Stillness, peace, community, poverty. It’s more than just a farm.
That’s where we met Jesse, Patrick and Sam.
These men lead and work in Martha’s Choice Marketplace and Community Farm, having done it for the past year during the pandemic.
“The farm is growing food to donate to the pantries of Montgomery County, but it’s also a place where we can open up to all kinds of people and say, ‘hey, if this was your farm, how would you use the farm for your good?'” Jesse Antonini, community farm development manager of Martha’s Choice Marketplace and Community Farm, said.
They are making a meaningful impact for the community by providing organic, farm-fresh produce, meat, canned goods and pantry staples to low-income residents. “Our mission is to build community through access to healthy food,” Antonini said.
Six people, including Cabrini students and staff, took the trip to Norristown to visit Martha’s Farm and meet the organizers in hopes of volunteering.
“Phenomenal,”Anri Vardanyan, senior criminology major, said about his experience on the farm. “It is one of the most therapeutic types of activities that we have to offer at Cabrini.”
Cabrini University’s partnership with Martha’s Choice Marketplace and Community Farm is not by chance. Dr. Ray Ward, director of the Wolfington Center, says, “We have long-term commitments to hunger and food insecurity efforts at Cabrini. We have a number of faculty members that are committed to this type of work, we also have the Pierce fellowship and it goes to the mission of Mother Cabrini- all the work she did to make sure that people had basic necessities met… that’s the same kind of work that Jesse and Patrick are doing over at Martha’s.”
As we jumped out of the van and stepped out to the farm, we were met by Buster, the lively brown-speckled dog who greets strangers with a smile and a lick.
Walking through the grass, we saw a butterfly mural so beautiful you couldn’t miss it if you tried reading “We arrive as boys…we fly free as men.” It was a vibrant, misty nature-lover’s dream.
We went past the tool shed, down the concrete stairs, out to a private patio with a metal and stone water fountain, blooming light green trees, and dark blue couches. Black-eyed susan flowers were growing near the tool shed.
Sam Martino, a volunteer at the farm, then gave us a tour of the farm. He explained that they used to have a cow, llamas and chickens and they would fertilize the soil. Martino also gave us a bonus tour of the abandoned all-boys Catholic school Saint Gabriel’s Hall from Catholic Social Services, across the street. The hall is now used as a storage facility for the Marketplace’s supplies.
Passing through the farm, you’ll find a midsize garden with loads of tomatoes, zucchini, pumpkin, kale, peppers, basil, tomatillos, perilla, potatoes and corn. “Why is that good,” Vardanyan said with a smile after tasting the farm’s green tomatillos and peppers.
While the experience was originally supposed to be helping to manage the farm garden (it rained), after listening to volunteers’ personal experiences, we realized that Martha’s Choice Marketplace and Farm’s history was extensive. The community’s work has dated back over a century through Catholic Social Services.
It first started out as an all-boys juvenile prevention program as an alternative to juvenile detention centers but it has morphed into a food justice advocacy project for the local community.
If you’ve ever been by the marketplace, you might have noticed that the facility operates a little differently. “We had to shift from a choice model [due to the pandemic], where we had people come in and shop like a grocery store to [now] all drive-thru,” said Antonini.“Now we’re going to try to do a hybrid, where there’s a drive-thru option and you can go in, too.”
At the end of our trip, Martino sent us out with zucchini, flowers and pumpkin leaves. All the more reasons to return.
Interested in volunteering? The Wolfington Center is now offering bi-weekly service trips on Fridays this semester. Ward highly encourages you to try it out. “It kicks distress and despair right out the window when you’re actually seeing the impact that your actions can have and seeing the allies that you can join within doing these things,” said Ward.
For more information on Martha’s Choice Marketplace and Community Farm visit https://marthaschoicemarketplace.com/community-farm/ and https://youtu.be/HLBD5VAxy8o
For more information on the Wolfington Center’s upcoming activities, contact Ray Ward at firstname.lastname@example.org.