Claire Baker

Associate Director of Programs, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Biographical Sketch
Claire Baker manages PHS City Harvest, Parks Revitalization and Youth Environmental Stewardship teams dedicated to urban greening and community engagement. She has implemented dozens of projects in that capacity. Prior that she was civic space manager at WHYY, Philadelphia’s largest public television and radio station. Her responsibilities included staff and event management, community outreach, budgeting, grant writing, and reporting. Before joining WHYY, Claire was executive director of the William Way Center in Philadelpia where she was responsible for all functions and activities at Philadelphia’s community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. In that capacity, she rescued the ailing non-profit from the threat of closure and increased donations by 150 percent.

Earlier in her career she was director of operations at MANNA in Philadelphia where she managed the overall fiscal operation, increasing the number of meals delivered daily by more than 20 fold in six years. She has a B.S. in psychology from Oklahoma State University, a certificate in women’s studies from Colorado State University and an advanced certificate in non-profit management from the University of Delaware.

Presentation Summary
At the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, we motivate people to improve the quality of life and create a sense of community through horticulture. We strive to inspire, transform, build and sustain. Our focus areas include design, horticulture, healthy communities and business alliances. We still do all the same work we did at Philadelphia Green but we are changing the name to be more community focused. It is now the PHS City Harvest program where we work to restore broken space. We create community gardens, we work on tree planting with many partners, we work on neighborhood parks, and we transform civic spaces like Logan Square. We also reclaim vacant land. Research shows that reclaimed vacant land leads to reductions in violent crime.

Our community gardening work actually started in 1974 when the Philadelphia Green program was born. Proceeds from the flower show were dedicated to this purpose. We worked to help establish more than 500 community gardens. In doing all these things, we inspire youth and influence public policy and practice. Community gardens have a number of benefits. Unsightly land becomes a green oasis. Property values increase. Social networks are created that foster a sense of community across social and cultural barriers. More nutritious food goes to those who need it and people involved get the benefits of more and regular physical exercise. And, they create an outdoor classroom for hands-on learning.

We have 226 community gardens in Philadelphia for a total of about 1.5 million square feet of gardens or about 33.4 acres. We grow more than 2 million pounds of food at a value of about $5 million. PHS City Harvest connects community gardens with their neighbors, bringing fresh wholesome produce to those who need it most. The program is in its 7th year and provides fresh produce for more than 1,000 families each week. The project is led by more than 200 gardeners who volunteer their time and effort. Since the project’s inception more than 213,000 lbs. of produce has been provided to families who otherwise may not have had access to it. City Harvest placed and supervised more than 1,400 volunteers on 104 workdays last year.

With funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, PHS created the City Harvest Growers Alliance in 2009. This alliance provides a support system for urban food producers. PHS provides seedlings, supplies and materials as well as technical advice for urban market gardeners. These folks grow and sell their produce at farm stands, farmers markets, CSA’s and restaurants. Comprised of 55 growing sites, the alliance sold or donated over 55,000 lbs. of produce last year. PHS is developing Green Resource Centers that provide supplies and hands-on assistance in organic and sustainable growing methods.

City Harvest’s Philadelphia Prison System Greenhouse and Garden Project worked with 98 inmates that grew 20,000 vegetable plant seedlings for distribution. The inmates grew more than 3,000 lbs. of produce in the prison garden. Roots to Re-entry is a PHS program that provides prison inmates pathways to employment through local food production and landscape management. Participants benefit from real live situations. The program provides best-practice training and both the prison garden and at public gardens and parks. Industry experts are brought in to provide additional training. Since 2010, 61 participants have graduated and 52 of them are employed in local landscape businesses. The value of the impact of this on the public good exceeds $300,000.

The Neighborhood Gardens Association preserves and protects 30 community gardens across the city. In 2013, NGA will take on more land to be preserved and will work to become a national model for urban land trusts. PHS took over NGA in 2012.

Another PHS activity is pop-up gardens and seasonal displays. In 2012, more than 50 activities, programs and educational opportunities were offered. More than 100 volunteers assisted in planting and caring for the space and serving as docents for the more than 6,500 visitors.

The Community Farm and Food Resource Center at Bartram’s Garden is a remarkable model of a green resource center launched in November of 2012. It is a unique partnership between PHS, Bartam’s Garden, the Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative at the University of Pennsylvania’s Netter Center and the Philadelphia Parks and Recreation Department. Green Resource Center grow seedlings and distribute high quality growing supplies and plants. They host educational workshops. And, they improve neighborhood food security through increased access to transplants, soil and farmers markets. To accomplish this, they need greenhouses, outdoor growing space and educational space.

The Urban Nutritional Initiative model includes working with youth, engaging with the local community, distributing resources, partnering with schools and educating. In Philadelphia, the Greenworks 2015 goal is to bring local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of the city’s residents.

The Year 1 implementation plan at Bartam’s garden, begun last year, called for development of a greenhouse, hardening off area, storage sheds, a vegetable crop field, an orchard, a community garden and perennial fruit beds. In accomplishing this ambitious agenda, we transformed a 3.5 acres site in less than a year. Our 2012 effort employed 21 high school interns, produced over 7,000 lbs. of food, engaged 25 families in the community garden, grew and distributed 40,000 transplants in and around Philadelphia, planted 110 fruit trees and hosted over 1,000 volunteers.

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.