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Fostering Sustainability and Innovation in Agriculture
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Delaware Urban Farm Offers Residents Oasis to Grow Crops in Food Desert

November 8, 2016 |

Adrienne Spencer, Farm Manager of Wilmington Delaware-based E.D. Robinson Urban Farm  at 12th & Brandywine. Photo courtesy of E.D. Robinson Urban Farm.

Adrienne Spencer, Farm Manager of Wilmington Delaware-based E.D. Robinson Urban Farm  at 12th & Brandywine. Photo courtesy of E.D. Robinson Urban Farm.

Once a blighted lot strewn with trash, today the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm at 12th & Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware consists of 600 sq. ft. of intergenerational community garden space and 1,400 sq. ft. of commercial growing space.

Managed by Adrienne Spencer, an amiable and well-connected neighborhood bartender turned passionate advocate for urban farming, the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm provides elderly and low income residents with fresh fruits and vegetables, beautifies the local landscape, and is paving the way for a brighter future.

Named for the late City Councilman and neighborhood activist Eric Robinson and the 11th Street Bridge community, E. D. Robinson Urban Farm was founded in 2009 as Wilmington’s first urban farm. The Delaware Center for Horticulture (DCH), a nonprofit membership organization that mobilizes and inspires community greening statewide in urban and suburban environments founded and supports the farm. 

The farm not only offers residents the opportunity to rent a space to grow their own crops for $5 a month, but it also meets a demand for fresh produce for those who cannot easily obtain it. The closest grocery store, a Food Lion, is a mile and a half away from the community. While this is not a challenging distance for families with a vehicle, Spencer points out that many of the neighborhood’s residents are elderly or single parent households with no means of transportation. These families are more likely to run to the corner market for processed food than to face the challenge of finding affordable fresh produce.

By offering produce for sale at its farm stand, the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm provides access to healthy, nutritious food to the community.

“We take food stamps and take donations, and produce is sold at a fraction of what it costs in the grocery store,” says Spencer. “Our goal is to put food on the table.”

However, Spencer feels that simply offering healthy food is not enough. So, the farm also takes on the responsibility of educating area residents and youth on the potential of urban farming and the personal benefits of growing food.

“We have groups of young kids who come and inevitably 95% of them don’t know how to use the tools. Even simple tools like rakes, shovels and hand trowels,” says Spencer. “You are planting the seed. You can’t expect everyone to farm, but you can change people’s eating habits and the way they buy food by teaching them to farm.”

According to Spencer, Habitat for Humanity and Connections, an organization providing community support programs regionally, are working on a tract of homes across the street from the farm. These homes will ultimately provide transitional housing for women with mental health or substance abuse issues, helping them to return to the community. Spencer sees urban farming as a component of the future resident’s success.

“Farming helps women like this in many different ways,” says Spencer. “People are more likely to eat the food if they are invested in the growth. If they help plant that seed and watch it grow they will be more likely to eat it when it’s on their plate.”

Despite successes, Spencer recognizes that her work has not been without obstacles. “The greatest challenge that we’ve overcome is finding a piece of soil, raising the funds to put in the raised beds, putting in a water source,” she says. “If you don’t have an overhead organization, then you have to find an organization or someone who has the ability to fund the early start-up. Then you need to be able to find a way to support the funding. We are so fortunate to have DCH.”

While this has given the E. D. Robinson Urban Farm a leg up, Spencer does not want to rest on her laurels. She has larger dreams about the possibilities of making the farm a successful model that can be replicated by other organizations. Recently, she received a travel grant through DCH that will allow her to visit the extremely successful Abalimi micro-farming project in Cape Town, South Africa this February.

Spencer hopes that her experience will give her insights and a new model. “I want to learn how they overcome a lot of the obstacles like poverty, crime, and drugs, which we have here,” she says.

She notes that the project not only harvests food for residents, but grows a large enough crop that urban farmers are able to sell their produce to wealthier residents and create an income stream.  She hopes to develop a similar model so that E. D. Robinson Urban Farm can give the neighborhood an even larger reason to invest in urban farming.

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