Many automatically assume that fresh produce like spinach, lettuce, carrots and tomatoes originates from farms outside Philadelphia in places like Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County or the ‘Garden State’ of New Jersey. However, Urban Tree Connection has made it possible for West Philadelphia residents to harvest and purchase locally grown produce.
Urban Tree Connection is a non-profit organization headquartered at 5125 Woodbine Ave. in Wynnefield. The common goal for Connection is to reclaim vacant lots throughout low-income sections of West Philadelphia transforming them into food producing spaces in the community.
“A lot of these abandoned lots were sites of crime, drug dealing, dumping old cars, and stuff like that. In a way they are the only resources a low-income community has, open space,” Urban Tree Connection’s Director of Children’s Programs Annie Preston said.
Another goal of this non-profit is generating empowerment among members of the community. Working towards that goal several gardens have been established to draw together a neighborhood coalition that builds an urban farming cooperative in Philadelphia from the ground up.
“Ideally what you have is a distribution cooperative; people are coming together around the distribution part of it. That’s like pulling resources, pulling vegetables together and coming under one brand with urban produced items,” Business Manager for Urban Tree Dylan Baird said.
Throughout the areas that benefit from the Urban Tree Connection gardens, community members are given the opportunity to guarantee themselves a portion of the produce grown.
“With Community Supportive Agriculture, people pay at the beginning of the season to basically have a share of the farms produce, so they get a box of vegetables every week equivalent to a weeks worth of grocery shopping. We also put some fruit in and recipes with cooking herbs. We have drop off points for that all over the city,” Annie Preston said.
Urban Tree Connection also provides children with an incentive to participate in the program by placing a focus on gardening, literacy, environmental lessons and leadership development. Veggie Kids is a program that enables children over the age of ten to experience an entrepreneurial program that includes selling produce to the elderly in their neighborhoods.
“Most of the sites utilized for gardening were suggested to Urban Tree by community members that wanted to “do something with the vacant spaces,” Preston said.
If interested in contacting Urban Tree Connection, visit their website at www.urbantreeconnection.org.