Summer Centered: Jack Brower ’19 Meets Philadelphia’s Urban Farmers
Brower is taking a closer look at the vibrant Philadelphia subculture of urban farming via an internship with the Neighborhood Gardens Trust.
“If I could choose between Disney World and a week or two on the Appalachian Trail,” Jack Brower ’19 says, “I'm grabbing my backpack and a tent.”
But that enthusiasm for the outdoors has never extended to the household garden.
“I haven't learned much about gardening in my life,” he admits, “though I have been exposed to it since a young age.”
This summer, however, he’s making up for lost time, thanks to a Center for Peace and Global Citizenship-funded internship at the Neighborhood Gardens Trust (NGT). Established in 1986, Philadelphia's largest land trust works with gardening unions, community organizations, property owners, and the city government to preserve and support community gardens and other “vibrant green spaces” where locals can freely grow herbs, flowers, and, of course, food. There, Brower has no shortage of opportunities to familiarize himself with the processes of planting, plowing, and harvesting.
“Recently, I have been interviewing lead gardeners at a few sites that NGT is about to preserve,” he says.“I use the interviews to write stories for future blogs and newsletters.”
It’ll be good practice for the fall, when Brower, a history major and environmental studies minor, will start his senior thesis. On the surface, his selected topic—“environmental violence and British colonialism in 17th-century Ireland”—doesn't have much common with his work at NGT. But Brower sees subtle yet significant intersections.
“The British successfully introduced their system of private land ownership and divided property boundaries to Ireland and North America,” he explains, “which still dictates the way land is divvied up in the United States today. Many urban farmers [like the ones he interviews for his internship at NGT] reject this value system when they occupy privately or city-owned vacant lots and convert them into sustainable gardens that improve quality of life in impoverished neighborhoods.”
Were it not for the 300-level anthropology course “People, Places, and Collaborative Research in the Urban Environment,” however, Brower might never have become cognizant of this rich historical context. Taught by Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Joshua Moses, it transformed the way he thought about the relationship between the polity and the plate.
“Over the course of the class, we spent a lot of time working with East Park Revitalization Alliance (EPRA) in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and North Philly Peace Park (NPPP),” Brower says. “Themes ranged from environmental education to ethical engagement to the importance of community gardens and accessible green space in the city. Towards the end of the semester, I got the opportunity to interview two elderly gardeners at EPRA and collaborate with NPPP and classmates to brainstorm potential strategies the park could pursue to obtain long-term land security. These activities piqued my interest in urban farming and land politics.”
And, as a result, were peripherally responsible for his decision to intern at NGT this summer.
“The main reason I applied,” he reveals, “was because the work… seemed to overlap with what I had started in Josh’s class.”
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ Center-funded summer work.