Anita Harris

Anita_TomatoesAnita Harris – 5300 Wyalusing Avenue

Anita Harris’ inspiration to become block captain didn’t seem particularly ambitious when she started. “I needed something to do,” she explained.

Anita was already working fulltime as a secretary and raising her two daughters.  She simply wanted to make her block of 5300 Wyalusing safe and clean.

But I’ve learned to listen closely to Anita, because behind her efficient language is an ocean of commitment.

Early in Anita’s term as block captain, she met Skip Wiener of Urban Tree Connection. Skip’s organization was working with residents in the Haddington neighborhood to plant flower gardens and trees to rehabilitate crime-ridden vacant lots. Anita joined their efforts and was able to help build several gardens on and around her block.

Five years ago, Skip told Anita that he wanted to start growing food.  It was then that Anita devised a monumental plan for the ¾ acre abandoned lot behind her house.  The lot was once a construction company’s storage site, but it had been abandoned for over 30 years and still contained buried drums of oil and other hazardous construction waste.

“Why don’t we build a farm?” Anita asked as she showed Skip the property.

Skip remembers seeing the lot for the first time. “It was a nightmare. You couldn’t see a foot into the property because the weeds were so high. The space was being used as a chop shop, there were fires, nighttime prostitution, and drugs. It was a very dangerous place.”

For five years, Skip and Anita worked with residents, the city, volunteers, and organizations to clear the lot, remove the waste, replace the soil, and build an urban farm.  It has been slow and intense work, but The Farm at North 53rd and Wyalusing is fully functional with three greenhouses, a packing shed, cold storage and compost stations.

The Farm produces and supplies fresh vegetables and herbs that are sold to Neighborhood Foods farm stands throughout Philadelphia. Anita spends her Saturdays picking, packing and selling the produce at the vegetable stand on the 600 block of North 53rd Street, right around the corner from her home.

The 53rd Street farm stand will open once more this year on Saturday, November 23rd from 10am – 2pm to help families prepare for Thanksgiving.