Awinda Otieno-Pala plows a field during a tractor training class at Heritage Farm in West Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostoller Awinda Otieno-Pala plows a field during a tractor training class at Heritage Farm in West Philadelphia. Credit: Charles Mostoller

Thursday, March 20 marks the first day of spring. While it will be a few weeks until warmer temperatures roll into the region, local farmers and gardeners are already pumped.

“I’m outside right now planting peas,” said Amanda Staples, of Germantown Kitchen Garden on Wednesday. “I always try to plant them around this time of year, sometimes I try for earlier. The soil is really cold and its making my hands hurt, but it’s got to get done.”

Staples, who bought the half-acre lot in East Germantown that she and her husband turned into an urban farm four years ago, said that this year they are going to just run a farmstand, rather than a full CSA program.


“When you only have a really small space, there’s only so many CSA shares you can do, because every single share needs to include the same amount of vegetables,” Staples said. “On paper, a farmstand can be more lucrative.”

While urban farming is usually taken up by people who are passionate about nature, it’s still a business.

“CSA sign-ups are now underway, that’s the big focus right now,” said Dylan Baird, of PhillyFoodWorks.

Baird, who last season was farming his own crops and distributing farm-share boxes throughout the city, is now outsourcing with the help of Amish farmers in Lancaster County. He said that working within a network of experienced farmers improves the experience for everyone.

“A lot of farmers are like, ‘I’ve never grown 30 different types of vegetables,’” Baird said. "CSAs are great, but sometimes it's like, 'I don’t know what the heck I’m doing!' We’re able to provide info about specific crops, but also sometimes say, 'Ok, you stick to potatoes.'"

The Urban Tree Connection, which used legal conservatorships to take ownership of vacant lots around West Philly that are now blooming with crops, is expanding its operation this year and had several farmers undergo ‘tractor training’ at Heritage Farm this week. They’re expanding their kids programs, but also trying to produce more crops to hopefully sell, said founder Skip Wiener.

“We’re crossing our fingers that we can make the world understand that it’s self-sustaining,” Wiener said of urban farming. “It’s not just kids playing in the ground with potatoes. It’s much more of an economic system that we’re trying to build.”

What the heck’s a CSA?

A CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) is when people pay upfront for a farm share from a farmer, and then every week get a box full of fresh vegetables and produce grown locally, and sometimes surprises.

The foods similar to what you get at a farmers market. But by paying upfront for a season’s worth of produce, you help provide a financial baseline to the farmer.

It’s a way to not only eat healthy, but to support local agriculture in a way that buying groceries at a large supermarket won’t.


Follow Sam Newhouse on Twitter: @scnewhouse

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Twitter: @metrophilly

Follow Metro Philadelphia on Facebook: Metro Philadelphia

Latest From ...