Getting Their Feet Wet

Rachel Rosenfeld, a citizen scientist, measures phosphate levels for Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association’s Creek Watch program near Valley Green Inn in Fairmount Park. | Photo by Christian Hunold

Volunteers wade in to monitor the Wissahickon

Rachel Rosenfeld crunched her way through the ice near the shore to get to where she could drop her thermometer into the Wissahickon Creek, just upstream from the Valley Green Inn. Fishing it out of the near-freezing water would hurt, but you need measurements throughout the year to draw a complete picture of the Creek. Rosenfeld, along with other volunteers checking 35 sections of the Wissahickon and its tributaries, visits monthly to check on its health, even in the cold months.

You cannot step into the same river or creek twice, which makes it hard to monitor water quality. The flow at any given moment is a mix of rainwater, groundwater and whatever chemicals have been washed in from the land or generated by life in the river. Any water sample you take is a snapshot, but the more snapshots you get, the better you can understand the state of the creek.

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Green for All

Why Paso Verde is the most important green building development in Philadelphia

For Paseo Verde, APM chose to build on an empty lot that Philadelphia Gas Works employees were using for parking right beside SEPTA’s Temple University Regional Rail station. | Photo by Jeffrey Totaro

On a recent afternoon, Latifa Patton prepares three giant aluminum baking pans full of aromatic macaroni and cheese with vegetables. The kitchen of her three-bedroom townhouse in the mixed-income Paseo Verde development in North Philadelphia is lined with succulents. The living room is an oasis of potted palms, orchids and colorful cushions.

Patton says people ask how she can afford to outfit her home this way. She makes $7.50 an hour at a work-study job; and with the help of student loans, she supports her nine-year-old daughter and two-year-old son while earning a degree in social work at Community College of Philadelphia. “I go to thrift stores. I’m creative,” she says. “I love my house. It’s why I have to make it comfortable.”

Before she was accepted as one of Paseo Verde’s first tenants for its subsidized apartments, Patton and her children were homeless and had been living in a shelter for a year. Now, she pays just $302 a month in rent at Paseo Verde.

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Better Days

Illustration by Mike Jackson

On Dec. 31, I resolved to build the next year around sustainability. A lot of people talk about it, but I was finding that few people actually lived it — myself included. I wanted to set an example and share what I learned with those around me. So, I embarked on 365 days of putting each area of my life under a microscope.

It was a lesson in going without, and learning to love a slower, simpler way of life. To begin, I researched and swapped household products for more sustainable, less toxic options. I signed up for Bennett Compost to keep food waste out of the landfill, continued my Greensgrow CSA, started volunteering at Greensgrow, switched from PECO to Green Mountain Energy, and cut myself off from buying any new clothing, a tough feat for a woman who works in the fashion industry.

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Challenge Accepted

The Living Building Challenge demands that teams exceed LEED requirements to create buildings that restore nature   

An artist rendering of Re:Vision Architecture’s concept for the Alice Ferguson Foundation’s multi-building complex. | Courtesy Alice Ferguson Foundation

The Living Building Challenge is the black belt of the green-building scene. The international building certification program, philosophy and advocacy tool was conceived in 2006 as a way to exceed LEED requirements—the standard in green building certification—challenging designers, builders and architects to build advanced sustainable buildings.

To be certified as a Living Building, seven categories must be met. The categories are represented as petals on a flower, and they are: Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. Each petal is subdivided into 20 Imperatives. Nearly any building project—new or existing—of any scale in any location is eligible.

It’s so strict that there are only five buildings fully certified in the world—all in the U.S. The impetus to create the Living Building Challenge occurred when Cascadia Green Building Council—the U.S. Green Building Council chapter in the Northeast U.S. and part of Canada—wanted to improve upon LEED standards, which started in 1998. The group has since spun off into a separate 501c3 organization, The International Living Future Institute, with offices in Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.

