RHD's Equal Dollars Urban Farm is a Weeds-to-Riches tale
8/2/2012 12:18:14 PM
Contact: Kevin Roberts, RHD Communications, 215-951-0300 (ext. 3714) or firstname.lastname@example.org
On a warm night in July, members of RHD’s Equal Dollars community gathered for a celebratory barbeque on what was once a vacant, abandoned lot in North Philadelphia that has now been transformed into a vibrant, cultivated urban farm that provides produce for area families.
It’s truly a weeds to riches tale.
“Food is such a basic human need; it’s our existence,” said Benson Ansell, one of the farm’s managers. “In April this was just a vacant lot full of weeds. You were not going to have a community gathering here four months ago. In four months it has turned into a space people can rally around, a positive haven. To see all these people inside here enjoying themselves, it’s jaw dropping. It’s a great thing.”
Equal Dollars Community Currency
, a non-interest bearing local currency that promotes the exchange of goods, services and labor through a membership network, is the driving force behind this piece of urban renewal. One of the ways Equal Dollars promotes economic activity is through its weekly food market, which offers fresh fruits, vegetables and groceries in exchange for the community currency. Equal Dollars director Deneene Brockington said the idea to create an urban farm emerged when she realized that the market needed to become self-sufficient by having another source of food other than the donations it currently receives.
“If we had no donations, our food market would close,” said Brockington. “We needed to focus on how Equal Dollars could expand by growing its own produce. The whole idea is getting in at the beginning of the supply chain.”
An RHD employee had access to a 14,000 square foot vacant lot in the city. It had been abandoned for more than 20 years and belonged to a church.
Before: A vacant, abandoned lot in North Philadelphia
“In the very beginning the whole place was just wild plants,” said Tim McCullough, one of the farm’s three managers, smiling over a plate of farm-grown vegetables.
With the help of the community, the lot was fully weeded, mowed, and tilled, using manual tools. Wheelbarrows were used to transport more than 70 tons of soil to create 40 raised beds for effective planting.
“If we didn’t have raised beds, we’d have to deal with a lot more weeding,” farm manager Dusty Hinz said. “We placed black tarp under the beds to prevent weeds from growing.”
During: Equal Dollars volunteers work to create an urban farm
Volunteers were offered Equal Dollars gratuities, to be used at the Equal Dollars food market to purchase fresh produce or a number of other services available on the Equal Dollars online trading database.
Now, looking at the farm, nobody ever could have guessed that this location was once home to an overgrown, vacant lot. There are neatly organized beds, growing produce such as squash, zucchini, beans, melons, cantaloupe, collared greens, and okra.
After: A now flourishing urban farm provides produce to area families
“The food that comes from the farm is only available for Equal Dollars only,” said Brockington. “We don’t want U.S. dollars for this produce.”
“People have found new ways of seeing value in Equal Dollars,” said Ben Kincaid, an Equal Dollars employee, “It’s really about reaching out to individual members, getting them engaged.”
On Saturdays, children come to the farm to learn about farming and play educational games. Community members volunteer to help maintain the farm. Some members of the neighborhood have even been assigned to specific growing beds that they cultivate on their own, feeling a sense of pride in their work.
Farm managers and volunteers harvest on Mondays and Thursdays. On Thursdays all harvested produce stays at the lot and is sold from a stand there.
“It is just another way to add value to the system, and shows what can be done when you add use to community currency,” said Brockington.
In Philadelphia, which McCullough described as a “food desert” encapsulated by fast food chains, urban farming provides healthy produce in an area where it is typically difficult to secure.
Said Ansell, beaming over a plate laden with barbeque, fruit, and vegetables: “I just want to say how thankful I am to have the opportunity to do this, to have the resources of RHD and all the great people we have, thankful for all the food and the fortune we’ve had so far.”