Can farming serve as therapy for those afflicted with cognitive disabilities? The answer’s not as far out there as you might think. In fact, it’s just an hour from the bustling streets of Philadelphia on the serene farmland of Chester County’s Camphill Village Kimberton Hills. The planned community is home to over 100 individuals, 40 of whom are diagnosed with a variety of cognitive disabilities—including autism, Down Syndrome and brain trauma. Rather than isolating those with special needs, the community’s success depends upon the interactions of all community members through biodynamic agriculture. In work teams, the residents of Kimberton Hills educate one another in daily give-and-take through which the term “disabled” becomes a misnomer.
At the intersection of 11th and York streets sits a new farm run by North Philadelphia high school students and Temple University undergrads. The group has dubbed itself the Philadelphia Urban Creators (PUC), and is utilizing urban agriculture as a gateway to youth empowerment and community revitalization.
Tucked between routes 1 and 13, Morrisville’s 25-acre Snipes Farm & Education Center is rich in history. The land has been in the Snipes family since 1848, when it got its horticultural start as a nursery; trees grown here were uprooted and taken by horse-drawn cart to Chestnut Hill, the Main Line and Fairmount Park. There was also the 5,000-square-foot Snipes Garden Center, which supplied area residents with growing essentials for 50 years before big-box stores forced Susan Snipes-Wells and her brother Jonathan Snipes to close the center in 2004. From there the siblings, who took over ownership duties from their father, decided to transform the farm from a horticulture center and small “U-Pick” orchard to a more agriculturally focused education center and CSA, allowing them to teach local residents the importance of sustainable growing methods.
“Don’t write about me,” says Gina Humphreys with a laugh. The farmer behind Urban Girls Produce is a bit shy, but she gets excited when the focus shifts to her business, and the various vegetables she and her team are cultivating on four acres at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education.