Grays Ferry garden brings community together

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Friday, September 16, 2016

GRAYS FERRY (WPVI) -- At the southwest corner of 25th and Reed streets in the Grays Ferry section of Philadelphia, there's an expansive lot that is rapidly growing into a community garden and will soon fill the entire city block.

This garden, coordinated by the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), serves as a haven for refugees who have landed in Philadelphia, displaced by conflict in countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, and Bhutan. This garden offers a safe community and a place to put down roots while also providing fresh produce, often foods that are native to their home country.

In fact, this garden, called the Growing Together Garden and Farm, is where the first African eggplants have just been harvested in Philadelphia.

Merthus Mbonigada emigrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo with his wife and five children. He didn't have a background in agriculture. In fact he was a trained nurse, but he recognized how this garden could vastly improve the lives of his fellow refugees and the surrounding community. He can tell you how excited the local African refugees are by the familiar taste of home, when they harvest the first of the African eggplants.

This year, Merthus took advantage of the USDA Philly Farms Project, an agricultural training program provided by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This program not only teaches the skills to grow and harvest produce, but also entrepreneurial skills like business development, risk management and marketing strategy.

The partnership between PHS and NSC will allow for the expansion of this garden to house 800 beds. With volunteers logging over 15,000 hours of work, the garden is already halfway there. The entrepreneurial growing team, including Merthus, is already putting its new skills to work by running a weekly farm stand at NSC, located on the 1200 block of Arch Street. The team is also working on a business plan that provides specialty crops to new Americans and supplemental income to growers.

Twenty-two percent of Philadelphians are food insecure, which means over 340,000 of our neighbors lack access to enough fresh produce for a healthy life. Many refugees arrive at or below the poverty line. This garden offers a way to provide their families with healthy and reasonably priced produce, and often providing the familiar taste of home.

You can support urban gardeners in Philadelphia like Merthus by attending the PHS party with a purpose, PHeaSt, on October 7 at the PHS Warehouse in the Navy Yard. Tickets available HERE.

PHeaSt brings together Philly's top chefs and mixologists for the ultimate tasting experience. Sample over 60 delectable dishes and signature drinks from foodie hotspots across the region.Proceeds support the PHS City Harvest program, which includes the Growing Together Garden and 150 other growing sites. Through a network of urban gardeners in the Philadelphia region, the City Harvest feeds hundreds of families in need each week during the growing season. The growers, like Merthus, also make affordable, locally-produced food available at farmers markets in Philadelphia's neighborhoods.