Cliff Brown takes no notice of me as I walk toward the small Philly farm he’s managed for the past several years. His eyes are scanning the rows of garlic and kale running from beneath his feet, possibly on the hunt for weeds, perhaps assessing their needs in the long day ahead.
La Finquita – which means “little farm” – was developed 25 years ago by members of the nearby catholic worker movement. The sprawling lot has been worked by many neighboring hands since then (and then not worked at all), but now exists quite comfortably in Cliff’s seasoned management. Not a minute into my arrival, a spiffy suit-clad cyclist braked outside the front gate and asked if Cliff had any plots available to rent. “No,” he said, “but we always need volunteers?”
The farm is gearing up for their annual market season, and there’s a LOT to take into account… considering they also service a nearby homeless women’s and children’s food pantry, and soup kitchen. Volunteer training, then, is also a considerable portion of what makes this garden a successful one. As an urban farm, La Finquita had the advantage of providing fresh, organic and QUALITY produce to underserved communities, as well as offering a unique variety of vegetables not always often found via local growers.
When asked about the challenges of growing food in the city, Cliff confirms there is little difference between his strategy and that of a more ‘conventional’ farmer – “weed early, and often. Pay attention to the path of the sun, throughout the day and year.” An uncompromising southern exposure is ideal but, as with most things, you can modify your farming to fit your needs and resources. “If you have only a small amount of space, it may be obvious to avoid growing anything that warrants such. but if it will make you happy to grow a couple massive pumpkin vines, go for it!!”
Interestingly, most herbs and vegetables perform very well in a city setting! Check out your neighborhood farming networks if you’re interested in either volunteering at a local community garden, or have questions about getting started on your rooftop, in your backyard or windowsill! After all, the world is your oyster (or mushroom).
Be sure to check out La Finquita on Facebook!