TURF Inc. was started in February of 2022 by two friends from the Harrisburg, PA area. One, Amahl Pitts, is a lifelong resident who saw the disparity in food distribution, the predatory practices of those who are selling food in the city-and especially to the most disadvantaged neighborhoods, the overwhelming number of empty, government-controlled buildings and vacant lots, and the lack of sufficient policy concerning urban agriculture. The other, Kerry MacDearmid, is a farmer and traditionally trained educator, originally from the Northeast, who saw those same empty lots throughout the city that should be producing the food the city needed but were tied up by the pervasive corporate development mindset of the local government and few large developers in the area. These two friends, with the help of a third member of the community-Todd Thomas, an architect who had worked on the original city plan, decided to do something about it. The three garnered the support of over 130 people and began the City FARM Project. In just two months, as an example of the possible, the group converted an old run-down football stadium into a high-yielding community garden. They used the garden as a mouthpiece to educate the community to the issues at hand by inviting the community to freely partake of the fruits of their neighbor’s hard work. Now T.U.R.F. is positioned to begin the permanent work of acquiring, developing, and redistributing city lots as high-yielding Gardenscapes and educating city residents not only to grow their own food and turn their excess production into a profitable business, but in such a way as to change the attitude of residents toward food, nutrition and self-subsistence. T.U.R.F. Inc. is addressing several systemic problems in their work to alter the food landscape of the city of Harrisburg, PA. The most evident is lack of nutritious foods for urban residents but since most Harrisburg residents are from non-white background, it becomes a race inequality as well. Many race injustices are intertwined and solving the nutritional issue has the potential to positively impact the city’s educational disparities, employability percentages, incarceration rates, per capita cost for items such as healthcare, elder care, and drug addiction. We do not pretend we can change all these injustices ourselves but see great potential in being the catalyst that moves the city in a direction for positive change. In the case of the problems here in Harrisburg, they are traditional race issues. At the root they are caused by racism, classism, and the disease of the haves and the have nots. These are the issues we work to eradicate through equitable food production, distribution, education, and policy.
TURF Inc. has four main goals. The first is to acquire, develop, and equitably redistribute control of available sites throughout the city not currently being used for food production. The second is to teach community residents local to each site to use it for high-yielding food production and sales. This includes teaching food production, safety, and handling, business planning, and financial management at age-appropriate levels to community members of all ages. The third goal is to empower the community members to become active in ensuring that local governmental policies and laws pertaining to urban agriculture/food production are fair, equitable, and beneficial to the community. Our fourth goal, and equally important, is to ensure that the garden sites we develop are financially sustainable as income-generating, cooperative, community-run businesses and that our organization can realize a reasonable return for time and resources invested at each site without being a burden on those meant to benefit from the site development.
Our audience is all community members in the geographic location directly around our development site as well as those individuals from other neighborhoods of Harrisburg who have signed up to take gardening classes through the organizations that we have affiliations with. A community can be a school, an organization, a neighborhood, or even a township.
Children will be offered targeted educational programs focused on nutrition, ecology, entomology through our pollinator program, and basic gardening skills. They will have access to the ingredients and instruction to prepare themselves nutritional meals and will learn how these foods help them to increase their potential both educationally and physically. They will be empowered to share their learning with friends and family members.
Teens and adults will be offered basic nutritional education with more technical gardening and ecology management classes. Business development classes will be offered to teens and adults who are interested in helping to create a business at the development site or wish to implement the learning at another accessible location. They will take an active part and responsibility for the produce grown in their community and will attend farmers markets where they will gain experiential knowledge in marketing and customer service. They will be supported in developing a viable agricultural business and will have access to all knowledge and tools necessary to be successful.
All community members will be invited to partake of the fruits of the project through community demonstration days and local sales of produce to community members.
We hope that this short narrative conveys the spirit of TURF Inc. Please feel free to reach out if you would like any further information.
Amahl and Kerry