Forty North Oyster Farms brings farming back to Barnegat Bay

Shelling Out

by Emily Kovach

The first rays of sunshine are peeking over Barnegat Bay in coastal New Jersey when Matt Gregg, 33, steers his boat out into the water. The cool air of early dawn isn’t tempered yet by the summer heat, and Gregg and one of his employees are headed out to harvest some of the oysters that have been growing on Gregg’s property, Forty North Oyster Farms, for between 18 and 24 months. Now that they’re considered market size, they’ll be sorted, counted and bagged, then taken back to a refrigerated van waiting on the dock. This is the twice-weekly summertime ritual that allows Gregg to finally share his oysters with chefs and other culinary-minded customers, after raising the baby bivalves since they were barely the size of quarters.

Gregg is a New Jersey native who followed his passion for sea life to the University of Rhode Island, where he majored in aquaculture. After graduation in 2006, he pursued a different passion—music—to New York City, where he worked for a competitive talent agency. After a few years, though, he began to feel pulled back to the water. He’d worked on fishing boats during summers in college and had always been intrigued with oyster farming, so he decided to see if it was an industry he could break into.

He wanted to operate his new venture close to his hometown, but acquiring land proved to be a herculean exercise in maneuvering through layers of bureaucracy. Gregg sighs as he remembers the arduous process.

“There’s no system in New Jersey that allows an individual who would be well-suited to working in the water to get through the process,” he says. “There’s a lot of regulations, permits and licensing, and I just started digging into it.” Gregg had also studied marine and coastal policy in college, and his existing familiarity with these sorts of laws helped guide him through
the red tape.

In 2011, Forty North Oyster Farms opened on a 6-acre plot of land. The moment was not just an important milestone in terms of Gregg’s career, but for the New Jersey oyster-farming community as a whole. While the wild oyster industry on the Atlantic Coast of the state was a viable, thriving industry in the beginning of the 20th century, it collapsed in the 1950s due to pollution, oyster disease and overharvesting.

“I’m pretty sure we were the first ones to harvest a Barnegat oyster in 50 years,” Gregg says.  

Forty North started small, with 40 cages, a little boat and 200,000 oysters. Now, it produces about 1 million oysters each year. Gregg works with hatcheries and does his own research to develop the best oysters possible for his growing conditions. 

“We take adult oysters, spawn them in a controlled setting and look at their genetics,” he says. “Just like anything you’re breeding, you want the fastest and strongest growing you can find.” 

His main oyster is called the Rose Cove (named after their location). Because their plot of coastline is exposed to the south, every afternoon in the summer the south wind kicks up waves that sweep in and tumble the oysters in their cages. This results in supersmooth shells with deep cups. The oysters themselves have a nice salinity, due to the clean ocean water coming in from just a few miles away. But what Gregg credits most with helping his oysters thrive is that his farm is surrounded by thousands of acres of undeveloped sea meadows, with freshwater ponds and sea grasses, whose nutrients run off into the bay during rain storms.

Oysters only grow when the water is over 50 degrees, which results in a six-month growing season in New Jersey. During those months, and in the off-season, Gregg focuses the rest of his energies on sales and marketing. When he’d first begun oyster farming, he reached out to local seafood wholesalers and got lukewarm responses, even though chefs were frequently asking him for his oysters. Even though becoming certified as a wholesaler was another huge exercise in licensing and regulation compliance, Gregg ultimately decided to go for it. “It would be a lot easier to be an oyster farmer and put my oysters on a truck and not think about that,” he says. “But we had so much demand locally.” 

In early 2017, to help offset some of the costs of wholesaling, Gregg and his friend Scott Lennox, another oyster farmer, founded the Barnegat Oyster Collective and reached out to seven other oyster harvesters in the area. So far, the collective is selling 60,000 oysters each month (a number that will double in the summer) to 50 restaurants.

After six years in the business, Gregg says he’s confident that oyster farming is his lifelong career. 

“You grow up and people tell you to follow your dreams,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s actually great advice, but for me, I got lucky.” 

