Urban Farming and Community Engagement

Profile: Andrew Hanna

During the Summer of 2018, Andrew Hanna served as the Penn State Center: Philadelphia’s community engagement intern and worked with Weaver’s Way Farms to foster community involvement in urban renewal and local food systems. Hanna, a Penn State Economics major and Philadelphia resident, was drawn to the opportunity to work with urban farmers by his interest in working in settings that are not necessarily traditional for economics majors, such as agriculture. This interest extends to the intersections between economics and community development, a connection that Andrew fostered over time. “I’d heard of it,” Andrew said of the task of community development, “but wasn’t really sure what it looked like, and wanted to get a better understanding of it.” This process entailed weekly volunteer days at various urban farms and farmer’s markets, attending meetings with residents, and participating in facilitated discussions with his cohort and peers. These discussions, led by World in Conversation—a PSU-originated dialogue project—as well as Soil Generation, a Philadelphia-based Black & Brown-led coalition dedicated to the community control and access to food and land, were instrumental in both Hanna’s growing investment in community development as an active process, as well as his lingering skepticism of large-scale, non-local interventions to established communities: “I don’t think that it’s appropriate for outsiders to make large developmental decisions for a community if they don’t live there,” opined Hannah, especially “if they don’t have an intimate understanding of what that community needs. The creativity and the decision-making should come from the ground level, and it should be supplemented by resources from the outside.”

Finally, it was intimacy that was at the heart of Hanna’s experience, both with the physical systems of food production (by way of the act of farming), and more importantly, with the local community of Philadelphia. The gardens, and the communities that both support them and benefit from them, “have become very, very important,” Hanna notes, “and whenever I go back into Philadelphia…I have a much different connection with the city, and there’s definitely more intimacy and excitement around it.” The Intercollegiate Minor in Civic and Community Engagement was thrilled to be able to support Hanna’s internship, and applauds his efforts, in his own words, at “bolstering my understanding of social issues, building a capacity for empathy, and fostering the relationships between interns and members of the local community.” Hanna’s experience is a model for the type of outreach and civic enterprise that the Minor hopes to foster amongst its students.

Click here to see a short documentary about Andrew Hanna’s experience as a CIVCM intern.