McFarland constructed a giant door to connect their home to the garden.

“We’re not losing money,” she said. “That’s why I continue to do it.”

Staples and McFarland also receive assistance from The Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The organization recently acquired a federal grant for $300,000 to help start up small farm businesses, and the Germantown Kitchen Garden is one of the local gardens it subsidizes.

“They give us a lot of seedlings and compost,” Staples said. “Things that are really expensive.”

Though having a miniature farm has been their goal for a long time, Staples said that things did not immediately work out for her and her husband.

“It’s been a really long time in the making,” she said.

Staples originally planned to move out of the city, but in 2003, she moved from South Philadelphia to Kensington and said she was amazed at the number of abandoned lots and space.

“So my friend and I started thinking about how it would be really great to do it in the city,” she said.

Then, after an internship with the Camden Center for Transformation, Staples said she knew she wanted to begin a project of her own. She, her husband and a group of friends started a big garden on Frankfurt Avenue, but Staples said she quickly realized the need for them to own their own land.

“We were really committed to Kensington,” she said. “But as much space as there is, it’s very hard to buy because it’s all subdivided into tiny parcels, and half the people aren’t alive or they don’t live here anymore.”

Staples pets one of her nine chickens.

Though they were originally set on Kensington, Staples said she is happy that she and her husband have ended up in Germantown. The couple has even inspired others to migrate to the area. Two of their best friends bought a house across the street, and some of their other friends bought a house right behind their lot, giving them access to the garden.

“It’s becoming this little community village or something,” Staples said. “It’s pretty awesome.”

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