Patrick Walsh

Martha’s Community Farm is a hidden treasure.

Natives of the Philadelphia region have likely heard of St. Gabriel’s Hall in Audubon and the good works done there from its opening in 1898 until its closure in 2020.  Following that closure, Martha’s Choice Marketplace acquired the use of the 9-acre farm on the property (previously the Mitchell program) and began to grow produce for its food pantry community.

When it was still open, a portion of the grounds at St. Gabriel’s Hall hosted the Mitchell Program, an animal husbandry therapy program for adjudicated youth. Alongside teachers and therapists, many young men found healing while working with animals. Martha’s Community Farm operates on these same grounds, breathing new life into the powerful healing legacy accomplished there for over 100 years.

Led by Jesse Antonini, the Martha’s team of volunteers, staff, and partners began converting the animal enclosures and fields into crop production for guests of our food pantry in Norristown, the largest and most visited food pantry in Montgomery County. In our first year, the farm produced 5,000 pounds of nutritious food for the pantry, specifically foods desired by the pantry’s Hispanic and Latino population. Now, with full irrigation, comprehensive fencing, a renovated green house, new farm equipment, and a strong core of volunteers, staff, and network of partners, the farm is positioned to continue the robust trajectory of growth it has seen over the last three years. Last year, the farm produced over 18,000 pounds of food for Martha’s Choice Marketplace.

We are a regenerative farm that uses no pesticides. We strive to create a balanced, native environment where we can cooperate with nature to manage the pest and disease pressures of the farm.  This is most notably visible in our food forest—a cultivated space of 360 native, primarily food-bearing trees. This dynamic ecosystem has been carefully selected to create habitat for beneficial wildlife and bear food for years to come.

I think the most important parts of Martha’s Community Farm, though, are those that are less quantifiable. This is what makes our farm a treasure.

When you walk onto the farm, you can’t help but encounter the peace of God.  I can personally attest to this. As a father of four and co-director of a pantry community of 15 staff and 150 volunteers, I often walk onto the farm beset by plenty of cares.  But immediately, I’m reminded of God’s love for me and our community in the simple beauty of the natural world and the abundance of the fruits of our labor, all stewarded so carefully by our team.

But where does all this beauty come from?

If you were to ask Jesse or his team—Jake Summers and Emma Smith—what their first priority is, they would say it is to care for the soil.  This is where it all begins and what sets our farm apart.  The soil itself is, in its own way, a revealer of the mystery of God.

As the prolific author and poet Wendell Berry notes:

“The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.”  — Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture

Our daily lives can feel so full of sterility, monotony, and anxiety. But Martha’s Community Farm reminds me that we were not made for that.  We were made to offer creation back to God. We were made for resurrection.  And the soil offers us perhaps, the most perfect analogy for our pursuit of communion with God and neighbor.

Christ’s teaching in the Gospel of John reminds us of this mystery of the spiritual and biological life here on earth, and of our ultimate place with God in the last resurrection:

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” — John 12:24

If you ask, “How do you get all that from showing up to the farm on a nice day?” I would invite you to come and see.

To volunteer or support Martha’s Community Farm, visit:


Patrick Walsh is the Director of Programs at Catholic Social Services’ Martha’s Choice Marketplace & Community Farm, a participating institution with EcoPhilly. Patrick has been building community through access to healthy food since 2015. When he’s not at Martha’s, you can find him around the campfire or in the garden with his four lovely children and amazing wife.