Mantua: Community Garden Aims to Address Food Insecurity

Mantua: Community Garden Aims to Address Food Insecurity

DUG volunteers organize materials and package excess produce at a garden day on October 23. (Alesia Bani/PN)

By  Alesia Bani, Philadelphia Neighborhoods

The community garden at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships has been working to engage people in the Mantua community through urban gardening to begin addressing food insecurity in the area.

The garden was formed in 2014 in partnership with Trellis for Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that provides services and programs for youth of all ages to support the sustainable upward growth of communities and the planet. After a period of inactivity, Trellis for Tomorrow reached out to Drexel University student organizations and “revamped the effort,” said Madi Rockett, the president of Drexel Urban Growers (DUG), the organization that maintains the community garden at 35th Street and Spring Garden Avenue.

DUG has been active since March 2020 and has harvested over 850 pounds of food since then. Any food not given over the fence to residents is donated to the Powelton Community Fridge, Rockett explained.

The organization aims to strengthen relationships between Drexel students and community residents, educate people on how to garden, and make fresh organic produce more accessible as a way to address hunger and food insecurity.

The garden has been used as an opportunity for community building as well as a conduit to start conversations with residents on what exactly a food desert and food insecurity is, said John Kirby, the executive director of the Dornsife Center.

“We talk about what foods are accessible in the neighborhood and ask, ‘Do you see these foods in your local stores? How far do you go to get these items? Would it be more convenient if these items were available in your neighborhood?’ to start giving shape to what it means to be in a food desert and not have those things accessible to you or even affordable,” Kirby said. “Maybe they can be physically accessed but they can’t be financially accessed.”

Attendees at the Reduce, Reuse, Repot event on Nov. 6 turn recycled containers into planting pots. (Image courtesy of Drexel Urban Growers)

DUG held its first event on Nov. 6 titled Reduce, Reuse, Repot. Aimed to help people start at-home gardens, attendees brought old recyclable containers and the garden provided materials to paint the containers, soil, rocks for drainage, fertilizer, and herb and flower seeds. DUG hopes to scale the initiative to help community members grow vegetables or make windowsill gardens at future events.

DUG also hosted an event on Nov. 13, Painting for Peace, in partnership with Mantua Worldwide Community, an organization that focuses on promoting public health, the arts and environmental sustainability, to kick start DUG’s youth programming.

For DUG, the event was a space for people to get to know one another, while Mantua Worldwide aimed to spark conversation around gun violence through art, Rockett explained.

Rebecca Rose, an artist and Mantua resident, holds up the sign she painted for the Nov. 13 event held by DUG and Mantua Worldwide Community. (Alesia Bani/PN)

“We want to spread the message of peace, we want to become as educated as we can, to become leaders so we can change the fabric of this world,” said Gweny Love, the founder of Mantua Worldwide Community, during the event as attendees painted. “In order to create any change when we talk about social responsibility, the change first comes with being able to envision in our minds a different type of world.”

Carolotta Stafford, 44, came to the event with her 7-year-old nephew to encourage his creativity. She felt the event was needed in the community because of the increase in violence in local communities.

“Some of the young people that I work with have experienced such great loss with cousins, brothers, friends, or other family members at levels that when I was a kid that was unheard of to have so many of my peers or people I may know from the neighborhood die,” said Stafford who volunteers as a reading captain with Read by 4th. “Yes, violence was still around but some of these kids go to school and come back the next day and their friends are gone.”

Carolotta Stafford, bottom left, prepares art materials for her nephew at the Nov. 13 Painting for Peace event. (Alesia Bani/PN)

People in the community have expressed that hands-on activities are needed for young people to give them an “opportunity to see they can do different things,” in addition to securing quality education, access to jobs, adequate housing and food, which affect crime rates, Stafford said.

“One of the tactics has been to create programming for our young people so they have alternatives to being on the streets or hanging out with people who may not be good influences,” Stafford said.

Caleb Pope, 17, a student at CAPA High School who grew up in Mantua, said he enjoyed painting during the event and thinks art-related events are a good way to engage young adults.

“Especially when we’re all doing it in the same environment you kind of see where everybody’s head is,” Pope said.

Caleb Pope, a student at CAPA High School, used three shades of blue in his painting to represent different perspectives of peace. (Alesia Bani/PN)

DUG is planning to start a monthly garden workshop for kids K-12 and have local high schoolers volunteer and serve as co-leaders. The hope is for teenagers to eventually have the ability to run garden programming for children in the Mantua community.

A core mission of DUG is to provide nutrition education to the community.

“We’re figuring out how DUG can advocate for relevant public policy that’s related to food insecurity as well as overall social and economic social justice,” Rockett said.

