The moment I got on the phone with the director of Urban Tree Connection (UTC) for an interview, I knew I had to work for her this summer. She spoke with clear vision, intention, and deep knowledge. [UTC] works primarily – and almost exclusively – with low-income people of color in West Philadelphia. My main interests lie in community development, public health, and the ways in which food plays a role in their intersection. UTC celebrates and explores these connections through deep engagement with the West Philly community, commitment to the land, and youth-centric programming.
In mid-July, my supervisor Nykisha placed my fellow intern, Tiana, and me in charge of one of the farm sites. Tiana and I rose to the occasion and came up with a management plan for the farm behind the First African Presbyterian Church in West Philly. We managed volunteers, weeded, planted, decided when vegetables needed harvesting, and worked as a team to run the farm.
[I’ve] gained a broader, deeper, more nuanced perspective on the complexities – and simplicities – of community work. I spent a lot of this summer listening, and through that, learned more than I could ever imagine. I became close to many community members and forged incredible relationships with my coworkers as well as with folks from the neighborhood. As the only white person on the farm most days, I grappled with the ways in which I uphold cultures of white supremacy and worked to deconstruct some of my white supremacy-oriented patterns.
If I’ve learned anything this summer, it’s that the work I want to do in my life should involve food in some way. I spent time at farmer’s markets speaking with folks who cannot afford organic vegetables, sold hot pepper starts to a woman who showed me their growth a few weeks later, and chatted with young people about the importance of vegetables. UTC has been working on creating a seed apothecary saving seeds that have been historically used in black agrarian practices to create a self-sufficient network of seeds in the Haddington neighborhood. Witnessing this kind of self-determination made me so excited to support and take part in this work in upcoming summers and in my post-grad life.