This summer, PUC has been dedicated to laying a strong foundation for the farm. After our first season of operation, our student volunteers reflected on their experiences with us with a strong sense of empowerment. But, they also made it clear that we needed to make some significant changes if we were to continue working with groups of volunteers and sustain the farm. They urged us to find a way to create shade for those working in the grueling sun, and more importantly, to find a sustainable source of water for the garden so that we would no longer have to depend on lugging gallon jugs of water from our homes. So, we teamed up with Dev from across the street to devise a plan that would address both of these issues at once.
From this came the idea for our shade structure, which would also function as a water catchment system. We first tried building this structure out of PVC pipes, but that soon proved to be not nearly strong enough to withstand strong. So, we started over, this time using lumbar to make a rectangular frame. But, we were once again faced with the brunt force of Mother Nature when this frame also came down under the weight of caught water.
Finally, after learning from our mistakes, we attempted to rebuild the structure once more, this time with a roof reinforced with tin scraps that Dev had collected at his shop over the years.
This new, revised model faced its first true test in daring fashion with the onslaught of Hurricane Irene. We were afraid that it wouldn’t hold through such a powerful storm, but I suppose 3rd time is, in fact, the charm because it not only held strong, but also filled up our rain barrels in minutes!
With this new, sustainable source of water, we were finally able to provide our plants with the hydration that they had so desperately desired since first being planted. As expected, this resulted in an explosive transformation in the garden as our crops burst into fruition. By the end of July, we were regularly harvesting tomatoes, green peppers, jalapeño peppers, string beans, collard greens, broccoli, mint and lettuce.
We have also begun to surround the landscape of the farm with an assortment of beautiful flowers. These flowers are not only greatly improving the aesthetic value of the land, but also attract all kinds of pollinating insects that are creating a much more rich, bio-diverse community in the area.
At first, PUC organizers passed these crops out to our closest neighbors. But by mid-August, we had enough to finally begin selling! On August 4th, PUC held it’s first official local “HOME GROWN, HOME MADE” market. Unfortunitely, many of our organizers didn’t show up for the market, but AJ and Angel came to from down the block to help us harvest our crops for the sale, and brought over a pot of freshly cooked Collard Greens (picked from the garden) that their mother had made for the market. YUMMM!!
Once the market started, AJ and Angel were our first customers, and from then on they sold the majority of our food to the neighbors that stopped by. At the end of the day, we had earned $23.50. That may not seem like much, but it is the start to our business, which we plan to make flourish next spring, and into the future.
Since the market, we have continued to harvest our crops, and produced just enough to create our first value added product: SALSA! PUC organizers blended our tomatoes, bell peppers, and hot peppers to make 10 jars of the best tasting Salsa in Philadelphia, which we are now selling at Leotah’s Place, a small organic store 10 blocks east of the farm at $6 a pop!
Overall, this summer was definitely successful, but also a reality check. Varying summer schedules amongst our young organizers rendered us extremely unorganized, and at times resulted in the farm not being tended to for days at a time. Many of our main young organizers came to accept that they could not make the commitment necessary to be responsible for sustaining a project like this, and the life that we are growing. But, amidst all of these changes, so many of our neighbors, of all ages, stepped up to fill those gaps, and it is they that have enabled the farm to continue to function. We have a lot of internal issues to work out, but it seems that our disorganization has opened up opportunities for the community to become further engaged in the project, and more deeply engrained in its foundation…which, ironically, has been our primary goal from the beginning.
We have accepted that things change, seasons shift, and people move on. But with a strong, unified foundation, these changes simply become a natural part of the entangled fabric of the movement that we are building. What doesn’t break us makes us stronger, and for PUC, this sentiment couldn’t be any more true than it is now.