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Network Of Philadelphia-Based Urban Farmers Working To Preserve History, Feed City's Most Vulnerable

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A network of Philadelphia-based urban farmers is working to preserve their history while feeding the city's most vulnerable populations with the hopes of planting the seeds of justice and understanding.

"We have callaloo growing right next to the sweet potatoes. So we have sweet potatoes in the ground but what most people don't know is you can also eat the leaves of the sweet potato," said Laquanda Dobson.

The growth and the work at Sankofa Community Farm doesn't stop.

"I would welcome you into picking a bunch. I can give you a rubber band. You can't be out here and not do no work," Dobson said.

"Sankofa" means go back and get it.

The farm is located inside Bartram's Garden in Philadelphia's Kingsessing neighborhood. They practice natural agriculture here, so there's no tilling.

"We're not just going through the space trying to make it look pretty and make it look nice because that's not natural agriculture. Natural agriculture is basically making sure that everything can coexist together," Dobson says.

She has been here for two years.

Every Wednesday and Thursday they're here harvesting crops to be sold at their farmer's market on Thursday afternoons.

But at the farm, where gospel music blasts from the speakers, they say they're doing more than just growing crops. They say they're building a community.

"I feel like it's a public service and I also believe that this is a mission. There are so many black farmers out here who are doing this work," Dobson said.

They aren't just doing this for now. They're also working to preserve Philly's urban farms and bring more to the city.

"By growing the food, we have the power to heal our bodies, to heal our minds and to heal our communities," said urban farmer and researcher Ashley Gripper.

Gripper is working with Soil Generation and city officials at Parks and Recreation to design Philly's first urban agriculture plan.

She says the biggest problem they are currently facing is holding on to the land.

"Honestly, we're looking for champions in this city who will help us to support this work and help us to move this work forward," said Gripper.

They say the recent uprising and current pandemic has shown us how hard food can be to come by, especially for vulnerable populations. At Sankofa, they're teaching youth about urban farming and hosting youth from as far away as Liberia. They say it's about appreciation for the land and our bodies.

"It is more than fruits and vegetables. To me, it's about agency. It's about having ownership over our food system, having control over that food and knowing where it comes from," Gripper said.

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