An Emerald in the Rough

by | Oct 21, 2021

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!

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