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Bartram’s Community Farm seeks to give southwest and west Philadelphia more access to fresh organic produce.

Photo: Courtesy of Grace Jemison

Historically, southwest Philadelphia has had some of the lowest rates of accessibility to fresh organic produce. The Community Farm and Food Resource Center at Bartram’s Garden — also known as Bartram’s Community Farm — seeks to change that.

Bartram’s Community Farm, located at 54th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard, may in fact be one of Penn’s best-kept secrets. Located next to Bartram’s Garden, the farm began four years ago as the brainchild of Ty Holmberg, the co-director of the Community Farm and Food Resource Center, a project of the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, which itself is a program of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at Penn.

“One of our main goals is to provide a space for people to reconnect with their food, the land and each other in a culture where people are so disconnected about where their food comes from,” Holmberg said. He also expressed hope that Penn, as a “highly resourced institution,” could become an “economic engine towards helping [Southwest Philadelphia] build the way they want.”

Holmberg and his co-director Chris Bolden-Newsome were able to secure 3.5 acres for the farm, with the support of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Bartram’s Garden, and Philadelphia Parks and Recreation. The project includes an organic crop farm, a community garden, a solar heated greenhouse, one of the largest fruit orchards in Philadelphia and an educational and training space for student interns the farm employs from nearby Bartram High School.

The interns sell the food produced from the farm at a farmers’ market on 54th Street every Thursday at reduced prices to local residents.

“We’re trying to provide tools for people to take power back over their food systems,” Holmberg said. “Whether a supermarket moves out, or whether the corner bodega only sells processed foods, you can now grow your own foods and control what you put into your own body.”

College senior Melanie Young learned of the lack of fresh produce in the West Philly region through her work with local students.

“The students who I’ve worked with have had to take days off from school due to health issues,” she said of her time working at nearby schools. Now, Young helps connect Penn students with the garden and farm in various ways, such as organizing service trips through Fisher-Hassenfeld College House, where she is a residential adviser.

“It’s a really impactful project within this community which so needs it,” Grace Jemison, a College junior and weekly volunteer at the farm said.

While the farm has been a success in its first few years, the team is looking to strengthen its presence in the future. Potential projects include determining a legacy project where each cohort of interns will have an initiative around which they wrap their efforts, possibly organizing a speaker series at Penn and getting Penn students more engaged.

“The farm is gorgeous, and one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been,” Jemison said. “Working there has been one of the most defining moments during my time at Penn.”

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