Ten years after they started planting vegetables in their garden, Farm 51, and the queer couple behind it, are still bringing their community together.
Neal Santos is munching a raw bitter gourd as he leads me through his urban farm, foraging for greens to accompany tonight’s dinner. Not too far away, I can hear the sound of his husband, Andrew Olson, watering a wall stacked with succulents, flanked by their four cats, Spaghetti, Tuna Salad, Pumpernickel, and Cash Money.
In between collecting leaves of chard, Neal talks me through this plot of lands’ history—it’s hard to believe that what started as a humble garden in quiet Kingsessing has become a community anchor and provider. Started in 2008, their initial goal was to provide their neighborhood with fresh produce that people paid for using however much they could afford. As interest in what they were doing grew, so did their assortment of animals: flocks of chickens, and bees for honey, joined their four dogs, Rosco, Violet, Giblet, Chicharron, and their cats. All of a sudden their little garden had turned into a farm.
As Neal and Andrew’s professional lives continue to grow and take their roots deeper into the wider Philadelphian community, their farm has now become more of a community hangout. If you were to visit them in their, now narrower, growing season from June to October, you’ll be able to harvest your own vegetables and pay as much as you can afford. Or maybe you can attend one of their casual farm parties, where you’ll mingle with several other queer urban farmers who came to Philadelphia and found community. At the very least, you could watch Andrew arrange flowers with an artistic flair and precision, or pick up some tips on the best way to pickle vegetables from Neal. Then maybe they’ll cook you some chicken adobo. You should eat it.