Farm Manager, Weavers Way Farm
David Zelov was an organic farming consultant and coordinator of the Burlington County, New Jersey’s Master Gardener Program before joining Weavers Way Farm as farm manager. He has a B.S. degree in natural resource management. In addition to managing the day-to-day operations of the farm, he is responsible for future expansion of the farm and furthering Weavers Way’s educational mission.
Weavers Way Farm is a program of Weavers Way Coop, a longtime Philadelphia food cooperative that serves 3,600 households through outlets in Mount Airy, Chestnut Hill and Ogontz. The farm grows produce for sale at the cooperative and for markets and restaurants in the city. It also operates education programs bringing inner city youth to the fields to participate in all aspects of growing food and selling to markets. Established on one quarter of an acre in 2000, the farm has progressed from low levels of production using part-time and unpaid help to an urban farming operation that today spans 1.5 acres on three sites in the city and requires four full-time employees, three summer interns and numerous students and volunteers.
In order to maximize productivity and sustainability, the farm seeks a diversity of crops that are grown in rotations that make the best use of the farm’s resources, minimize pest problems and provide an optimum supply of produce. The farm uses compost as well as organic fertilizer. Growing in raised beds promotes drainage and early warm-up of the soil in spring, enables planting crops at closer intervals. Since walkways are on the side of the beds, soil compaction is minimized in crop growing areas. Black plastic is laid over the soil so plants can grow up through it, providing effective weed control and conserves moisture. Drip irrigation ensures optimal moisture levels in dry weather. Row covers are used in the field over newly planted crops as a simple way to provide early season warmth and extend the growing season. Green houses enable the farm to extend the season even further. As a result of these efforts, the harvest season runs from early February to Late November. The farm’s infrastructure includes one permanent greenhouse, three semi-permanent hoop houses, three equipment sheds, a walk-in cooler, a drip irrigation system and a washing station.
Weaver’s Way has a wider diversity of crops than is seen on many commercial farms, growing some 244 varieties of crops that include 60 vegetables, 15 flowers, 10 herbs, and 5 berries. As a result, the farm is able to provide interesting and colorful varieties not seen in the supermarket. At the end of the season, fields are planted to cover crops to protect the soil and provide nutrients when incorporated in the soil in spring. They include oats, field peas, rye, clover, vetch, buckwheat and soybeans. When it comes to controlling crop damage, the farm uses Integrated Pest Management, an approach developed in recent years that involves close monitoring of populations of pests such as insects, establishing thresholds above which pests cause economic damage and taking control measures after those thresholds have been exceeded. Using cultural practices such as growing plants that ward off pests in close proximity to vulnerable plants helps keep pest populations below damaging thresholds. Pest control measures include mechanical removal of pests, biological control through application of organisms that prey on pests and, as a last resort, chemical control.
About 32% of the farm’s produce is sold through Weavers Way Coop outlets and about 59 percent is sold through farmers’ markets. The remaining 9 percent is sold to restaurants. Farmers markets where Weavers Way Farm sells produce include Head House Square, Chestnut Hill, Manayunk and Henry Avenue (Saul High School)). The farm participates in partnerships with Wyncote Academy, Penn State extension, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia University and the Philadelphia Orchard Project.
Weavers Way Community Programs were started in 2007 as part of the Mt. Airy Community Services Corporation. They include a marketplace program, a farm education program and an environmental program. As a result, children learn about food from the farm to the store. These activities take place at Martin Luther King High School where adults and children help grow crops that are sold on site and at Stenton Family Manor where volunteers of all ages have helped create a farm from an unused plot of land. Farm staff work with kitchen staff to develop a cropping plan and children from the family shelter get involved in farming, learning in the process where food comes from. To date, Weavers Way Farm has had 4,000 visitors and more than 1,000 of them are regular visitors.
In an effort to provide wide-ranging views and perspectives regarding the practice of and issues surrounding agriculture, the Philadelphia Society for Promoting Agriculture (PSPA) seeks speakers representing a variety of perspectives. The statements and opinions they present are strictly their own and do not necessarily represent the views of PSPA.