Founded in 1997 by Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Sereduk, Greensgrow Farms took over the littered lot of what used to be a steel-galvanizing factory on the corner of Cumberland and Almond streets in Kensington. Now a nationally recognized leader in urban farming, Greensgrow is open to the public year round with a mission to revitalize livable communities through sustainable, entrepreneurial urban agriculture.
The Greensgrow staff shares their knowledge with the public by providing food to 900 families in the city, offering sustainable initiatives regarding plant growth and care and teaching through demonstrations like the straw bale gardening workshop, which occurred earlier this month.
Led by 31-year-old Nathan Hasler-Brooks, Greensgrow’s only farmer, the workshop focused on opportunities for city gardeners to use an alternative gardening method to raise vegetables, herbs and flowers directly on a bale. By doing so, gardeners and farmers may have the advantage of avoiding planting in rocky or contaminated soil with heavy metals in an inexpensive way.
Step by step, Hasler-Brooks went through the process of tying the straw bale, conditioning and fertilizing, planting and maintaining the garden bed.
Anne Cook, chair of the City Harvest committee at The Spring Gardens community garden in Fairmount, frequents Greensgrow and has been gardening for nearly 40 years.
“It was nice to see the hands-on technique,” Cook said. “I think this would be intriguing for kids. It’s good experimentation and we’re always trying to figure out how to grow things better and do things differently.”
Unlike Cook, Omar Thomas, founder and president of Bucks County Worm Casting Company, spent his first day at Greensgrow attending the workshop and said he believes it’s something that can catch on throughout the community.
“It’s fantastic,” Thomas said. “The workshop was exactly the right information. It’s an easy, alternative way to get a garden going.”
The straw bale gardening workshop is just the third demonstration this summer after two others led by Hasler-Brooks.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Hasler-Brooks said. “It’s a diversity of tasks. You’re kind of a jack-of-all-trades but master of none,” noting he has to know everything from plumbing and electrical work to plant biology and insects.
By 2020, Greensgrow foresees not only the people of Philadelphia, but also communities across the nation acknowledging urban agriculture as an alternative and economically-friendly way of sustaining regional food economies.
– Text and images by Shauna Bannan and Anna Ryan