One of the best decisions I made this past summer was working as a community health intern at Bartram’s Farm in West Philadelphia. Most of my time was spent understanding how community farmers teamed up with other community members to improve food security. But throughout the experience, I was also growing fresh fruits and vegetables to sell at farmers’ markets, including Clark Park and Rittenhouse Square. Overall, working as a part-time farmer was a completely different, yet eye-opening, experience from studying as a full-time student. Here are some of the things I learned:

1. You have to know your community

soup, tea
Connie Xu

Getting to know your neighbors plays into deciding what’s worth growing on the farm. In West Philadelphia, for instance, farmers try to dedicate more plots towards growing culturally-appropriate foods, like kale, collard greens, and sweet potato, for the predominantly African immigrant population. Chris, one of the farmers at Bartram’s, was also experimenting with black sesame and taro, to better cater to the tastes of South Asians living in Southwest Philly.

2. It takes a lot of sweat and tears

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Connie Xu

Consider, for instance, growing a potato, which takes months of planning and hard work. First, you have to decide the best time to start planting seeds. Next, you have to chop the soil to clear any old roots and crop residues. Then comes the actual planting, watering and daily weeding, until finally, during actual harvesting season, you can dig out the entire plant to gather the potatoes growing underneath the roots. It’s a lengthy process, but the end result is so rewarding.

3. You can't sell everything you harvest

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Connie Xu

If there’s one thing you need to know as a farmer, it’s that quality control is everything. Once food has been harvested, it needs to be “processed” or sorted out, so that the bad bunches are taken out. The problem isn’t so much that ugly fruits and veggies aren’t suitable to eat. In fact, they can be just as nutritious as perfectly-shaped produce. But consumers tend to purchase solely on appearance, so holey kale leaves and misshapen tomatoes just won’t cut it.

4. It's not just about the food

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Connie Xu

A big reason that drives farmers to run farmers’ markets is to improve both food sovereignty and food insecurity. Food sovereignty is essentially the right of a people to choose healthy and culturally-appropriate foods, whereas food security is the ability to access or afford those foods. By providing consumers with fresh fruits and veggies through farmers’ markets, farmers can continue to support people’s healthy food choices.

5. The more kids, the better

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Connie Xu

Encouraging youth to grow and harvest their own food is a great way to teach them where exactly their food comes from. Especially when childhood obesity is still on the rise, employing kids to work on a farm helps to establish healthier eating habits. It also reduces the fear that kids may have of tasting new fruits and veggies, and most importantly, brings them closer to their communities.