At the corner of 11th and Dakota Streets, on a lot at the base of a SEPTA overpass, lies a farm.
It stands out in North-Central Philadelphia. Formerly vacant, the lot is bound by strings of murals, homemade greenhouses and raised gardening beds. In the summer, the site is marked by tall sunflowers and children running, working between rows of green.
The site is called Life Do Grow. It’s the educational urban farm of the Philadelphia Urban Creators. PUC is a non-profit organization made up of students and neighbors from North Philadelphia. The group had met during service trips to New Orleans; they built urban farms to help the 9th Ward sustain itself. When they returned, they figured the same model could help Philadelphia sustain itself too.
PUCs founding members were dissatisfied by the quantity and quality of food found in many North Philadelphian neighborhoods. Just because neighborhoods were urban didn’t mean that neighbors didn’t deserve access to healthy food. Thus, they cleared the lot at the base of the SEPTA overpass and started a farm. Though what started as an inspired group of twenty-somethings has since turned into a pliable, far-reaching network for community building, education and—of course—food.
Life Do Grow, PUC’s main site, is a functioning farm. The site has greenhouses, a large hoop house and buckets under slanted roofs to collect rain water. During the summer, however, herds of neighborhood children come to the site to learn about farming, making it educational institution of sorts. Although free-flowing, PUC takes this educational piece seriously. In its organizational structure, PUC outlines their “Education Team” as designing “various forms of experiential curriculum, whether it be workshops, long-term educational programs, or service-learning experiences, that directly correlate with our various farms and projects to ensure that every aspect of our program can be used as educational tools.”
PUC is a successful organization. The site already sells some of its crops to a vendor at Reading Terminal Market. Fuel, a healthy eatery in Center City has built a greenhouse at Life Do Grow where a paid intern will help PUC cultivate crops for use in the restaurant. PUC has also been recognized by Magic Erving Johnson, the Huffington Post and Time Magazine, among other publications and organizations.
Attributing to this success has been PUC’s ability to partner with organizations. The most prominent of these partnerships is the Mural Arts Guild, an organization that helps provide men re-entering society with the skills necessary to find employment. Through this partnership, members of the Guild have built greenhouses and other structures at Life Do Grow. PUC has also partnered with R.I.S.E., the City of Philadelphia’s Re-Integration Service to provide ex-offenders with a facility for community service hours while learning about urban agriculture. PUC has also partnered with the GrassRoots Foundation, an organization that teaches young women about nutrition and mental wellness. These three organizations are just a sample of PUC’s sleuth of partnerships.
The MDO’s PhillyRising has partnered with PUC too, helping provide the organization with grant money for lumber and supplies. PhillyRising has also helped PUC connect with other organizations so that the Life Do Grow could be used as a volunteer site. On Wednesday, March 27, PhillyRising will be at Life Do Grow for S.W.A.G. (Students With A Goal) Week’s City-Wide Service Project.
PhillyRising is just one piece of the Philadelphia Urban Creator’s overwhelmingly wide range of positive influence. This organization, no matter how it evolves, continues to embody everything that community building hinges on: PUC has created a space in North-Central Philadelphia where Philadelphians can be together, learn together and—ultimately—grow together.