The Germantown Kitchen Garden, established in 2008, was inspired by Amanda Staples’ desire for easy access to fresh and organically grown vegetables. Now, shoppers at the garden find a plant nursery, vegetables grown in a humid greenhouse, and a sense of community.
Staple’s vision in 2008 was to create a big community garden. She first hoped to start an urban farm along Frankford Avenue in one of the many abandoned lots. Her desire was to have an open space where she grew food for herself and others, not just selling food, but bringing her neighbors and community into the process of growing. Staples offers updates on the garden through her Instagram account and a popular weekly newsletter.
Staple discussed her hands-on approach to running the garden, its busiest season, and what it felt like taking a risk on the garden that’s now become her only source of income.
What was the inspiration behind The Germantown Kitchen Garden?
Well, I started it in 2008 with my ex-husband. We moved here in October from Kensington. We were doing a big community garden on Frankford Avenue and I had been hoping to start an urban farm down there because there was tons of abandoned land. It just seemed like a really sweet lifestyle to stay in the city and kind of create a beautiful open space that grew food. The inspiration was just other gardens that were already in existence and other people that I knew that were doing that and my desire to grow my own food and grow food for other people and have people access that in terms of not just purchasing but seeing it, you know, growing.
How did you end up in Germantown?
We ended up here because a friend of ours knew a person who was selling a lot that was the size we wanted. We really had been working with the city for years trying to find a city owned property and it wasn’t happening, so we ended up moving here because this is where we found space. And I have been living here since 2008 and running the farm.
Who do you think benefits the most from the garden?
I think probably my immediate neighbors. I feel like people benefit in different ways, you know my immediate neighbors probably benefit from not having big developments. It’s a big open space, it’s beautiful and you can come in. All of the people who shop there seemed to benefit from it in terms of getting access to fresh and organically grown vegetables. It’s also sort of a meeting space on Saturday mornings. You know, you can come in and shop and just kind of linger, grab a coffee, and sit and chat with neighbors. The people in the neighborhood and I think people in Germantown and a little further, like Mount Airy, too.
Did you have any farm experience before starting the garden?
I had trained on an organic farm in Lancaster and before that I had worked with a friend in Camden at an urban farm that she was running. Other than that, I didn’t really do any kind of gardening growing up, except my grandmother owned a plant nursery and a Christmas tree farm. I was exposed to that, and I think it has probably been a huge influence on me. But in terms of experience, it wasn’t until like a few years before I started this place that I really learned anything about farming. It was maybe four years leading up to starting this farm that I was gardening and farming for different people, talking to other farmers and learning about it.
How do you prepare for the busy seasons like spring? And less busy seasons like the winter?
The process involves a lot of computer work in the winter time and a lot of spreadsheets. That’s when I look back through the year, see what sold really well, what didn’t sell well, and I plan out what kind of seeds I’m going to buy. I take stock of all the seeds I already have and I bring everything physically into my house and I make a list, order seeds, and enter into my spreadsheets the dates I’m gonna start all the stuff in order to get it into the ground.
I basically start with, “When do I know I can have this in the ground?” Something like a tomato plant, I can’t plant that in March or April because it’s too cold, so I know that I plant them the first week of May. I put them in the thing and then it’s like, “Alright what’s the date six weeks before?” And that goes in the thing. By the time it’s time to go outside and get started, I have at least theoretically a pretty good guide on a calendar.
That’s the result of wintertime office work and that also extends to just having a schedule set ahead of time for weeding and covering things with an insect cover to protect them from getting damaged. There’s also a sense when spring rolls around like there’s really no amount of planning you can do that’s gonna make you feel at ease. Everything has to happen all at once and it’s just crazy.
Do you mainly plan everything on your own or do you have a staff to help?
Historically, I’ve done it all by myself, but a few years ago, I got one person here or there to come when I need help. Last year was the first time I had an actual employee for 30 hours a week, but she moved, so this year I have a regular person coming once a week and another coming more when I need them. Then I have two people who will be working with me at the farm stand, so there will be three of us total since the farm stand cannot be managed by one person. The whole farm is difficult to manage alone, but it’s not the most lucrative business, so I can’t hire people for a full-time job.
What does a typical day of work look like on the farm, at the greenhouse, or plant nursery?
On a day-to-day basis I get up, I have coffee, I eat breakfast, I walk my dog, and then I go outside. Right now in the spring I go almost immediately to the greenhouse and make sure everything is watered and check what the temperature was overnight. I have a lot of thermometers everywhere, and I just like to know that my heating systems are working and everything’s fine. Then I consult my little schedule and it might say I’m gonna be transplanting this many heads of lettuce, or I’m gonna have to seed my daily salad mix, which I see on a weekly basis.
It’s starting to get time to start the weeding too, so I’m kind of walking through the whole farm and checking the beds and seeing what the weed situation is so I can prioritize that. On a Monday, I will kind of prioritize everything for the week, so that when my helper comes, I can tell her what to do. I also check the nursery and make sure everything is looking good and if it’s not, it’s going to get groomed, watered or whatever it needs. Right now, it’s a lot of watering, seeding, planting, and pretty soon it’ll become a lot of weeding.
The farmstand is the one day a week where everybody shows up and that’s when I’m open for business. That’s a totally different kind of day and fast-paced. I wake up really early to come out there and get everything set up under the tent and bring all my food out. I have a big, walk-in cooler server, so everything is kept really cool. And it’s only open for four hours, so we see maybe 150 to 200 people that come through. It’s just like a big fun time, and then it’s all over.
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