The group wants to hear what people in Mantua are interested in learning about and “meet them where they are at,” Rockett added. Residents have expressed interest in alternative gardening they can do in their homes such as hydroponics, a form of gardening that uses no soil. DUGs mission is for residents to use what they learn to start their own gardens.

“It’s definitely, by all means, not a solution to food insecurity but it gives people agency to build resilience within their own families and neighborhood through garden education,” Rockett said.

“It’s really nice to see that as a community we can come together and help people grow food on their own without having to rely on outside sources or institutions that they may not trust,” added Aaliyah Greenman, the vice president of Drexel Urban Growers.

One of the goals for the garden is to create a shared leadership model, so it is not only reliant on Drexel students, Kirby said.

“You may have one group of students for four years that are really into an idea and that group can leave,” Kirby added. “So if we really have a shared leadership model we can create a sense of sustainability.”

Ultimately, DUG hopes to use youth education as a way to enact social change.

“They’ll be learning to garden then teaching future generations and their kids how to garden, setting up a system of educating one another,” Rockett said.

Please visit the original story at Philadelphia Neighborhood

January 2022 Newsletter

January 2022 Newsletter

Seeds are being planted…literally and figuratively!

Seeding is happening already! Thousands of future onions were already planted on our special greenhouse heating table. We will be sowing peppers and tomatoes for greenhouse growing next, and then the brassica family: cabbages, collards, kale, cauliflower, and broccoli!

Programming plans for Food for All and Youth Programs are well under way! FFA partners are already in conversation with Team Trellis about plans for 2022; Youth leaders are having their monthly meeting virtually again next week; and Spring programming begins in just a few weeks!

We’re excited to be able to share the 2022 journey with you. Be sure to follow us on social media also
(Facebook | YouTube | Instagram | LinkedIn).

Our Team is Growing Too!

Trellis’s small but mighty team is looking for passionate, bright, hard working individuals who are excited about changing the world. If that is you or someone you know, visit our website to learn more about career opportunities as an Agricultural Program Manager, Agricultural Specialist, and Youth Development Manager. Link:


We will be recruiting for a small Spring cohort of paid interns to work in area nonprofits, so stay tuned for more information!


Garden Tips will be back soon! In the meantime, revisit our blog for 2020 tips, inspirational stories and more!


Roots & Shoots: the Trellis for Tomorrow Blog

Three Cheers to Ray!

Three Cheers to Ray!

As 2021 draws to a close, we would like to take a moment to appropriately appreciate and honor our dear friend, leader, and supporter, Raymond Schneider. Since 2009, Ray served as the president of the Trellis for Tomorrow Board of Directors, effectively stewarding the organization through 13 years of wonderful, and challenging, twists, turns, and transitions.

Even though 2021 was Ray’s final year on the board, we will forever be grateful for his longtime dedication to the mission of Trellis. From visiting the youth in the gardens, to leading the planning of several large fundraising events, to lending his photography skills to take headshots, Ray has been an integral part of our organization in an incredibly wide variety of ways throughout his tenure.

Ray described his favorite part of serving on the Trellis board saying, “I love the people at Trellis. Their passion for the mission serves as a benchmark for the rest of us as we think about how to make a difference in this crazy world we live in. And of course, the fact that Trellis is making such a significant impact on the lives of so many is the primary reason why we’re all in it together!”.

Trellis Executive Director, Jennifer Anderson, expressed some of the many things she appreciated most about her partnership with Ray. “What was best for the organization and those we serve was always top of mind for Ray. He brought his all to each meeting, interaction, or event — you never got the sense that he wasn’t fully present. It’s quite an impressive thing to maintain that kind of enthusiasm for so many years.”

Ray, we will miss your wisdom, kindness, creativity, and steadfastness, but we look forward to continuing to have you in our lives and in our corner. Thank you for 13 impactful years. Three cheers to you, Ray!

November 2021 Newsletter

November 2021 Newsletter

Growing in New Ways with Trellis for Tomorrow

Thank YOU for making October Amazing!

Thank you so much to everyone who supported Trellis youth during the Amazing Raise! Your generous donations, social media likes and shares, word of mouth, and good vibes helped us to raise $18,102.46 in support of Youth Seed Enterprise! This will cover almost 10% of the total cost to run the program. YSE Fall just came to an end we’re already looking ahead to an even more IMPACTFUL 2022 thanks to you!

Who Doesn’t Love a Great Recipe this time of year?!

Check out our recent blog post for some tasty fall recipes! We’ll be sharing more this month, including some special recipes from Trellis youth participants, so stay in touch and check back for blog updates! Have a garden vegetable recipe you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

With the colder weather comes the end of our 2021 youth program season!

