Westward grow!

Entrance to Greensgrow West, 4912 Baltimore Ave., in the gentrifying Cedar Park neighborhood, part of University City.
Entrance to Greensgrow West, 4912 Baltimore Ave., in the gentrifying Cedar Park neighborhood, part of University City. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)

Greensgrow Farms sets up a satellite in West Philadelphia, starting as a garden center, small market, classes - with a permanent full-farm vision.

Posted: April 04, 2014

Greensgrow Farms, the onetime Superfund site in Kensington that was transformed into a national model for urban farms, is heading west - to the 4900 block of Baltimore Avenue.

Greensgrow West won't be an organic farm like the original, at least not yet. It'll be a fully stocked garden center with a CSA, a small farmer's market, and workshops and cooking classes that reflect the neighborhood's ethnic and economic diversity.

"The neighbors kept asking us to come," explains Mary Seton Corboy, a former chef who cofounded the nonprofit Greensgrow Farms at East Cumberland and Almond Streets in 1998 and began growing what was then a new concept for restaurants: baby salad greens.

Projected sales this year for the two Greensgrows: $1.8 million.

The West Philly site, which opens Thursday, is a two-year experiment on a vacant lot at 4912 Baltimore Ave., former home of Elena's Soul Lounge, a popular club that burned down in December 2012. The 2,500-square-foot parcel is narrow and deep, wedged between the Cedar Park Cafe and Gary's Nails.

After the lease is up, if she has found another spot - at least 3/4 acre - in West Philly, Corboy says she'll move Greensgrow West there permanently, adding a farm and other features now in Kensington.

"The garden center has outgrown" Kensington. "The farm has outgrown it. The CSA has outgrown it. Everything about us is outgrown," Corboy says.

The original Greensgrow includes a 3/4-acre farm and garden center; a quarter-acre more down the block, and two growing lots in Fishtown and West Mount Airy. There are nine beehives, a Farmstand, one greenhouse, three raised beds, four high tunnels, a community kitchen in a nearby church, and a menagerie comprising chickens, goats, Blanche the cat, Ping the duck, and Milkshake the pig, whose birthday party once drew 500 guests.

Greensgrow West is in the Cedar Park neighborhood, which straddles Baltimore Avenue between 46th and 52d Streets. It's part of University City, one of Philadelphia's most vibrant enclaves, and the neighbors sound thoroughly psyched to have a new garden center and farmer's market, small and temporary though they may be.

"Do we need another farmer's market? Absolutely!" says Michael Froehlich, a Legal Aid attorney and president of Cedar Park Neighbors, one of two civic groups whose surveys show residents' desire for a garden center/farmer's market in the neighborhood.

Froehlich says he looks forward to taking culinary workshops, as well as buying tomato, basil, zucchini, carrot, beet, and chard seeds and seedlings - compost and mulch, too - for a 40-square-foot garden behind his house at 48th and Larchwood.

Till now, he has had to rent a car and drive to surburban garden centers or big-box stores in South Philly. "The idea that I'll now be able to walk to a garden center is beautiful," Froehlich says.

On a chilly day last week, Ryan Kuck and Jennifer Foster - Greensgrow West program director and retail manager, respectively - showed a visitor around. It didn't take long.

Up front, there's the wooden cashier shed, repurposed from Subaru's 2014 Flower Show exhibit; in the back, a semi-enclosed workshop area with bleachers to hold about 20 people. Everything else goes in the middle: pluot trees and heirloom tomato plants, fiery ghost peppers, collards and beans, arugula and thyme, all grown and trucked in from Kensington, along with annual and perennial flowers to brighten the landscape.

Corboy chose this venue carefully. Cedar Park is gentrifying, its housing values and median family incomes rising dramatically. This may sound counterintuitive to the Greensgrow mission, but Corboy's market plan actually seeks out neighborhoods like this.

"We need the more affluent customer to pay for our subsidized programming . . . taking care of animals, the community kitchen," she says, "and we believe that in West Philly, you have the post-college young families and the old-timers from Baltimore Avenue 50 years ago."

Both groups like fresh food and vegetable gardening, as evidenced by the many farmer's markets and gardens in this part of the city, and want to support Baltimore Avenue businesses. "One walks and one rides a bike and their thinking and reality of why they do so is different, but the end game is the same," says Corboy, who plans to reach non-media-savvy customers by talking to pastors and posting signs in store windows.