Water & Politics: Standing Her Ground

Photo courtesy of Michelle Johnson

Photo courtesy of Michelle Johnson

A Pennsylvania woman fights against the natural gas pipelines that threaten the region’s water supply

by Justin Klugh

Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck goes for a run almost every morning. Early in the day, the sun crawls across the Tucquan Glen, a nature preserve in southern Lancaster County, bringing to life its seven ravines teeming with greenery.

The concealment of the trickling glade is exactly the habitat to which her instincts lead her. “People who have heard me speak are shocked to find out that I am introverted and that I prefer to live in a hole in the woods by myself,” Clatterbuck says.

The woods hold a deep history, not just of the undisturbed River Hills, but of Clatterbuck herself. She has lived all over the country but returned to her Lancaster birthplace in the wake of her father’s death and moved back into her childhood home—one of 10 houses on a 2-mile stretch of road—where she has raised a pair of daughters with her husband, Mark. 

“I’ve come to appreciate and value how your geography shapes who you are and how you see the world,” Clatterbuck says. “People are different in different parts of our country because of geography, I think. Coming back home after my father died helped me find my roots… and what I appreciate about this geography: the rocks and the streams, the mountain laurel on our road. You come to know each plant and tree intimately.”

Tucked away under oaks, beeches and a dense hemlock canopy, it’s easy to see how a resident could come to treasure and embody the private Tucquan geography as Clatterbuck has. But now, a sharp turn in her life has required her to abandon the tranquility of life in the Tucquan Glen, and enter a fight to protect it. 

Clatterbuck, a pastor, counselor and educator, has some harsh (and unprintable) words for what she thinks of her adversaries. To paraphrase: “People can be [jerks]. Trees can’t be.”

It starts with a knock on the door. A man with a clipboard tells a homeowner their house is in the way of the installation of a massive construction project—in this case, the 198-mile, $3 billion Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline that will transport 1.7 billion cubic feet of gas per day—and that knock becomes a homing beacon for similarly affected community members, protesters, police, politicians, reporters and, of course, the aforementioned jerks.

Facing a system of intimidation and bullying—Clatterbuck tells stories of Amish neighbors who were lied to about the regulations of their compensation in regard to eminent domain laws—residents affected by the pipeline have been unified by a movement, Lancaster Against Pipelines, started by Clatterbuck and her husband.

“We used to think we were busy and life was full,” Clatterbuck reflects wistfully. “And then we started this work.”

Pennsylvania is sitting on a mother lode of natural gas, and energy companies are desperate to build the pipelines to procure and export it. With 6,800 miles of pipeline in place, 4,600 more miles planned and the continued approval of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, they seem poised to get it. The pipeline, a product of Oklahoma-based energy business Williams Cos., is being mapped to reach the natural gas in the Marcellus shale of Northeastern Pennsylvania, with Williams Cos. intending to transport the resource overseas. The pipeline is planned to be installed through 36.5 miles of Lancaster County including the rural Conestoga and Manor townships in which the Tucquan Glen is housed, touching 10 Pennsylvania counties and 200 miles of state terrain in total. 

Williams Cos., which touts the 8,000 jobs and $1.6 billion economic impact of a potential pipeline, has a history of safety failures since 2003, including three accidents in rapid succession from March to April 2014. In one case in Sauvie Island, Oregon, The Oregonian reported that the company was aware of gas leaks at transfer stations, but did not notify the public for two months. The leaks eventually resulted in an evacuation and the closure of a school. 

“What is left sacred?” Clatterbuck asks. “At what point is the destruction itself bad enough that you say, ‘No, this can’t happen’? This is just for greed. This is for export. This isn’t good for the community.”

Some might call it a victory that several months after the knock on their door, the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline was no longer planned to go through the Clatterbucks’ home. However, in the fight for a community, there are no winners until no one loses, as the pipeline is still proposed to invade some neighbors’ properties several miles away. 

“We are doing this work for our community,” Clatterbuck says. “We live in a community. I know in our country we try to pretend that we don’t. I care about the people who have it going through their backyard and they have a right to say ‘no.’ Even if the pipeline comes through on their property, I’m not going to move out of my community. I will [live and protest] on their property as long as they let me and continue to get arrested.”

