Apr. 13, 2017 9:17 am

Francisville farm Urbanstead is pioneering a new greenhouse design

The Franciscville urban farm will now be able to provide services year-round.

Farming in Francisville.

(Photo by Donte Kirby)

Urbanstead has started construction on its passive solar greenhouse. When finished, expect to see youth groups at the Francisville urban farm year-round.

Urbanstead is one of 27 organizations nationwide to receive a Whole Cities Foundation grant. It was their work with Philadelphia’s youth headed by founder and executive director Lisa Gaidanowicz that set them apart.

Gaidanowicz found her calling working with youth as a GED instructor.

“I started working with these teenagers and found what I was supposed to do with my life,” said Gaidanowicz. She has a special affinity for youth who’ve faced adversity in their life — kids that are “fighting to make their life good.” Gaidanowicz said she “will bend over backwards for a young person who wants to do that.”

The $5,000 grant allowed Urbanstead volunteers to start the construction on the greenhouse, which is based on a design from Colorado farmers. The greenhouse stores heat gained from the day in 14 water barrels and disperses it at night to hearty winter crops such as kale and collard greens.

A typical greenhouse uses electricity to keep temperatures above freezing. Urbanstead’s passive solar greenhouse will be the first of its kind in the city, and allow Urbanstead to offer opportunities and invaluable skills training to Philadelphia youth year-round.

Recent reports have placed the poverty rate in Philadelphia at a staggering 25.8 percent. A disproportionate amount of the poorest ZIP codes in the city are a mile or more away from a grocery store.

Urbanstead and other urban farms reduce the financial burdens of buying fresh produce by running programs that teach communities how to grow food in their own backyards. Urban farms also act as surrogate farmers’ markets, embedded in the neighborhood.

Urbanstead wants other farms build their own passive solar greenhouse, and staff is recording construction to act as a visual guide.

In the end, it will be a community effort to build the greenhouse. If that process goes well, it will be a gift that keeps on giving to the community of urban farmers who built it. Danyell Brent, co-farm manager at Cloud9 Rooftop farm (an Urbanstead partner), sees gardening as a transformative practice where people create not only healthy food, but a healthy space for communities.

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“This is our connection,” said Brent about working on the Francisville farm. “You got all different kinds here. This is where I think peace starts.”


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