Marathon Farm: Social Entrepreneurship at its Finest


J. Gregory Dees, Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, offers a strong definition of a social entrepreneur:

  • Social entrepreneurs are reformers and revolutionaries, as described by Schumpeter, but with a social mission. They make fundamental changes in the way things are done in the social sector. Their visions are bold. They attack theunderlying causes of problems, rather than simply treating symptoms. They often reduce needs rather than just meeting them. They seek to create systemic changes and sustainable improvements. Though they may act locally, their actions have the potential to stimulate global improvements in their chosen arenas, whether that is education, health care, economic development, theenvironment, the arts, or any other social field.

Cary Borish fits this definition perfectly.  I had never seen or heard about the man in my life until I took the trolley to witness the Grand Opening of Marathon Farm, his latest project.  Urban farming is a foreign concept to me and most of my readership, but the general concept is to create an abundance of food for people in need by planting and supporting the establishment of garden on unused land.  The marco mission of these urban farms is to inspire the citizens to live a sustainable lifestyle and pass on these notions to the community at large.

To get to the corner of 27th and Master Street I passed blocks after blocks of rubble, broken glass, and abandoned homes and businesses.  Time had not been kind to this part of town, and as I approached the farm the tired landscape was replaced by oversized planters, open space, and Mayor Nutter standing at a tree stump podium addressing a diverse crowd of supporters and bystanders.  I immediately felt the warmth of this oasis in the middle of a tough area, and I got the feeling that this project would be a cornerstone for this neighborhood’s revival, not just its survival.

In a March 1999 article in the Philadelphia Business Journal, Cary was quoted as saying the Spain family, part owners of Marathon, “sowed a seed and nurtured it.”  Marathon Grill has been a runaway success, and Marathon Farm is looking strong as Cary’s sophomore project.  Patrick Dunn, the farm’s director, couldn’t contain his excitement at the podium and thanked Mr. Borish for all his efforts in making Marathon Farm a reality.

Cary MCed the event, and when he wasn’t speaking he sat in a chair and was surrounded by his children.  One of the speakers joked that he’d like to snag some space of his own in the garden.  Cary immediately pointed over to a vacant lot across the street and said, “every inch of this place is already reserved, but when we take over that lot across the street you can have as much space as you want.”  He’s got plans.

Marathon Farm: Social Entrepreneurship at its Finest

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