The reach of the environmental damage the pipeline could cause goes beyond the Clatterbucks’ neighborhood. The 6-mile Tucquan Creek flows west from Rawlinsville, Pennsylvania, to its confluence with Clark Run before joining the Susquehanna River. The creek’s twisted journey contributed to its name, which translates to “winding water,” and has been referred to as “Seven Crossings,” given the amount of times hikers would have to step through the creek to continue on their way. But Tucquan is an oasis. Less than 15 percent of Lancaster’s land sprouts natural forests, and most of it is not dense enough for the official Pennsylvania Wild and Scenic River designations that Tucquan has received. Tucquan Glen would suffer some of the most sprawling effects as forests of its kind conserve and sustain a local water supply, which in this area is used to cultivate the region’s farmlands. 

As the creek joins the Susquehanna River and flows toward the Chesapeake Bay, the fallout of a pipeline’s installation could taint not only these water supplies, but those of communities downstream. Pipelines do not permit the replanting of trees after the devastation of their installment, meaning that any trees uprooted in the process would be gone for good.

“It’s this game that’s played for the industry’s benefit, sacrificing everybody else on the earth in the process,” Clatterbuck says, exasperated. In darker moments, she turns to Jane Austen novels to restore her faith in happy endings. “Story is really important to me.”

This story has an ending difficult to tell over the growl of idling construction vehicles. But the Clatterbucks, Lancaster Against Pipelines and other supporters will keep pushing back, a steady current against destruction, protecting the “winding water” and the life it brings to the neighboring region. 

An encampment called The Stand has become a local comparison to the ongoing standoff in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where Clatterbuck’s husband and daughter traveled earlier in the year and witnessed a violent clash.

The lesson is taught across the nation as environmental legislation is scribbled out: Tampering with the land can lead to all sorts of trouble, and when you change the geography, you change the people living on it. 

“I’m learning to get my [back up],” says Clatterbuck, the reformed forest hermit, although she (again) uses more colorful language. “I’m going to make enemies standing up for what’s right, and I’ve decided that it’s worth it.”

Dispatch: A journey from the woods of Idaho to the waters of Alaska

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

Illustration by Carter Mulcahy

A Fisherman’s Tale

essay by Stephen Kurian

Working as a forester for the Idaho Department of Lands, I befriended a fellow hunter named—no lie—Hunt. During long hours in the wilderness, he’d entertain me with stories of fishing adventures in Bristol Bay, Alaska: the bracing water, the impetuous weather, working day and night in stormy waters to catch the returning salmon.  

I always had a vision about being in Alaska. As a boy, longbow hunting with my father, we spent hours talking about hunting there—one day. It always felt like a dream, until Hunt offered me a job on his fishing crew the next summer. I quickly cut my Idaho forestry career short.

I will never forget that first season: an adrenaline rush of water, fishing nets, unforgiving weather and the occasional brown bear.

Then there were the sockeye salmon. I became obsessed with the mysterious journey of these great fish, born in the gravel of freshwater streams a bit further inland. The following spring, once big enough, they make their way to the ocean, roaming the North Pacific for up to three years. Then, miraculously, they come back to Bristol Bay, their birthplace. 

Fourteen years later, I have my own fishing company. But I am still in awe. Floating out in Bristol with our nets, it’s this unknown, unchanged journey that keeps drawing me back to witness the great migration unfold.  

On our 32-foot gillnetter, we live by the tides, the weather and the salmon. The fish show up early in June. At first it’s occasional, but it builds to a peak around the first week of July. We head out to the fishing grounds no matter what, even if the winds howl at 60 mph. For some reason, the fish love to push hard when the wind blows, so we work around the clock. 

The first fish aboard is always filleted for the frying pan. I love this ritual—to celebrate the return of the fish that I have traveled 4,000 miles to catch. As I fillet the fish, its flesh a brilliant red, I’m reminded how special these nutrient-dense salmon are to the food chain, how important they are for both the animals that will feed on them upstream and all the people to whom I’ll provide these beauties for dinner. 

