Urban Tree Connection home page

UTC’s History & Accomplishments

The Urban Tree Connection (UTC) works with residents in Philadelphia’s historically marginalized urban communities to revitalize their neighborhoods by transforming abandoned open spaces into safe and functional places that inspire and promote positive human interaction. Founded in 1989 and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1997, UTC works with residents of West Philadelphia's Haddington neighborhood to develop community-driven greening and gardening projects on vacant land. Our aim is to cultivate community leadership, improve community health, and develop a local sustainable food system.

Over the last 24 years, UTC has transformed the landscape of Haddington, catalyzing residents' demand for green space and locally produced fresh food. Together, we have redeveloped 29 vacant lots, totaling more than 86,000 square feet of land for communal growing and gathering, sustainable food production and distribution, and multigenerational health and wellness education. This includes our ¾ acre urban farm – Neighborhood Foods Farm, which produces over 10,000 of produce annually. Furthermore, UTC has been at the forefront of urban farming and land reclamation movements in Philadelphia, helping pioneer key tools for legal reclamation of abandoned properties.

Neighbors, once isolated from each other, increasingly connect through the gardens created on these formerly abandoned lots, as well as through the diverse array of educational and community programs that UTC offers. These personal connections have, in turn, empowered neighbors to continue to transform their community. Today, Haddington residents are increasingly realizing the potential for growing food on abandoned lots in their neighborhood, and are active partners with UTC in developing a community based local food system aimed at making affordable, healthy, Haddington-grown food available to every neighbor. This community-based food system presents a powerful antidote to food insecurity and diet-related illnesses faced by residents.

Board of Directors

India Blunt, UTC Board Chair
Program Manager, Lenfest Center

Jayne Mariotti Hebron, UTC Board Vice-Chair
Associate, Ballard Spahr, LLP

Katherine Madonna, UTC Board Treasurer
Director of Finance, Department of OBGYN, Penn Medicine

Lauren Fox, UTC Board Secretary
Member, Cozen O'Connor

Joann Manuel, Community Liaison
Executive Secretary, CATCH, Inc.

Keon Mercedies-Liberato
Track Maintenance & Inspection, National Railroad Passenger Corporation

Tamar Sharabi
Engineer II, Field Services, Philadelphia Gas Works

Noelle Warford
Executive Director, Urban Tree Connection


Our Staff


Noelle Warford, Executive Director
Noelle received her B.A. in Women's and Black Studies from Denison University. Through her studies and experiences abroad, Noelle developed an analysis of structural inequities that drives her work and life. In 2007, Noelle moved to Philadelphia to obtain her Masters in Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania. Since, she has worked in the non-profit sector with a focus on program development, data and evaluation, fundraising, teaching and curriculum development, strategic planning, and organizational governance.


Misako Scott, Office Manager
Misako has been UTC’s Office Manager since 2007. She has a BFA from PCA (now UArts), was the Events Director for Small Computers in the Arts Network, and an Administrative Assistant at the Barnes Foundation.


Lisa Barkley, Community Liaison
Lisa Barkley, a lifetime resident of Haddington, has been UTC's Community Liaison formally since 2010, but she has volunteered in that capacity since UTC began working in Haddington in 1999. Lisa is currently the VP of UTC's Neighborhood Foods Co-op, a community-led civic association within UTC.


Nykisha Madison, Farm Manager
Nykisha was UTC's Garden Instructor prior to transitioning into the Community Markets Manager position. Nykisha believes in buying local and eating fresh. She says, "Your medicine and healing is around you, Identify and tap in! See you in the soil!"


Ayanna Sims, Community Education Coordinator
I first learned that plants could talk from the mothers of my family. This began a relationship with the earth that continues to this day. My hope is that I can help other people hear the voices of the earth and benefit from the amazing bounty we have access to.


Lila Bhide, Community Educator
I first got introduced to urban farming and ideas about sovereignty as a teenager through a youth jobs program focused healthy communities and food justice. Since then I have been dedicated to creating sustainable, thriving and equitable communities and I am extremely excited to continue this work at Urban Tree Connection!


Hannah Thompson, Farm Manager Assistant
Hannah grew up in Queens, New York. She majored in Environmental Studies at Oberlin College in Ohio where she helped run a student-led coop project. Hannah got into farming on a lucky whim and learned skills that she is excited about sharing!