What will urban farming look like in it’s 20’s?
In the years since we delivered cases of produce out of the back of Tom’s little red truck, Greensgrow has changed a great deal. That willingness and ability to change, has been the root of our success. What was once a dilapidated industrial site is today an active and vibrant resource of all things green and good.
When we first got started farming in the city, people thought we were crazy, in our teens they called us visionaries. Today we are still crazy about food, flowers and our community!
1997: Greensgrow Farms is born. Co-founders Mary Seton Corboy and Tom Sereduk grow crops on a rented field in New Jersey while exploring the market for urban farming. They find a litter strewn lot in Kensington that had been a steel galvanizing factory, a Superfund brownfield that had been capped by the EPA. They sign a two year lease with owner NKCDC.
1998: Mary and Tom take out a $47,000 Ben Franklin Technology Center loan and each put in $1000 to create an urban farm. The first crop consists exclusively of baby field greens grown hydroponically for wholesale. The first year they sold $5,000 in lettuce. That seemed like a lot of green.
1999: Annual sales exceed $50,000. Greensgrow registers as the non profit Greensgrow Philadelphia Project.
2000: Blanche arrives. The farm was deep in lettuce and birds descended to destroy it, taking a bite from each plant. Then one day a black cat arrived and the birds flew away. Intergrated Pest Management (IPM). Al would pack her in a suitcase every day and bring her over. Mary named her Blanche because she was slutty and classy at the same time. She was employee of the year twice and is immortalized in Mary’s book.
2001: Greensgrow builds a greenhouse with used parts and opens a seasonal nursery.
2002: The farmstand and CSA open for business. Mary and engineer friend, Mat Brener build the prototype of the first raised beds designed specifically for a brownfield site. Tom leaves to pursue new initiatives. The Honey from the Hood initiative launches with hand-me-down hive frames.
2003: After a bit more tinkering with the raised beds, realizing drainage was lacking, Greengrow completely dismantles and rebuilds the beds. Finding that they work properly with the addition of French drains, more raised beds are completed with high tunnel tops to grow tomatoes and eggplants.
2004: Mary is named to Organic Style magazine’s Environment Power List: Top 50.
2005: The Philadelphia Business Journal and Women’s Restaurant Owners and Chefs Association honor Mary with “Woman of Distinction” and “Golden Plough” awards, respectively.
2006: Greensgrow becomes a Subaru of America community partner. The hydroponics system is scaled back to allow Mary to recoup from a battle with cancer.
2007: Greensgrow biodiesel initiative launches in partnership with Wilson College. The Winter CSA is begun, supporting local farmers into lean months.
2008: Mary is named “Best Philadelphian” by Philadelphia Magazine. Sales top $500,000 for the first time.
2009: Greensgrow announces plans to open a community kitchen in St. Michael’s Church in Kensington. Greensgrow receives the Local Food Economy Leadership Award from the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) and William Penn Foundation.
2010: Greensgrow launches the LIFE program in an effort to bring top quality local produce to SNAP beneficiaries at an affordable rate and to provide basic food preparation techniques and recipes. The biodiesel is dismantled because of increasing difficulty finding low titration oil donations; fryer oil becomes a commodity.
2011: Greensgrow’s nursery wins Best of Philly, City Nursery. Greensgrow is named Sustainable Business of the Year by the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce. Greensgrow Mobile Markets in Camden, NJ launched to bring top quality local produce to underserved neighborhoods. Milkshake the Pig arrives for the Subaru Fall Festival and stays.
2012: Greensgrow sold over $1,000,000 in product. Greensgrow Mobile Markets in West Philly to bring top quality local produce to underserved neighborhoods. Mary is given the PoWeR Award by the Professional Women’s Roundtable and honored with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Societies Certificate of Merit.
2013: The year of the goat; brother and sister pygmy goats quickly won over everyone on the farm and in the neighborhood. They now live at Thorpe Farm in Bucks County. Green Mountain Energy donates a solar panel array.
2014: Two Best of Philly Awards; Best Garden Center & Best Events Calendar for Heath Nuts. Greensgrow West opens in April, a second location in West Philadelphia. The SNAP Box Program hits it’s stride with over 120 low-income families participating.
2015: In 2015 a lease on a property at 5123 Baltimore Avenue is secured becoming the more permanent West Philadelphia home. The SNAP Box Program flourishes with 280 families participating, translating to 1,800 boxes of local food subsidized for needy families. Greensgrow receives a generous donation from the Phillies Charities Grant Fund.
2016: This was a big year at Greensgrow, both wonderful & sad. Greensgrow West is relaunched at 5123 Baltimore Avenue.
Greensgrow’s founder Mary Seton Corboy passed away and new Executive Director, Ryan Kuck (a former farmer) is named.
2017: Greensgrow celebrates 20 years! A Taste of Kensington a new annual fundraiser celebrating the local food scene begins. Mary’s Community Fund is launched to give small grants to greening and beautification projects to honor the work of our ffounder. Grants from Target, the USDA and an award from GSK are received.
2018: The increased interest in local food has been a success, but it has meant increasing competition from other local food retailers. In 2018 Greensgrow begins reorganizing how it brings local food to the community and forms new partnerships to streamline programs and services.