At the close of the season, my crew and I take a short floatplane trip to Brooks Falls. From this spectacular location we watch magnificent brown bears feasting on salmon as the fish attempt the near-impossible and try to jump the falls. 

Biologists closely manage the number of salmon they need to swim upriver to spawn and replenish the system. It’s a balancing act, and we fishermen are doing our part. Too many fish spawning upriver may actually weaken the next generation.

When I watch the schools spawning in the river, I am filled with trust that this epic fishery will continue. I think of my children and grandchildren, and how they will be able to experience the same natural wonder—if they choose to, of course. Or if they are lucky enough to meet someone named Hunt.

Stephen Kurian is a fisherman. He and his wife, Jenn, own Wild for Salmon and live in landlocked Bloomsburg, Pa.

Our brains are wired to want fat and sugar. Maybe we should go with it.

Are the Golden Arches a Golden Ticket?

interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Journalist David H. Freedman, a skeptic of the first order, has a lot to say about those he calls “the Pollanites,” by which he means devotees of food writer Michael Pollan. Freedman thinks that an unfounded belief that farm stands and unprocessed food will save us from ourselves is actually getting in the way of progress. Instead, he argues, if we work with human nature and give the public cheap, good-tasting, processed food that’s also healthy—by covertly taking out some of the fat, sugar and calories—we’ll more easily stem America’s obesity epidemic and related health crises.

In your 2013 Atlantic article “How Junk Food Can End Obesity,” you declare that “Michael Pollan has no clothes” and attempt to debunk the idea that processed foods are the cause of the obesity epidemic in America. 
The idea is: Obesity has been a problem for a long time—before we can actually point to the problem of processed food, specifically, being a huge cause of it. So you run into trouble very quickly when you try to say that processed food is the entire cause of it. The one thing you can truly say for sure about processed food is that it has vastly reduced starvation and the costs of food. Processed food has been an extraordinary boon to survival and access to food. 

Here’s where we have to be careful, though: The reason processed food is linked with obesity, is it makes calories freely available. The food becomes cheap, it’s easy to make foods that people love and want to consume more of and can afford to eat, and therefore, for the first time in history, human beings are free to consume too much food and get too many calories. That’s because of processed food. So, yes, in that sense, processed food is to blame. It wiped out starvation—just about—and the side effect is it’s given us obesity.

What I want to be clear about is it’s not the processing of food, per se.

You argue that when it comes to food policy, we can help the most people if we shrink rates of obesity, and that means reaching the masses, maybe even through processed food at McDonald’s. How so?
What the vast majority of the American public really likes is this crappy processed food. It is very, very hard to change their habits. Eating fatty, sugary foods becomes addictive. This, by the way, has been true for tens of millions of years for the human race. Our brain is wired to love that stuff. 

In a capitalist system, what do you know, companies do well when they find ways to cheaply get people the food that they naturally like, and that’s how we end up with all this crappy, cheap food. Given that everybody eats it, if we could [make it healthier], that’s how you change hundreds of millions of lives.

When Michael Pollan comes out and says, “Let’s buy food right off the farm stand and stay away from big companies,” that’s great for affluent people and highly motivated people who can access and afford that food. That’s a tiny percentage of the American public. That’s not what most of the American public can afford, it’s not what they have access to, and, most importantly, it’s not what they want.

If you had to say one thing about GMOs, what would it be?
GMOs are absolutely as healthy in principle and probably more so than conventionally raised food. Human beings have been scrambling the genes of our wheat and other produce for thousands and thousands of years through traditional farming techniques. We’ve been raising all kinds of hybrids forever. And those foods are not tested. Any one of them could turn out to create a plague that would wipe out mankind, and it doesn’t because apparently the chances of that happening are very low. 

The only difference with GMOs: It’s in a laboratory with only a few genes, instead of scrambling thousands of genes; it’s studied much more carefully; and it’s tested a million times more carefully. There’s just no real scientific basis for thinking that GMOs are inherently less safe. All foods should be tested, we should be careful about all scrambling of genes, including GMOs, but also of conventionally bred foods.