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Fruits of Her Labor

At Spruce Hill Preserves, Molly Haendler concocts
delectable jams and jellies

Photo by CJ Dawson Photography

For a while, Spruce Hill Preserves carried itself like some sort of jam and jelly speakeasy, selling jams, jellies, fruit butters and preserves without any licenses, from Molly Haendler’s small kitchen in West Philadelphia. There, she sold her flavorful fruit concoctions under-the-table to family and friends, and then subsequently, to the friends and family of her family and friends, and so on, and so forth. Soon, word of mouth had built her a serious following.

“People were telling me they had to go out and get another loaf of bread because it was so good they couldn’t stop eating it,” Haendler says. “People were approaching me.”

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Warm-Up Winter

Nourishing meals for short days

Beans & Greens Stew; Savory Muffins with Prosciutto; Leek and Cheddar; and Vanilla-Roasted Winter Fruit are all nourishing and satisfying dishes perfect for a chilly January. | Photo by Emily Teel

January can be cruel. The days are short and cold, and the contrast between the overindulgence of the holiday season and January’s asceticism always feels, to me, like a shock to the system. Instead of subjecting ourselves solely to salads in an effort to keep unrealistic resolutions, let’s use January instead as an opportunity, a chance to slow down, take care, and feed ourselves things that are nourishing and satisfying.

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Fixing for a Change

Kensington's Philly Fixers Guild works to keep broken items
out of the landfill 

 Philly Fixers Guild co-founder Holly Logan and founder Ben Davis created a long-term repair group to teach people how to fix their own broken items. | Photos by Megan Matuzak

That formerly dependable but now inoperable vacuum cleaner doesn’t have to go to the landfill, and neither does that broken necklace or anything else you have that doesn’t quite work. In Kensington, a determined pair is working to repair those items, and to teach others to do the same. 

Philly Fixers Guild founder Ben Davis and co-founder Holly Logan met in 2012 while on the steering committee for Sustainable 19125 & 19134, a nonprofit in the Fishtown, Port Richmond and East Kensington neighborhoods that aims to create the greenest zip codes in the city. 

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Play It Cool

The centerpiece is the Blue Cross RiverRink, a 21-year-old outdoor ice-skating rink. | Photos by Matt Stanley

Embrace the brisk weather by visiting the Delaware River Waterfront for the Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest. The winter respite touts thousands of lights, great food and drinks, comfy rockers and couches, games and more.

Building off of the success of the Spruce Street Harbor Park, the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation worked with Philadelphia partners Garces Group, Groundswell Design Group, and Art Star Gallery & Boutique to transform Penn’s Landing into a seasonal riverfront park.

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Farmhand Handyman

Volunteer and grant writer brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

Bryan Thompsonowak says volunteering at the Emerald Street Urban Farm has made him more invested in the neighborhood. | Photos by Jared Gruenwald

When Bryan Thompsonowak, 37, was young, his father, a bricklayer and “all-around handyman-type of a guy,” taught him to not be afraid of trying new things. He applied that lesson when he tackled the construction of a three-bin compost system and a rainwater catchment system at Emerald Street Urban Farm in East Kensington.

The farm's managers Nic and Elisa Esposito needed to expand their volunteer base because they were expecting their first child. That's when Thompsonowak stepped up, volunteering on Mondays from May to October.

“It’s nice to have a project close to home, and it’s not just the work; it’s the people that you’re there volunteering with,” says Thompsonowak, whose last name is a result of combining his and his wife Sharon Nowak’s last name.

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Pay Dirt

In the ‘Mushroom Capital of the World,’ Laurel Valley Soils
creates the ground floor of green building

Laurel Valley Soils owes a large degree of its prosperity to the continued growth of the green-building movement. | Photos by Jared GruenwaldIt’s a bright mid-summer day in the rural Chester County borough of Avondale, which sits just a few miles north of the Delaware state border off Route 1. Tucked behind the winding, two-lane road known as Penn Green is a vast manufacturing facility spread out over what seems to be an endless tract of farmland. This is Laurel Valley Soils.

LVS is a producer of compost and the facility itself consists almost entirely of heavy machinery and endless mounds of steaming dirt. Between the bulldozers and the dirt sheds and the neatly arranged windrows of soil that stretch on as far as the eye can see, nothing less than the very ground floor of the ecologically sustainable construction industry is being built on these 125 acres.

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