Poplar: Community Learning Farm Fills Need, Establishes Roots
Federation of Neighborhood Centers Philly seeks to create partnerships with organizations to provide workforce training, re-entry services, improved food access, youth development and urban farming. It accomplishes these goals through one of its initiatives, the FNC Community Learning Farms.
The oldest of its three farms was founded in 2005 next to the East Poplar Playground on 8th Street, between Brown and Poplar streets. The farm partners with the nearby recreation center, providing produce for the meals for after-school programs and summer camps. It also has community garden plots available for rent to nearby residents who want to grow their own food and a weekly farmer’s market that begins in the spring.
Marta Lynch, who grew up in northern Bucks County before playing soccer at Purdue University from 2009-12, has been working at the farm for nearly a year. Lynch majored in neuroscience at Purdue, but she became interested in an agriculture career after working for Outstanding in the Field, a company that tours the nation hosting farm-to-table dinners to help educate people on where their food is sourced.
How would you explain the farm to someone who is not familiar with it and what it does?
It’s a community learning farm, urban farm, obviously in Philly. We do a lot of different things, but primarily what we do is grow fresh organic produce, so fruits and vegetables, flowers, and we do education programs surrounding that. Our goal is to increase food accessibility.
Because many consider this area to be a food desert, is that why you’re trying to make it easier to access fresh food?
So in this area, you really can only get chips, like processed food, that has high sugar content, high salt, fat. There’s not much access to fresh fruits and vegetables. So yeah, this could be characterized as a food desert. If you want to have the choice to eat a fresh peach or eat some fresh greens, you don’t really have it if it weren’t for our farm.
This effort offers different programs for youth in different age groups. How do you tailor each program to each age group to make sure they’re getting the most out of it?
Regardless of age, I always want to make sure that whatever I’m telling the group and telling the people that are here is something that they are interested in. So I always try and gauge what they want to know. Then in terms of the different age groups, younger kids need a bit more engagement in terms of games, interactive stuff. For them, it’s a bit more play, an educational play. The teens, it’s a combination of those. And with the teens, it’s half work, half education, and in games. And then with the oldest age group, it’s really just having conversations. They come here to work and help us with our tasks.
How do you fit all of the plants into one lot?
It’s kind of like a puzzle and fitting everything in and making sure all the space is used. We also use our fences. So vining plants, there are certain peas and beans and cucumbers and melons that like to climb, and we’ve got tons of fence here. So we can use our fence and maximize space in that way.
What are some things that are typical tasks for the winter months?
There’s so much re-evaluation and analysis going on in the winter to just better everything that we do. Also, think about and talk to different outlets for our produce because we grow more than we sell at that stand. And for me, it’s a community learning farm so I really want to make sure that these vegetables are going to this community. So one project that I’m trying to get underway is working with a corner store that’s two blocks away and using a part of their refrigerator to put our produce there because there’s a lot of people that go there and splitting profit so that that corner store is gaining from it and we are as well.
— Text and images by Evan Easterling and Tom Ignudo.