What we do know is: In no way is it going to be healthier unless it lowers the calories per portion, lowers the fat in it or lowers the sugar in it, and that’s not what people are demanding.

If you’re reading an article on a new study that has just come out telling us to do one thing or the other when it comes to food, what should we look for?
Scientists actually end up being wrong most of the time. Most of their statements, most of their claims end up being wrong. Even their study findings; the majority of them end up being wrong. However—anything else you look at ends up being even wronger. 

Scientists are the best path we have to the truth. And if you look at what they come to a consensus on over a long period of time, that has a very high rightness rate. So when I say I believe scientists, we have to distinguish the latest study finding you read about in The New York Times from something scientists have been saying among themselves in large-scale agreement for decades. 

When I say I listen to scientists who say we have to reduce calories and sugar and fat, that’s decades and decades of nearly unanimous scientific agreement. When The New York Times says, “It’s not diet and exercise, it’s carbs that are causing all the problems,” it’s looking at the 0.005 percent of scientists who have come out with some new study that’s almost certainly, in the long run, not [going to] hold up. That’s an important distinction to make. 

In terms of what to look for when we look at a study, in terms of “Is this study likely to be right or not?” here’s a little checklist to go through. The more of these you check off, the more likely the study is to be wrong. 

First of all, is it a single study as opposed to the results compiled from many, many studies? Is it something that one scientist is claiming, or is there a consensus of scientists? Is it a novel claim, or is it one that’s been building for a long time? Is it a surprising and interesting-sounding claim, the kind of thing that’s going to get some press in The New York Times? I love to pick on The New York Times because they’re so highly regarded, and they are a fantastic publication, but they get science horribly wrong.

Is it novel and surprising? Then it’s probably wrong. The reason we find things novel and surprising is that we develop pretty good sense over time of what’s likely to be true and what isn’t. And when something surprises us, it’s usually because we didn’t think that was true. And usually, in most cases—with plenty of exceptions, but in most cases—when we think something doesn’t sound like it could be true, it probably isn’t.

So there’s a little checklist. Longstanding consensus of scientists that builds up over time: probably true. Latest amazing, surprising finding from a scientist: probably not true.

What’s your opinion on the scientific consensus of climate change?
We have a really strong, longstanding, ever-stronger consensus there that our climate is being horribly, negatively impacted by human behavior. Whatever voices of disagreement with that consensus, those voices are dying out slowly but surely. This is really starting to look like something you can take to the bank, and we’d better start taking it to the bank and depositing it pretty quickly, because we’re going to get into trouble. I absolutely believe—this one has all the hallmarks of something that science is right about.

What concerns you about the sort of post-truth, post-factual talk that’s going around all over the country?
Everything concerns me about that. I think there’s no bottom here to how much damage this can cause the future of our society in every single possible way. 

I want to point out that while many liberals say that—and I am a liberal—I don’t know many liberals who take time to watch Fox or read Breitbart. So let me say to my fellow liberals: Before you start getting all hysterical about the right wing and conservatives only looking at the nonsense on Fox and Breitbart, they ought to start making sure that they’re also looking at other sources of information, too. I don’t think they’ll get a better sense of what the facts are, but I think they will get a better understanding of how the other half is thinking. And I think that’s missing right now and is critical in American politics. So let’s all start broadening our sources of information.

Journalist David H. Freedman is the author of several books, including “Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us—And How to Know When Not to Trust Them.”

Three regional shops to try for cocoa confections

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate

by Estelle Tracy

If the counter of Philter Coffee in Kennett Square is any indication, the craft movement has taken over chocolate. The shop currently carries 12 different bars from small American makers, and yet, owner Chris Thompson still wishes he could carry more. 

“There are other makers who I’d like to eventually work in,” he says. “It’s mostly a space issue, and it’s also hard to move someone out when they do such an amazing job.”