As welcoming as all this sounds, Corboy and her staff need to consider security, too. First, they suggest prayer and watchful neighbors; then, good lighting and a locked gate. Finally, talk turns silly: How about bees and extra-thorny roses?

That ought to do it!

"We're not barbed-wire kind of people," Corboy says.

If You Go

Greensgrow West opens Thursday at 11 a.m. at 4912 Baltimore Ave. A celebration and open house featuring refreshments and music will be held on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m.

Spring hours will be Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

CSA pickup and Farmstand: Fridays, 3 to 6 p.m.

Information: 215-531-4972 or www.greensgrow.org/westphilly

Caramelized Beets and Garlic Scapes

Makes 4 side-dish servings

1 bunch of beets, greens on

1 bunch of garlic scapes

Drizzle of olive oil (may need more or less, depending on what you like)

Sea salt, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Remove greens and save for soup or sauteing; pop them directly in a bag in the freezer if you aren't going to use them right away.

3. Wash beets and slice in ΒΌ-inch slices (I leave the skin on but if you want to peel them).

4. Remove tough ends of the garlic scapes (compost them or save them for vegetable stock).

5. Cut garlic scapes into 3-inch pieces.

6. Toss beets and scapes in olive oil.

7. Place on baking sheet and sprinkle with sea salt.

8. Bake for about 40 minutes to an hour, until the beets are crispy on the edges and tender in the middle; I recommend checking on them after 30 minutes.

9. Serve hot. You can also caramelize onions and carrot and other root vegetables this way.

- Adapted by Jennifer Foster for Greensgrow

Per serving: 94 calories; 2 grams protein; 13 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams sugar; 4 grams fat; no cholesterol; 142 milligrams sodium; 2 grams dietary fiber.

Baby Spinach Salad With Chevre, Poached Egg, and Grapefruit Dressing

Makes 1 serving

1 egg (local and free range preferred)

2 ounces organic baby spinach (I used 1/3 of a bag, but a serving of spinach is one cup, so you can use that as a measurement also)

1 ruby red grapefruit

Drizzle of olive oil (may need more or less, depending on what you like)

2 ounces chevre (goat cheese)

Sea salt, to taste

1. Poach or soft-boil egg.

2. Rinse and dry spinach.

3. Cut grapefruit in half and juice half, reserving other half for on the salad.

4. Mix grapefruit juice with drizzle of olive oil and whisk together.

5. Put spinach in serving dish and pour dressing over the spinach; toss to coat.

6. Add chevre and egg on top of spinach and sprinkle with sea salt.

7. Serve other half of grapefruit on the side.

- Adapted by Jennifer Foster for Greensgrow

Note: You can also mix in arugula, pea shoots, micro greens, roasted beets, carrots, and other vegetables to this salad. For a larger salad, juice the whole grapefruit for the dressing instead of serving it on the side.

Per serving: 413 calories; 25 grams protein; 14 grams carbohydrates; 11 grams sugar; 30 grams fat; 223 milligrams cholesterol; 450 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.

Roasted Asparagus and Tomatoes With Garlic

Makes 4 side-dish servings

1 pound of asparagus (thinner is better)

1 pint of cherry tomatoes (smaller than a quarter)

6 or more cloves of garlic, to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil (may need more or less, depending on size of the veggies)

Sea salt, to taste

Juice of half a lemon (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Rinse the asparagus and cherry tomatoes in cold water.

3. Remove the tough ends from the asparagus (these should go in your compost if you aren't going to save them to make vegetable stock later).

4. Cut the asparagus into 4-inch pieces.

5. Peel and crush the garlic, leaving the cloves mostly whole.

6. Put asparagus, tomatoes, and garlic in a large bowl and add olive oil; toss to coat.

7. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer.

8. Sprinkle sea salt on top of vegetables.

9. Roast about 20 minutes or until the asparagus is tender.

10. If desired, squeeze fresh lemon juice on top.

- Adapted by Jennifer Foster for Greensgrow

Per serving: 103 calories; 4 grams protein; 9 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams sugar; 7 grams fat; no cholesterol; 65 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.






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