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September 18, 2015

Chinatown farm gives sustenance, hope to Philadelphia homeless

Artist Meei Ling Ng leads initiative that has produced almost 800 pounds of food in 2015

Agriculture Farming
Food Vegetables Flickr

Fresh produce.

With Philadelphia's homeless population estimated at approximately 650 people at any given time, the need for support and resources is always at a high.

In Chinatown, a collaboration between the Asian Arts Initiative and the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission is giving new purpose to members of Center City's homeless community in the form of a garden at 13th and Vine streets.

Led by Singaporean artist Meei Ling Ng, the farm, built between a Shell station and a Catholic school, emerged last winter and has produced nearly 800 pounds of food since the first harvests in March, according to the Christian Science Monitor.

Trained by Ng, the farm's staff is comprised of men from the Overcomers Program, which aims to help those battling drug addiction. With additional help and supplies from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Orchard Project, City Harvest, and Urban Jungle, the farm has yielded squash, cucumbers, kale, basil, strawberries, eggplant, tomatoes, beets, blueberries, figs, and corn.

That's an impressive output for farm that springs from a blacktop the size of a cornerstore. Ng approached the idea of a community garden with the intention of bringing together unlikely partners and reducing some of the pressures of gentrification. The produce from the garden provides meals to shelters and addiction-recovery programs.

While the hope is that the garden will be permanent, Ng won't be able to stick around indefinitely and the workforce tends to be transient, with the exception of some core participants. Some take their useful skills elsewhere, but to survive, the program will need to remain focused on teaching.

The farm is notably the first in North Chinatown since the neighborhood lost its shared garden in the 1970's with the construction of the Vine Street Expressway.

"The spirit of what we're trying to do with the farm is build for this neighborhood, and have people from the neighborhood be involved," Chen said, "and be involved in passing the torch."

Philadelphia is a national leader community gardens, ranking 14th among big American cities with 6.2 gardens per 10,000 residents.

Read more about the garden here