There’s never been a better time for American bean-to-bar chocolate: Ten years ago, there were only a handful of makers in this country; today, there are more than 180. While not regulated, the term bean-to-bar refers to the process of making chocolate from the bean, as opposed to melting industrial chocolate to use in new confections such as truffles and bonbons. 

Craft chocolate companies are known for the higher price of their bars (think $8 to $10 for a 3-ounce bar), but the trade-off is transparency in the sourcing process and the realization that chocolate is not a singular flavor, but a swirl of tasting notes. For instance, a chocolate made of Madagascar cacao beans will stand out with its strong citrus notes and no bitterness. 

The Philadelphia area offers an ideal location for many chocolate makers. Former pastry chef Nathan Miller started his eponymous company in Boulder, Colorado, but eventually moved the company to Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, back in 2013. Managing Director Chelsea Russo explains that they picked the location “after considering its proximity to the cocoa ports and Washington, D.C., and New York City.” 

The company now offers 15 chocolate varieties, from the playful strawberry and rye whiskey to the classic 72 percent Peru dark chocolate. Wrapped by hand, the bars have received national attention and are now distributed worldwide.

On a smaller scale, two chocolate makers are serving their creations to cocoa aficionados in the city. In Northern Liberties, Robert Campbell has spent the past decade developing an extensive bean-to-cup chocolate menu as his charismatic alter ego, the Chocolate Alchemist. Campbell is known for his lightly sweetened, boldly flavored organic concoctions served at Sazon, the Venezuelan eatery he co-owns with his wife, Judith Suzarra-Campbell. While most makers prefer single-origin cacao, Campbell prefers blends “because you can add your personality into it,” and he uses only unrefined sugars. In 2015, he started creating a bar version of his drinks, such as his popular Clásico, keeping sustainability in mind: Made of lokta paper, the chocolate wrappers are stitched by hand and designed to be reused or refilled at Sazon.

Over in Old City, Shane Confectionery has also been working with cacao beans for years, using housemade chocolate in its Royal Spanish drinking chocolate, chocolate popsicles and, for over a year, in square chocolate bars. Most notably, the shop makes cacao fruit pops from the sweet cacao pod pulp extracted from weekly cacao pod shipments. With a flavor described by chocolate maker Kevin Paschall as a mix of “citrus, melon and mango,” the sweet treat will carry you through the summer.

Shane Confectionery
110 Market St.

The Philadelphia landmark currently makes three different bars from cacao sourced from Guatemala, Ecuador and Bolivia. In addition to housemade creations, Shane Confectionery carries bars from several acclaimed American makers such as Askinosie, Fruition and Ritual.

Chocolate Alchemist at Sazon
941 Spring Garden St. 

With a high cacao percentage and no refined sugar, the Chocolate Alchemist bars are a dark chocolate lover’s dream. The Zarumilla bar’s 90 percent cacao content will satisfy the most serious of chocolate lovers.

Michel Cluizel Chocolatrium
575 Route 73 North, Building D
West Berlin, N.J.

Founded in France in 1948, this family owned business picked the Greater Philadelphia region to open its second Chocolatrium. During the 60-minute tour, you’ll learn the history of chocolate and taste the difference between several single-origin chocolates.

Evil Genius opens The Lab in Fishtown; Second District thrives in Newbold

Photo courtesy of Anthony Caroto

Photo courtesy of Anthony Caroto

Two to Try: New Neighborhood Brewhouses

by Emily Kovach

The seeds of Evil Genius Beer Co. were planted in a rather unlikely place: an accounting class. Founders Trevor Hayward and Luke Bowen met as newly initiated graduate students at Villanova University in 2008, both pursuing careers in finance. However, just a few weeks into their first semester, the economic recession hit full force. Both guys were concerned about their job prospects and began to think of other directions to steer their careers. Both were avid homebrewers and loved craft beer, so heading in the direction of a brewery seemed like a natural fit.

 The two consider the official launch date of Evil Genius Beer Co. as Sept. 9, 2011, the first time one of their beers was served at a bar. In the years that followed, they built brand awareness, widened their distribution and gained fans with their creative beer styles and quirky, pop-culture-referencing beer names, such as This One Time at Band Camp Double IPA. 

