Alkebu-Lan Marcus, a 23-year-old assistant farm manager at Mill Creek Farm, got his start by growing food in his own backyard.
He is interested in being able to control his own resources and becoming more sustainable. Living within the Mill Creek community, he finds pleasure in giving back to his neighbors through working at the farm and offering fresh produce for purchase at the weekly farm stands.
Mill Creek Farm provides the community the opportunity to choose to eat healthier and provides and for young people to get involved in positive ways. It is through this farm that the community comes together to work toward a happier, healthier, and safer living environment.
How long have you been working at Mill Creek Farm?
I have been working at Mill Creek Farm since March of this year, so close to seven months. What keeps me working here is the ability to empower the people and help them find an alternative source for their food needs. Aiding them in having more power over what they put in their bodies. This person connection with the people is one of the best perks.
How has Mill Creek Farm and the community impacted you as an individual?
The community has restored my faith in change. Every time I get down I have the community there to pick me back up. I grow the food and an able to offer it to them, and from that they keep my spirit charged. I see my community, the place I call home, and the wonderful people who have helped build it and am honored to serve them.
What is the history of Mill Creek Farm?
Mill Creek Farm was started in August 2005. The Philadelphia Water Department gave A Little Taste of Everything (ALTOE) 1.5 acres of vacant land to start the farm. Its intent was to help fight water shed, which is when rain water goes into the sewers but the land helps absorb the water to help fight flooding and water pollution. Mill Creek is a river and contractors tried to build houses over it, but they couldn’t contain the water and it caved in. People actually died, so now they can’t build on top of this land, so we turned it into a farm.
What is A Little Taste of Everything?
ALTOE came out of a youth-program at University City High School. Its intentions were to get students involved in the West Philadelphia community through the school gardens and farmers’ markets and to keep them out of trouble. It provides nutritious, affordable foods to low-income families as well as the entire community.
How does Mill Creek Farm influence the community?
Mill Creek empowers the community. We live in a food desert, there are not a lot of local places to get fresh food. We give people the chance to control their health and positively impact their community. By buying locally, it allows us to continue to serve them. Our buyers trust us to grow their food.
What do you grow?
We grow Asian pears, apples, yellow and purple plums, cherries, blackberries, strawberries, collard greens, bok choy, curly Kale, red-Russian kale, dino-kale, string beans, heirloom tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, hot and sweet peppers, potatoes, figs, swish chard, asparagus, okra, and broccoli.
Additionally, we grow and sell peas, garlic, onions, carrots, beets, flowers, cucumbers, summer squash, and zucchini.
On an annual basis, how much produce does the farm grow and sell?
We grow about six to seven thousand pounds of food a season.
How do you maintain the farm?
Man power. We also spray neem oil and use road covers. We weed a lot as well to keep it hydrated and the pests down. We also get a lot of volunteers to come help from all of Philadelphia and local youth groups. It is mostly the workers here and volunteers who are responsible for picking the produce daily and keeping everything healthy.
Where does the funding for Mill Creek Farm come from?
Initially, funding came from Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Growing Greener Grant for Stormwater Management and the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. Since then, mostly donations and grant based. We also have our stands to sell the produce weekly which helps a lot.
Where do you see Mill Creek Farm in 5 years? 10 years?
In years to come, I hope to see the farm become more appealing to the youth. I envision more interacting, more learning, more fun and different designs and shapes for the plants instead of just growing them in straight rows. I also want to find a way to build an edible structure. There are so many ways to grow the farm, and I hope to see it expand.
Who can volunteer at the farm? And how can they?
Anyone can volunteer. Any ages. Tuesday and Thursday’s 10am-12pm. We prefer volunteers to be 18 and older because they are more capable and can follow directions easier. But we love to see younger volunteers getting involved with their community in positive ways.
Aside from providing produce, in what other ways has the farm positively influenced the community? In any negative ways?
There are no negatives. We provide beauty to the neighborhood and a safe learning community. If it wasn’t here it would be an abandoned lot in which a lot of negative actions could take place.
-Text and images by Sharee Cole and Haley Connaughton.