Earth’s Keepers Urban Farm is under ice and snow right now, but when the weather warms up the corner of 51st and Kingsessing will be full of fruit, vegetables, and most importantly, community members.  The ¼ acre farm was started by community activist and educator Alia Walker and her partner Safiyah Abdul Latif after a community garden they helped to found was limited to adults.   Alia and Safiyah wanted to pass on their knowledge to the next generation.

They originally started a youth agriculture program at Mill Creek Recreation Center and then moved to their current location at Kingsessing Recreation Center in 2011 when it offered more growing space.  Since then the youth agriculture program has grown to include after school and full time summer programs for high school aged youth, an onsite summer camp for elementary aged children, times when toddlers visit from local daycares and a whole group of volunteers and elders who weed and spend time in the garden.  Alia finds that, “children listen better to other children than they do to adults,” so the youth teach the toddlers and children how to grow and eat fresh food.

Earth’s Keepers founder Sister Alia Walker!

The mission of Earth’s Keepers is to educate and organize youth and their families about the rights of all peoples as it pertains to food sovereignty while growing healthy organic foods.  In the predominately African American and African immigrant communities surrounding Kingsessing Rec Center, they teach how black history, civil rights, human rights, and black power intersect with the issues of food sovereignty and health.  For Alia this is particularly important because, “even though violence is present, health and disease is a major cause of death in the community.”   Youth members of Earth’s Keepers understand the correlation between heart health and what they eat.
In 2011 Earth’s Keepers partnered with POP to plant their first orchard.  The orchard is going into its 4th season, but already it is bursting with fruit.  There is a long everbearing strawberry patch next to high tunnel, and another patch of blueberry bushes, red currants, blackberries, and raspberries.  Pie cherries and sweet yellow cherries hang from trees next to two types of pears, plums, nectarines and figs.  The fig tree died back to the ground last year but came back with a force.  Alia hopes it will do same after another frigid winter.
Last year was the first year they could harvest kiwi berries.  Alia said, “At first the kids were apprehensive to try them,” so Alia tried, then they all tried the vining fruit and loved them, “they were so sweet!”  According to Alia, this is one of the main reasons to grow food with children and youth, “they have an open mind because their hands helped to nurture it.”

Fun in the garden with Earth’s Keepers youth farmers and interns!

Even vegetable crops can create a buzz on the farm, “the broccoli blew their mind.” remembers Alia.  Looking forward to the 2015 growing season Alia and company have big plans.  They will have more workshops on cooking with the vegetables, canning and preserving the fruit.  They also will start selling houseplants at their farm stand, which is open whenever the Earth’s Keepers are on site.  In the summer they will take a boat trip up the Schuylkill and hike Hawk Mountain with the youth.

Asked for one last thought Alia responded, “if it wasn’t for POP the farm wouldn’t be as popular with the children.  It is a perfect marriage.  Phil brings a whole list of skills:  propagation of trees, and pruning, so it adds another dimension to the farm.  Its invaluable. The orchard entices the children to be a part of it.”

Orchard Report by Jessica Mammarella, POP Orchard Committee liaison for Earth’s Keepers. 

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