By Constance Garcia-Barrio
Leor Winston lives so attuned to the earth that she seems a green sprite in human guise. “I fell in love with farming when I interned at Weavers Way Farms last summer,” said Leor, 20, a Haverford College student who’s living in Mt. Airy. “It’s wonderful to work with children and plants.”
An experience two years ago helped draw Leor to the Weavers Way Farm Education Program. “I spent a week at the Bread and Puppet Farm in Vermont,” said Leor, originally from Boston. “It’s a radical theater group that makes giant puppets out of papier mache. Some are so big that it takes many people to move them.”
Leor cooked and performed in shows at the Bread and Puppet Farm, whose audiences not only see theater but also share the farm’s fresh bread free of charge. “The bread helps to create community. I also gathered apples, picked vegetables and cleaned the kitchen.”
Puppetry and politics played a role in Leor’s decision to attend college near Philadelphia. “Philly has a lot of do-it-yourself puppeteers involved in radical politics. There’s also a queer community with lots of young people,” said Leor, who helps to staff the farm stand at Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill.
The internship with Weavers Way Community Programs (WWCP) fit Leor’s goals of both learning and furthering a commitment to social change. The Co-op founded WWCP in 2007 as a separate but allied nonprofit organization to strengthen the local community, one of the cooperative principles. WWCP has three programs.
Through the Mt. Airy Bike Collective, volunteers promote bike riding, safety and maintenance. “Our School Marketplace consists of school-based mini-co-ops that students run with guidance from their teachers and WWCP staff,” said Mira Rabin, president of WWCP’s board. “Middle and high school students can buy healthful, affordable snacks and learn about running a small business.”
The third component, WWCP’s Farm Education Program, teaches students about ecology, farming and nutrition and takes place at Awbury Arboretum, Saul Agricultural High School and Stenton Family Manor. “Our interns learn about different kinds of community work,” Rabin said. “We hope they’re inspired to continue in nutrition, urban agriculture or similar fields.”
“My mom’s a huge fan of gardening,” Leor said of her mother, Karen Sauer. “She knows a lot about plants. I wasn’t interested until a few years ago.”
Now Leor soaks up plant lore. “I love seeing how plants in the same family are similar. Take the solanaceae, or nightshades. Tomatoes are the most common members, but you also have tomatillos, ground cherries, peppers and eggplants. Deadly nightshade is poisonous and causes delirium, and it’s related to tomatoes. That may be why people in America considered tomatoes poisonous for a long time. The leaves of a tomato plant actually are poisonous. We can only eat the fruit.”
Leor both peels back layers of the land’s secret and finds joy in the physical work of farming. “Being raised as a girl often includes messages from society to think of one’s body aesthetically rather than functionally. I see how the physical work I do makes a physical difference in the land and how working on the land affects my body. It’s awesome. I have to remind myself to take a break every few hours.”
Leor recently gave a tour of Awbury Arboretum’s medicinal plants to Drexel medical students, who want to return and stay longer. “That’s a high compliment,” Leor said.
Children’s visits kindle a special joy. “They renew my passion. I teach them how vegetables, herbs and flowers grow. They taste fresh produce.”
WWCP’s Hope Garden at Stenton Family Manor, a homeless shelter for families, helps to meet a pressing need. Residents and volunteers grow produce for shelter meals. Part of the crop is also sold at local farmers markets. Fresh food makes a difference in the residents’ diet, but the garden seems to nourish the children in other ways as well. “A few of them are nonverbal, but in the garden you can communicate through other senses,” Leor said. “For example, you can take children by the hand and give them something to taste, or you can give them a flower to hold.”
Even when Leor is at the farm stand in Chestnut Hill, needs in other parts of the city seem to loom. “Sometimes I wish we could circulate this produce to areas where it’s normally less accessible. A lack of fresh wholesome food of any sort is a huge problem in many parts of Philadelphia.”
The next few years promise a deepening relationship with the land. “I’m taking the semester off, but I’ll go back to school as a junior in January,” said Leor, who also bikes and plays the ukulele. “I’m looking forward to working on farms in other parts of the country. I’ll give myself some time off after graduation and then return to farming or farm education.”
WWCP relies on grants and community support. For more information, contact Carly Chelder at 215-843-2350, ext. 319, or email@example.com. The farm stand at 8424 Germantown Ave. is open Tuesdays from 3 to 6 p.m.