A local Philadelphia woman, Mary Seton Corboy set out 15 years ago on a sustainable mission, even she couldn't predict its impact and success. Featured on the cover of Grid Magazine's September Issue, Mary was praised for her innovative business practices and creative applications and integration of urban farming within her surrounding community. Corboy is the founder of Greensgrow Farm, which she started in the late '90s with her partner Tom Sereduk. Greensgrow began with a simple question: How do we grow produce and get it to restaurants as quickly as possible, so it's as fresh as possible?
The pair began in 1998 on a traditional farm in New Jersey, but they both lived in Philadelphia. So in order to cut down on waisted time and energy, it only made sense to move the farm to the city. At that time Philadelphia had plenty of vacant brownfield lands and Corboy saw this as an opportunity. On her search for land she settled on a small plot of land at the corner of Gaul and East Cumberland in the Kensington section of Philadelphia. It was a brownfield site that had been cleaned up by the EPA. In its early stages Greensgrow focused on hydroponic lettuce, sold wholesale to local restaurants. After a few years of barely breaking even, they changed their business model, and built a greenhouse. diversifying their operations they grew very little hydroponic lettuce and focused 95 percent of sales to retail and only 5 percent to restaurants.
They eventually got into the nursery business. This was a great turning point leading to a great relationship with the neighborhood because people were more familiar with growing flowers than vegatables in the city. Around that time they developed a CSA geared towards the small urban couple. Fixed with bread, cheese, chicken and other such things, the CSA became an integral part of Greensgrow starting with 25 members and growing to now 375. Because of high demand Greensgrow compiles their CSA using resources from various local farms within a 75 mile radius that utilize sustainable growing practices.
From the CSA came the farmers market, for those who couldn't afford the CSA. To reach out to low-income neighborhood residents the CSA was expanded with an additional program called LIFE- Local Initiative for Food Education. Corboy noticed that a lot of her neighbors didn't cook food, nor did they shop at her market. So she developed a program that fit into their lives, getting them food and making it affordable. To answer some of these problems, members are able to use food stamps to purchase the CSA. At 21 dollars a week, the cost is 12 percent of an average family's food stamp budget. A cooking class is also another innovative element to LIFE.
With exponential growth over the years Greensgrow will continue to grow making a positive impact on urban health and inspiring new urban gardens and farms that rebuild parts of the city that are underutilized and uninhibited, creating a more livable city.