“Almost every single one of our names can relate people back to a time or place from their past, and for a lot of our beer drinkers it’s the late ’90s, early 2000s, when they were in high school or college,” Hayward says. “We try to keep things light by poking some fun at things that have happened over our lifetimes.”

The most recent exciting step for Evil Genius is opening The Lab, a brewpub on Front Street in Fishtown, a place for their fans and the craft curious to try special releases and beers from their newly minted sour and barrel program. “We didn’t have the opportunity or ability to do those [kinds of beers] until now,” Bowen says. “Now that we have our own space, we can do whatever we want! And that is so liberating.”

The Lab features 10 Evil Genius draft lines, six of which can only be found at the pub. It also carries a large selection of local gins for cocktails, as well as a select number of wines. On the food menu, there are inventive house specialties such as the Italian hoagie dip and dessert waffles. This spring, look out for a few new releases at The Lab: Shut Up, Meg!, a farmhouse IPA; I Love Lamp, a pineapple hefeweizen; and a mango wit called Ma! The Meatloaf! 

Second District aims to be second to none
Tucked among the auto body shops and narrow row houses of South Philly’s Newbold neighborhood, a new kind of industry is thriving: craft brewing. Real estate developer and restaurateur John Longacre and seasoned brewer Curt Decker (formerly of Nodding Head) have opened Second District Brewing Co. in a cool old building on the corner of Bancroft and McKean streets. Their goal, according to Decker, is an ambitious one.

“There are a ton of great beer bars in town, but until recently there’s been a dearth of actual breweries,” he says. “We wanted Second District to be one of the great rooms to drink a beer in the country—or the world, for that matter.”

From the seven-barrel brewery, Head Brewer Ben Potts, who’s also worked for local all-stars Tired Hands and Dock Street, showcases the depth of his experience with a variety of styles on the pub’s nine tap lines. Among the rotating drafts, there’s the sessionable Bancroft Beer, brewed with Pilsner and Maris Otter malts and hopped with Mosaic hops; the contemplative It Starts With You dry Irish-style stout; and Meta Shepherd, a smoked porter conditioned atop pineapple purée.

 Second District’s brew schedule is less beholden to the seasons and geared more toward an intuitive approach, Potts says. “Our process is very organic and the beers really come up with themselves from week to week, depending on the current draft list and our whims.” 

In addition to the roster of beers, local wines and cocktails made with hops and beer-infused mixers—as well as Pennsylvania-produced spirits—are on offer. A tight food menu from Chef Doreen DeMarco, who is also in charge of the kitchen at American Sardine Bar, provides plenty of beer-friendly snacks, pickles and charcuterie, as well as copious vegetarian options.

Both the brewery and the kitchen aim to keep things local whenever possible. Fruit and veggies are sourced from Green Meadow Farm and Lancaster Farm Fresh. Teas and spices—both heavily featured in the beer program—come from Premium Steap and Penn Herb Co. The owners of Second District also have plans in the works to establish their own farm. They want to provide some product for their operation, including fresh hops to support their own brewing, with the goal of eventually serving other brewers and homebrewers with local offerings.

Water & Politics: The Rollback

The Trump administration has openly questioned climate science, but there are more reasons to be concerned about the president’s budget proposal

by Jared Brey

Three years ago, after decades of waiting and pestering city officials to do something, residents of Bridesburg, a riverside community in Philadelphia between Frankford and the great Northeast, met at a catering hall to start planning for the future of three big gashes of possibly polluted, formerly industrial land in their neighborhood. In Eastwick, on the other end of town, officials are finally starting to reckon with decades of neglect. They’re beginning the work of cleaning up the area around two former landfills aside Darby Creek, which have been listed since the early 2000s as contaminated Superfund sites, designated for priority cleanup due to the risks they pose to human health. A few miles north of there, on the banks of the Schuylkill, the University of Pennsylvania recently cut ribbon on the Pennovation Center, where it hopes to incubate the next generation of health and tech pioneers. And all around the city, the Philadelphia Water Department is working to build out neighborhoods with green stormwater infrastructure to keep pollutants from flowing into our waterways. 

