The Germantown Kitchen and Garden Farmstand is a functioning half-acre farm in East Germantown. The garden is completely organic and offers anything from flowers to herbs. As a frequent guest of the farmstand I was happy to finally sit down to talk with the owner, Amanda Staples, to discuss urban farming and all the challenges and joys that come with it.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and why you started the farm?
Sure, I started the farm ten years ago with my husband. We had just come back from a big internship in Lancaster county on an organic farm and we had been wanting to start a farm in the city. I had at that point gotten really interested in vacant land use and just having access to food and also creating gardens. Then when I learned about how to farm I really wanted to do that in the city. We bought this property in 2008 and it was completely overgrown, the lot had been abandoned for 35 years. You couldn’t even walk from one end to the other, it was a total jungle. We bought it and started clearing it out and we had a tiny little area that we cultivated while we were clearing out the rest of it. We started a farm stand maybe three years in and after three years my ex went back to work full time because we didn’t have enough money to keep this project going. I stayed on and cultivated the farm stand, at that point it was really small. We sort of just plugged away for a while doing that and the garden was just paying for itself. It wasn’t making any money for me but I didn’t need it to. When we split up in 2015 I didn’t have any money so I took the year off to work for a landscaper. She actually became a really good friend of mine and is now my partner in the christmas tree, winter market that I do. I worked for her for a year and got my stuff together, then that year I decided I was going to try to make this farm my sole source of income. The way that I kicked that season off was to make wreaths, so I sold thousands of dollars of wreaths that winter and had enough money to get things going in the spring. I also gave myself a small loan from my savings account, which I’ve never paid back. So 2016 was my first season by myself, trying to run a business, so this’ll be my fourth season. In that time my customer base has really grown, I’ve just become more assertive about letting people know I was here.
Then I started the plant nursery which is another little aspect of the business. I kind of kicked that off with a weekend-long plant sale in the fall of 2016. I was also a horticulture student at the Barnes Foundation for a couple year so I was really getting into that. It’s been fun to also offer landscape plants to people, especially in Germantown because people have gardens because there’s so much space.
We built a greenhouse last year which was a huge deal for me because I always started my seedlings in my house. I started renting greenhouse space the last few years but the greenhouse has hours, and commuting back and forth to your little baby plants isn’t ideal. I was super thankful for it but I still had to supplement with plants at my house which meant there was dirt everywhere, there were grow shelves everywhere, watering. So having a greenhouse has been really great and this is only the first full season that I’ve had it.
I’ll open the nursery in April and the farmstand I’ll open in May. I’m just coming out of my winter hibernation which hasn’t really felt like much of a hibernation. Ever since I started doing the Christmas trees and wreaths, I’m working all of November to get ready for that, December’s insane and it basically doesn’t quiet down until after that.
What made you decide on starting this in Germantown / the Northwest?
The space. We were living in Kensington and I’d been there for five or six years and before that I was in South Philly. Kensington has so much vacant space, I had such a big community there and I wanted to stay there. That is what it is because now when I go back there I’m so glad that I don’t live there. It was inspiring when i was there, every piece of land that you see there is empty, there’s nothing growing on it. You can have a better vision of what you want to do but also the property is way more expensive. Anytime we would see a place as big as the place I have now it was like 30 different parcels. They were owned by 30 different people, half of them are dead, it wasn’t happening. In the meantime a very new friend of ours who was also living in Kensington had started looking for a huge house because he wanted to live with a bunch of people and have a communal house situation. They had found this place in Germantown and he talked to us and asked if we wanted here. We had said no, we didn’t want to move to Germantown, it’s too far away. We rode our bikes up here and checked it out and like I said the lot was crazy, it was totally overgrown. It wasn’t like I could look at this and envision anything, I couldn’t see through it. I guess it just started feeling like our only option, it was a private sale which is very rare, it wasn’t that much money for how big the plot is but we’ll move into this huge house with a bunch of people that we hardly know which is risky and weird. But we did and it was really fun, those people became some of my best friends. We kind of decided to do it because, it was a lot of money, but it wasn’t market rate. I think we decided we could probably sell it if everything goes badly. That’s how we came to live in Germantown.That was 10 years ago and I love it here now, now I live in a different house, next door to the other house, that’s also connected to my property, so I got really lucky.
What plans do you have for the future? Do you think you’ll continue?
It’s definitely extremely challenging financially and I’m getting older and I’m starting to feel like I’m going to be working forever and ever. Part of me thinks that’s fine. But, I feel really committed, not just to our local food system but also our local ecology and getting plants into regular people’s hands. We can create ecological pathways, even in a city, if everyone participates. So that’s something I’m really interested in, getting people excited about plants. I love my farm and I love having people there, so for the foreseeable future that’s what I’m doing.