By Melissa O'Brien
In 2021, PHS announced plans to establish a new Green Resource Center in Montgomery County’s Norristown Farm Park as part of a countywide effort to encourage residents to grow more food for themselves and their neighbors in need. The now year-old PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park spans 3 acres, with a 2-acre teaching farm utilizing organic growing practices, a greenhouse with heating and cooling systems powered in part by solar energy, a shaded area for seedlings, a wash station, a pavilion for public programming, pollinator gardens, and 45 community garden beds.
The Green Resource Center recently celebrated its anniversary with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 10, 2022 after previously only being accessible to volunteers and community organizations. Learn more about the success of the Green Resource Center’s first growing season, the impact on the community, and what the future holds for Farm Park.
The Green Resource Center was constructed in early 2021 using CARES Act funding to help reverse some of the damage done to local food resources during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Feeding America’s “Map the Meal Gap” studies, 7 percent of Montgomery County residents are currently facing food insecurity with an estimated 58,000 residents affected. With inflation and the continued rising costs for food, there is a need for broad collective action to support the health and well-being of local communities.
The PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park provides access to fresh food and helps to cultivate strong social connections across barriers of age, language, and race. In its first growing season, the PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park has grown more than 6,000 pounds of organic produce including kale, squash, garlic, green beans, tomatoes, onions, salad greens, cabbage, broccoli, potatoes, beets, tomatillos, and various herbs. Most of this produce has been distributed to area residents experiencing food insecurity.
In its first year, the Green Resource Center provided:
In addition to producing an impressive harvest, the Green Resource Center at Farm Park has been a way for neighbors to form deep social connections. Three days a week, volunteers can help with harvesting and farm work (weeding, pruning, trellising, transplanting, etc.). Many volunteers enjoy the work so much that they return week after week.
“One of the things that the Green Resource Center does best is building social connections and community,” says Marta Lynch, a farm manager at Farm Park. “Our volunteers are a mix of people that are newly moved to the area and a lot of local people that either live nearby or walk by this park all the time. I think it's very special that a lot of people have formed friendships and hang out with each other outside of volunteering at the farm."
Another opportunity for connection is the community garden located onsite at the Green Resource Center. All 45 of the raised garden beds are currently occupied and managed by over 60 local gardeners, and there is a waiting list for new members to join. There are an additional 4 communal beds that all gardeners can harvest from. PHS provides gardeners with seedlings, irrigation, tools, a shed to store their own tools, and educational resources. A leadership committee made up of local gardeners runs and organizes events for the community garden at the Green Resource Center.
PHS has received $450,000 from the Recovery Act, distributed by Montgomery County’s Recovery Office, to sustain and expand the Green Resource Center over the next two years. Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Managed Care Solutions, has also contributed over $100,000 per year to support a Veggie Rx Food as Medicine program with PHS's partner in Pottstown, Creative Health Services.
With the Green Resource Center now open, PHS has several scheduled public events planned. PHS will partner with Norristown Farm Park’s Environmental Education team to offer field trips to students and other groups to teach visitors about the importance of food gardening and offer hands-on gardening education. It will also host Farm Education plus Work and Learn Days where volunteers can learn about gardening, socialize, and assist with harvesting, weeding, pruning, and other light gardening activities to keep the farm healthy and productive while forming social connections with one another.
PHS’s VP and Chief of Healthy Neighborhoods, Julianne Schrader Ortega, says, “The PHS Green Resource Center at Farm Park has grown to become an important component of Montgomery County’s efforts to battle food insecurity. We are thrilled to continue being able to support residents with nutritious food while educating them about the importance and joy of food gardening.”