Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Philly's Teen Farmers

Emmanuel Aboah, Markee Mcrimmon and instructor, Debbie Harris, at their Clark Park farmstand.

The students of University City High School are helping to create a more sustainable lifestyle for themselves and other Philadelphia residents through their Urban Garden. The project got its start in 2000 as part of the Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), a program created by a student and a U Penn public service class. UNI's mission is to make kids the agents to improve community nutrition. Today the students involved handle everything from the construction and upkeep of the garden, to growing the plants and selling them. The charming urban oasis, which gives root to asparagus, carrots, potatoes, okra and kale just to name a few, is set behind the high school on 36th and Filbert.

The students are passionate about making healthy food accessible to the urban community. Kenny, 17, a UCHS Senior, says he got started with the program to “learn how to eat better and live a healthier lifestyle.” Moreover, the students are getting firsthand experience with economics as they produce, distribute and consume what they grow (not to mention also benefiting from the market’s profits). In fact, this past spring marked their most lucrative season yet, allowing the students to yield 100% of the profits for the very first time.

“When I first joined the group four years ago I didn’t know anything about gardening,” said Natasha, 18, a recent graduate of UCHS. “Now I incorporate what I grow into what I cook at home.” Naeema, 17, UCHS Senior adds, “When I go to the grocery store now, I can tell the difference between what fresh produce should look like and what they tend to sell. Something I may have picked up in the past, I now know not to buy.” It is inspiring to see these young locals getting excited about creating a greener environment.

But the students aren’t the only ones benefiting from the fruits of their labor. UCHS’s Urban Garden is making fresh produce accessible to all of Philadelphia by selling at local farmer’s markets, including the Clark Park Farmer’s Market (on 43rd and Baltimore) where they set up shop every Saturday. But get there early – their reputable stand can sell out quickly!

Kate Arillo is a Philadelphia writer and recent graduate of University of the Arts where she studied Film & Digital Video. Her favorite vegetable is asparagus.

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