In Kensington, in the shadow of an abandoned factory – one that has sat for so long, its “For Sale” sign is rusted and covered in graffiti – the lush, green plants of La Finquita community garden spread their leaves in the sun.
For decades, local residents have cared for this quarter-acre community farm – La Finquita is Spanish for “the little farm” – at the intersection of Master and Lawrence streets.
But a few years back, as the original tenders of the community garden became too old to mind the garden regularly, a new crop of younger locals have taken to caring for it.
“This soil has been worked for thirty years, it’s great,” said a smiling Cliff Brown, one of the new community gardeners who tend the urban garden.
Brown said that as a local resident, last year he learned of the garden, but noticed that it could use some work. During an interview held on a sunny Sunday afternoon June 24, he said the garden was initially started in the early 1980s by the Catholic Workers Movement, who have a building near by.
The land is owned by Pyramid Tire and Rubber Company, which owes nearly $47,000 in real estate taxes on the property and hasn’t paid its property taxes since 1978.
Brown said that neighborhood residents joined the effort for many years, but recently, as some have moved away and others have aged or passed on, tending the garden had mostly fallen onto the shoulders of Danny Rodriguez.
Rodriguez, in his eighties, is getting too old to tend the farm regularly, and he said that he couldn’t be happier that the younger residents took up the work at the farm.
“You know what, I just love it,” said Rodriguez from his home on Lawrence Street, where he keeps his own garden full of colorful plants and flowers. “I have spent a lot of time there all by myself.”
Rodriguez said that he started tending the garden after his son passed away. His son, he said, enjoyed working at the garden and after the Catholic Workers stopped tending the spot about 15 years ago, Rodriguez took it on.
“Ain’t nobody else that was going to do it, you know,” he said with a laugh.
When Brown, along with his friends Zach Prazak and Kim Giannone, began to tend the garden, they had their work cut out for them. Since only Rodriguez and a few residents had been working the garden, it was overgrown and a corner of it was full of trash.
Prazak said they cut down trees, installed a brick patio and grew the cultivatable area in the garden by an extra 50 percent.
“People appreciate it,” said Prazak. “They like that it’s not a vacant lot at least. If nothing else, they come by and say, ‘hey kids, isn’t that nice?’”
Now La Finquita offers about 19 plots for gardening, with about 35 locals involved with their own gardens.
And on Sundays, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., - for the first time in La Finquita’s history – the farm now offers a farm stand, where the community gardeners sell the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor.
After being tended for so many years, Giannone said that the soil is hearty and the gardeners, through some work, were able to grow and harvest corn incredibly early in the season.
“I’d say we were probably the first in the state to have corn,” she said proudly.
“A lot of people told me it was the best corn they ever had,” agreed Brown.
The farm also offers arugula, kale, salad greens, mustard greens, purslane, carrots and more.
Giannone said the friends would also like to create a recipe book for locals.
“We’d like to do a cookbook, so people know how to cook what we grow,” she said.
Mostly though, Brown said the most positive aspect of the garden has been community involvement. Local residents, he said, are always interested in what’s going on at La Finquita and the friends are excited to bring life – and healthy food options – to the community.
“This is just our first year, so we have more to do,” said Brown. “I think this shows how we’re seeing an increased interest in the local production of food… Everyone has been interested in what’s been going on.”
Star Staff Reporter Hayden Mitman can be contacted at 215-354-3124 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help support “The Little Farm”
The South Kensington Community Partners are working on obtaining a grant to support La Finquita. The community group has a network of community gardens in the neighborhood - La Finquita, Cohocksink, and Tillmon – and they are up for a $15,000 grant from Nature’s Path Organic Food called Gardens for Good.
The money would be used for infrastructural support, programs for youth and adolescents, and neighborhood-wide workshops and events.
This will be especially helpful to La Finquita, as the farm has lost tools to burglary recently.
It is a vote-based grant, and neighbors can vote until June 30.
To vote go to https://apps.facebook.com/gardensforgoodgrants
To follow La Finquita, or for more information, “like” on facebook: www.facebook.com/lafinquitask, email email@example.com, or call 215-427-3463. To read an interview with La Finquita members, please visit www.southkensingtoncommunity.org.