Youth Seed Enterprise Fall came to a close this weekend. The youth came together to rebuild the raised beds at Don Coppedge Village (formerly called Fairview Village) and then celebrated an amazing three seasons by presenting donations to Ann’s Heart and CCLU. We are so proud that the YSE youth decided to donate a portion of money they collected from the families receiving garden produce to two local charities.

Youth Leadership Extension internships also came to a close. This year Trellis placed 9 interns in local social impact organizations. Like last year, one of our talented interns landed a permanent position at the end of the internship!

November Garden Tip: Cover your soil for the winter!

Winter weather brings rain and snow, high winds, and harsh temperatures. These can all contribute to erosion and degradation of your soil. One remedy is to have some organic material on top of your garden beds to protect it. Using leaves can be a great, cost-effective way to cover that soil. Make sure you hose them down after applying or they can blow away with blustery fall breezes.

Compost and straw will also work wonders to keep your soil protected. In a pinch, you can also use landscape fabric, or an old blanket or cloth will also work to cover the soil. We would caution against using woodchips as they can take a long time to break down and can change the soil chemistry in the process. Feel free to submit questions to us on social media!

Read the full November tips and tricks blog post, and find other great resources here:

Roots & Shoots: the Trellis for Tomorrow Blog

An Emerald in the Rough

An Emerald in the Rough

Amid the busy streets and close quarters of Northwest Philadelphia, a Trellis for Tomorrow partner and Food for All garden site is having a big impact. Tucked away from view and nestled between an Amtrak line and big brick buildings that once hummed with industry, the Salvation Army Kroc Center garden is bursting with life and gleaming like a gem growing out of concrete.

Except for the occasional rumblings of a passing train, this city oasis is alive with the sounds of songbirds, the quiet clatter of stirrup hoes and other tools in use, and the bright voices of garden champions working in unison. At the center of all this activity is Andy Nolan, our Food for All champion for the month.

The Salvation Army Kroc Center is a beautiful facility that serves as a community center for the surrounding neighborhood of North Philadelphia, and home to a large 1/3 acre Food for All garden. As the caretaker and manager of the garden and the Horticulture Zone – a productive and educational garden space for the whole community – Andy lives out his long-time advocacy in the world of food justice. For 10 years he has managed and cultivated this beautiful garden, aiding others in the development of mind, body, and spirit.

When speaking with Andy, it quickly becomes clear that he is passionate about passing along the joys of gardening to others. If anyone walks by the garden while he is there, he will always stop to have a conversation. Every morning, he greets every person nearby joyfully, from the senior citizens who exercise at the Kroc, all the way down to the young children who attend the early childhood education program.

For anyone who wants to learn more, Andy will happily offer advice and says, “I’m able to share how you can replicate what’s going on here in their own backyard or in container gardens.” In that way, this large garden serves as a teaching garden for how to replicate on a smaller scale, empowering everyone to be able to grow their own food at home. He is constantly handing out his delicious and nutritious fresh veggies to anyone who happens to pass by.

This love of sharing horticultural knowledge has won Andy a team of very dedicated volunteers that help out in the garden. Louise Smith, the Education Director says “He has very loyal volunteers who love what he does and love the garden. The children in our early childhood education classes always call out to say hi—he is well appreciated.” One of the regular volunteers offered, “He’s the best. If we have an abundance of something growing, he always offers something to people walking by the garden.”

In addition to education through conversations with people walking by, Andy also teaches classes for all ages, starting with very young kids as a part of the Kroc Center’s early childhood education program. In the summer program, kids have a chance to interact with food in a way they may have never experienced before. Andy says, “kids love pulling things out of the ground. Turnips are great, carrots are great…seeing the expression of kid’s face when they pull something out of the ground. A big smile comes across their face.” It’s moments like these that show what an impact it can make to connect people back to the earth and where their food comes from.

Besides being a place of learning, the garden is also highly productive! In 2020, the Kroc Center garden produced over 9,000 pounds of produce that was passed out to the community. The produce is mostly given away through the Kroc Center’s social services clients and senior services as well as to their volunteers and educational class participants. This garden is located in an industrial section of North Philadelphia, where it can be hard to come by fresh produce. As Andy says, “in Philadelphia there’s just not a lot of places where you can get fresh produce that’s organic. So every bag [of produce] you pass out is a move in the right direction.”

We want to celebrate the wonderful work that Andy and the Kroc Center are doing in North Philadelphia. As Louise Smith said, “the Kroc Center tries to be a beacon in the community and the garden is certainly a part of that.” Thank you to the Kroc Center and to Andy for sharing the joys of gardening and growing food with the surrounding community. Trellis is honored to play a role in your work!