A Penn State Summer, Philadelphia Style

Posted: October 28, 2015

Three students from Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences recently completed internships with the Penn State Center - Engaging Philadelphia, where they were immersed in the city's urban agriculture scene. One of those students, Elizabeth Peterson, describes their experiences and the urban agriculture operations where they worked.
Clockwise from top left: Penn State students Matt Tsui, Elizabeth Peterson, Alexia Cavazos, and Nettie Baugher, pictured at Norris Square Neighborhood Project's Las Parcelas garden in Kensington, Philadelphia. Photo provided by Peterson.

Clockwise from top left: Penn State students Matt Tsui, Elizabeth Peterson, Alexia Cavazos, and Nettie Baugher, pictured at Norris Square Neighborhood Project's Las Parcelas garden in Kensington, Philadelphia. Photo provided by Peterson.

Philadelphia is larger than most U.S. cities, ranking fifth most populated in the nation. About 10 percent of the U.S. population resides within a 100 mile radius of Philadelphia. This is where change happens. About 30 percent of Philadelphians live below the federal poverty level, while 12 percent live in "deep poverty," surviving on incomes less than half of the poverty level. One way Philadelphia is aiming to combat these statistics is with urban agriculture, offering more affordable and healthy food choices to Philadelphia’s underserved. There are more than 50 urban gardens and farms within the city limits working toward a common goal. Members of Penn State Extension and the College of Agricultural Sciences have been working diligently to make connections and relationships with the city’s urban farmers to support their goals and to celebrate their success.

While September reaches full swing, members of the Penn State Center - Engaging Philadelphia are reflecting on their summer and on their impact on urban agriculture in the city. The center hired three summer interns from the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences — Nettie Baugher, Matt Tsui, and Elizabeth Peterson — for an internship with Penn State Extension Philadelphia County. For each intern, their ten-week employment in Philadelphia was split between the Penn State Center and one of many possible partner sites focusing on urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Nettie Baugher, a Horticulture major, was partnered with the Philadelphia Orchard Project; Matt Tsui, an Environmental Resource Management (ERM) major, was partnered with Heritage Farms; and Elizabeth Peterson, a Community, Environment, and Development (CED) major, was partnered with Norris Square Neighborhood Project. While in the Penn State Center office, the interns worked on research in urban agriculture, and participated in various conversations revolving around nutrition, food security, integrated pest management, youth development, and urban agriculture and production and where these opportunities exist for Penn State Extension throughout the City of Philadelphia.

Nettie Baugher was able to bring her experience of growing up on an orchard in Adams County to her internship with the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP). POP strives to create and support orchard environments in order to educate city residents on where their food comes from and on the health benefits of eating fresh fruits. POP works with many different urban farm organizations, whom they help to design and plant new orchards. They then provide continued educational support to help the farm managers take care of the fruit and nut trees. A major aspect of agriculture that POP focuses on is the use of permaculture to naturally boost the health and production of their orchards. With many different POP-affiliated sites around the city, Baugher was able to travel to multiple sites during the summer, including one located at a local prison, where she worked with inmates on the production side of their orchards.

Matt Tsui was a strong fit for Heritage Farms as an ERM major and was able to assist with many aspects of the farm. His biggest project was to implement, research, and collect data on vertical farming at the site. Heritage Farm is a three-acre organic urban farm located within the beautiful Methodist Home for Children (MHC) campus. The MHC provides housing and programs to support families facing the challenges of poverty. Since 2011, Heritage Farm has supported MHC by providing healthy, fresh and locally grown fruits and vegetables for the residents and the local community. Many urban farms are non-profits that aim only to achieve their community outreach goals. However, approximately two-thirds of Heritage Farm’s income comes from selling produce to local restaurants and community shared agriculture.

Norris Square Neighborhood Project’s (NSNP) goals revolve around community outreach, community engagement, youth development, and youth leadership and fit perfectly with Elizabeth Peterson’s background as a CED major. Located in the city’s highly populated and ethnically diverse northeast Philadelphia neighborhood of Kensington, NSNP aims to combat violence, poverty, and drugs in the area. Their mission is to promote “positive change through youth education, community leadership, green spaces, the arts and the celebration of Latino culture.” NSNP maintains six community gardens that have different purposes in relation to community gatherings, community safe places, community member garden plots, and agricultural production; however, the gardens are used in all aspects of NSNP’s mission. Peterson regards her time with NSNP as positively life altering.

With high rates of poverty and food insecurity, there is a great need and opportunity for urban agriculture in the City of Philadelphia. All three interns were able to apply the academics and education they gained from their time with the Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences that were specific to their areas of study and were able to provide new insights to the Penn State Center as well as their partner sites. Although sad to see the interns leave, the Penn State Center is continuing to make a name for itself in the urban agriculture industry of Philadelphia. Stay tuned to the Penn State Extension Philadelphia website for more in-depth and detailed stories from the interns’ experiences with their partner sites.

By Elizabeth Peterson