The Quintessential Black Farmer: Marathon Master St Farm

by Kirtrina Baxter

Eddie Branch makes the Marathon Farm POP!

Moving to Philadelphia has been an enriching experience thus far. Over the past 2 months, I have had the opportunity to volunteer at the community garden three blocks from my house named the Marathon Master St Farm. The land parcel is very large and supports about twenty 70-ft raised beds for market produce and 15 smaller beds for residents. There are also bees and an amazing mural going up sponsored by Philadelphia, renowned Mural Arts Program. The farm hosts a children’s play area and a covered porch that they plan to turn into an outdoor community kitchen for cooking classes.

This farm, unlike a lot of other community farms, is sponsored by Marathon Grill, a successful local restaurant chain here in Philadelphia. The owners are very interested in locally sourcing food. The benefits of this sponsorship I am still learning about. However from my time volunteering and talking with Garden Manager Eddie Branch, I can see that the resources he has available to him are much more than I’ve experienced with other community garden projects.

Eddie Branch is really who this article is about because he makes the farm POP! Eddie lives on 27th St right next to the farm. He has been a resident there for 47 years. The farm is pretty new, this is only their second season but produce is growing abundantly. Eddie began volunteering last year when the project began. He is a handy man who has been doing construction and home repairs for years in the neighborhood. He says he’s always been good with his hands. But not only is he good with his hands he has an excellent memory that puts mine to shame and is a fast learner. He quickly picked up on everything that was happening at the farm in the first year.

At first, Eddie pitched in where he could and paid close attention to all that was going on. “Of course,” he says, “whatever’s going on in my neighborhood, I wanna know about it.” He was there daily and the previous farm manager gave him plenty of support and trusted him with large responsibilities seeing his enthusiasm and ability. Last summer Eddie suggested they offer the city-sponsored free children’s lunch program at the site. The program was so successful; the garden got a lot of publicity around it and the community really began to see what good things could come from this project. When I asked him about the idea for the program he mentioned that a neighbor moved in with 13 children and there were already lots of children in the neighborhood that would come over and play at the farm, so he felt it would serve the community well if they could offer the resident children this service, since they had the space.

This year Eddie officially became farm manager. Needless to say, he is a trusted and hard working man. He is at the garden 7 days a week. He loves it! He now reads about gardening and when more experienced people come to help he soaks in everything they say and remembers it all. He also remembers what went well last year and makes adjustments for those things that he thinks should be done differently. He puts his own spin on things as he knows what sells well in his neighborhood and also what structural projects can add to the farm. He has helped to build the children’s play area, the compost area, and is consistently creating ways to enhance the environment around the farm so that his community will appreciate it. He plans to do community barbecues this summer and will continue the Saturday market, which will start up again next week. They will also be selling at another market during the week, this year, to supplement the one at the farm.

When I first met Eddie there was instant chemistry between us, we have spent many days laughing and gardening. He told me in one of our first conversations, “I never thought I would be a farmer, living in the city, but I guess this is what it is because I love this thing.” I will never forget those words because he is the kind of community-minded individual that most of our community garden projects look for. He is a treasure in this movement where it is usual for whites to start a garden project in a low-income area, most times without buy-in from the community, and have no commitment from neighbors because of this. He is talked about at other garden projects in the city because they all long to have “an Eddie” who will take ownership of the garden and utilize it to educate and engage the community.

Everyone in the hood knows Eddie! Now he gets calls from neighbors to help put in trees, to fence up flowers on their walks, to assist with garden projects at local schools and hosts children’s classes at the farm. Eddie is great with the children; he has a 10 year old himself. He says he has become the neighborhood babysitter. On any given day I can stop by and there will be 10 to 15 children playing around in the garden. He knows their parents, they listen to him and he is perfectly skilled at redirecting them when necessary. Eddie represents all that is good with this movement. He is getting in touch with the land, learning about the health benefits of growing your own food and passing on this knowledge to others. My hat goes off to this community business man as he is indeed, now, an Urban farmer.