Why did a chicken in West Philly cross the road? Who knows. Maybe a better question is how’d the bird get there in the first place. But in 2008, West Philly horticulturalist Andrew Olson spotted one of the clucking fowl crossing the road and it gave him an idea.
And from that, after some time, Farm 51 was born. Located at 51st & Chester, a few blocks south of Baltimore Ave., Farm 51 is an urban farm birthed through the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s growing City Harvest Growers Alliance initiative. Currently, they’ve got chickens, rabbits, and a farm stand’s worth of produce with all the colors one expects with a spring harvest.
Through PHS’s City Harvest program, more than 120,000 pounds of produce has been grown and donated across the city. The Growers Alliance part of that program provides individuals with resources, like soil and seeds, that they need to operate urban farms. It’s one way homeowners are trying to transform distressed properties in their neighborhood into healthy entrepreneurial projects.
Farm 51 began with Olsen and Neal Santos growing on the side yard by their place at 5101 Chester Ave. That grew to the two making use of the overgrown trash-filled vacant lots 5103 and 5105 Chester. And in February, they purchased the home at 5107 Chester Ave. for $49,500 and are poised to invest around $100K in renovations in order to call the place home. Last year, they grew about 900 pounds of produce and their chickens produced around 75 dozen eggs at Farm 51, but sales were not great. If you want to support them, their farm stand is open Thursdays beginning in March from 4:30 to 7 p.m.
“I would really like to see sustainability in urban farming,” said Olsen. “[It’s] a creative means to make money and build community … I wanna see staying power in urban farming.”
Do urban farms have staying power? It’s a good question. But if they keep popping up around the city, as one did recently on the 5000 block of Baltimore Ave., and if city culture continues its obsession with eating fresh, local and organic, you could soon see an urban farm in every neighborhood. Well, as long as there’s enough room.