Awbury Farm – the 16-acre acreage of the Awbury Arboretum northwest of Washington Lane – has always been more than just an agricultural oasis in northwest Philadelphia. Hidden along the SEPTA Chestnut Hill East line, it’s as much a community space as it is an urban farm, a place where volunteers can walk goats on leashes and local co-ops and organizations can tend small patches of farmland.
Winding through the trails on a cool but sunny June night, this mix of missions was evident as the sound of a drum lured curious passers-by to the picnic grove, surrounded by a Weaver’s Way Co- Op, a dye garden maintained by the Philadelphia Guild of Handweavers and a small garden supplying the Philly Forests CSA program.
A small group of people sat in a circle around Philadelphia percussionist Karen Smith, conducting an informal jam session on her djembe. A group of young children took over a hay cart. Visitors sampled food from a nearby folding table: vegan pasta salad, grilled chicken, cookies and cupcakes, and a dish labeled “fruit-o-potamus salad.”
Although the mood was more like a laid-back picnic, it was the launch event for the Painted Bride Art Center’s new Resistance Garden program, a six-month series of artist residencies, events, and outings. of zine exploring agriculture and food politics through the arts. The first of five community dinners planned for the coming months, the evening at Awbury culminated the first of residencies, local musician and visual artist Emily Birdie Busch’s month-long partnership with Philly Forests.
For those who have attended events at the Painted Bride over the decades, it seemed very different. The organization controversially sold its building in 2020, reinventing itself as a nomadic presenter planning to collaborate with partners in various disciplines.
“This is our future,” bridal executive director Laurel Raczka said, between bites of salad on a paper plate. “We want to partner with organizations that do good work, bring them arts programs and activate their spaces.”
Amalia Colón-Nava, manager of the Jardin de la Résistance project, has long worked at the crossroads of the arts and urban agriculture. A dancer and movement artist, Colón-Nava is also co-owner and community coordinator of Dirtbaby Farm, a small farm in Roxborough. .
“The arts are essential to farms and urban gardens,” she said. “The arts help open up opportunities for people to understand what we do and see how important it is. And the arts help the farm be the best version of itself. They don’t always have to be in the same sentence, but they definitely parallel and elevate each other.
By November, the Painted Bride will facilitate five artist residencies with nine partners across Philadelphia, host four more community dinners, and release three more volumes of their zine. The program involves farms, gardens and foragers including Urban Creators, Norris Square Neighborhood Project, Truelove Seed and Girls Justice League; artists in residence include poet and community ethnographer Sabriaya Shipley, theater artist and physical storyteller Mia Donata Rocchio, musician and movement artist Jonathan Delgado-Melendez, and sculptor César Viveros.
“Resistance Garden is an uplifting gathering,” said Colón-Nava. “We are starting to build a network of farms in the city. We need these green spaces. Regardless of the fact that they can provide all the necessary food for the entire population of Philadelphia, which they obviously can’t, it educates people and connects them to their eating habits.
Philly Forests grows fruits and vegetables and maintains a small tree nursery on 2.5 acres scattered across the farm in Awbury. The organization, founded and led by Jasmine Thompson, runs a small ASC of 35 members and operates the Germantown Farmers’ Market. Proceeds from sales are donated to an urban ecology program that provides free trees to residents of the city’s 13 ZIP codes with the lowest tree cover.
“Art can be very therapeutic,” Thompson said. “I hope this program will highlight the importance of local food systems and support your local producers.”
A neighbor of Thompson in Germantown, Birdie Busch drew inspiration for her residency from photos Thompson had shared on social media of her work, close-ups of her and other hands working the soil. She recreated some of the most striking images as a collage on watercolor backdrops, then printed them on a large scale to create banners that hung from a newly repaired fence around the CSA garden in Philly Forests.
“I’m someone who likes to treat my immediate neighborhood as my world,” says Busch. “For me, the significance of the project was to see all the work that Jasmine has done over the past few years in tandem with the reforestation and greening of many parts of the city. So I wanted to make art that didn’t wasn’t necessarily fixed here, who could be mobile and travel to the farmers’ market or the satellite projects she’s working on across town.
Alicia Rink, a “creative intuitive, spirit channeler and healer” who will partner with Lady Danni Morinich on a resistance garden project involving wild foraging, contributed a poem called “Fertile Darkness” to the zine. She arrived at the potluck with a stuffed garlic and mustard pesto lasagna.
“I’m very attached to the spiritual aspect of connecting with Earth energy,” Rink explained. “When I forage, I ask permission before taking anything. When I cook, it feels a lot like an art to me.
Upcoming Resistance Garden events are a Community Potluck and Summer Showcase at Norris Square Neighborhood Project on August 9, followed by an Ubuntu Kids Residency Celebration at Urban Creators the weekend of August 13.
“Agriculture is a lesson in humility,” Colón-Nava concluded. “It’s important to me to reach people through the arts because of my work of making food, of making something really tangible that literally goes into people’s bellies. They both feed, and they feed too.