What do these efforts have in common? 

None of them would be happening without some kind of support from the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Since Donald Trump was elected president, advocates have been reading the tea leaves, trying to predict how sharply Trump plans to depart from the modest environmental progress made under the Obama administration. The indications so far have been grim. In February, the Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who’d made a career of battling federal environmental regulations, as the new EPA administrator. Then in March, the Trump administration released a preliminary budget proposal calling for 3,200 layoffs and a 31 percent reduction to the agency’s funding. 

But the budget isn’t set in stone, and many advocates quietly doubt Congress will approve such deep cuts to the agency. The real negotiations won’t start until later in the year. In the meantime, residents and state and local governments are left to wonder how much leaner the EPA can get before we start paying for it in the quality of our air and waterways. 

“Are we going to feel it immediately? I’m not sure,” said Maurice Sampson, the Eastern Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, a group that formed around the push to adopt the Clean Water Act in 1972. “What we’ve built over the last 40 years to protect the environment, which we know has had a positive impact—what happens when you start untangling that?” 

Shifting responsibility to states and cities
Donald Trump, who tends to reveal his governing philosophies via Twitter, once famously claimed that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese to make American industry less competitive. That such a belief could be held by the president of the United States is cause for alarm among climate scientists, who agree in virtual unanimity that global warming is real, and a threat to life on earth. But advocates say that even people who reject the science of climate change may find something to worry about in Trump’s developing environmental policy. 

Of all the government agencies whose budgets are slated to shrink to make room for a $54 billion increase in military spending, the Environmental Protection Agency would be hit the hardest. In addition to the funding and staffing cuts, Trump has targeted a broad range of programs and grants to be reduced or eliminated in the budget. If the cuts go through as is, according to a detailed but “confidential and pre-decisional” budget memo published by The Washington Post, there will be less money for Superfund site cleanups, for brownfields planning, for oil-spill prevention and even for childhood lead safety programs. 

Pruitt has said his approach to the administration of the EPA is guided by a belief that states should take on more of the responsibility for protecting the environment, and the EPA shouldn’t get involved in anything beyond its core mission. But the state Department of Environmental Protection relies on federal funding to implement many environmental protection programs, as Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a letter to Pruitt in March. The proposed cuts would have an “immediate and devastating effect” on the state’s ability to protect the safety of its air and water by reducing funding for local water system inspections. In addition, by paring down brownfields planning, the budget would stifle job creation and economic growth, McDonnell wrote. 

J.J. Abbott, press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf, noted that the federal cuts would harm the DEP’s ability to do its job without touching its responsibility for the environment, putting it in an impossible spot. 

Later in March, Philadelphia’s Office of Sustainability published an action guide, outlining the potential consequences of Trump’s budget proposal for the city’s environmental health, encouraging Philadelphians to mobilize in opposition to the cuts. In a press release, Mayor Jim Kenney said the Trump administration’s proposal is “irresponsible” in light of climate change threats. “Additionally,” he said, “the proposed Trump budget would have immediate and drastic effects on many programs that Philadelphians rely on, such as those that support local air pollution prevention efforts, or that help residents save money on energy.”

The EPA, for its part, has been quiet. Regional representatives did not respond to three requests for an interview.

Advocates do have some reasons to hope. Others have pointed out that back in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, he also began his term by making industry-friendly appointments and proposing substantial budget cuts. But the Reagan administration wasn’t able to completely dismantle the agency; congressional investigations enforced some senior appointees to resign, and, while environmentalists still see the 1980s as a damaging time for environmental policy, their worst fears were never realized. 

“The whole budget is clearly a farce,” said Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council. “It is unimaginable that one of the largest public-health protection organizations would be gutted by any administration. It just does not make any sense. Clearly, this is sort of a political document and not a serious budget, and I hope and pray that Congress will see it as such.”

In Philadelphia, at least in the short term, cuts to the EPA are unlikely to affect the quality of the drinking water. Joanne Dahme, general manager of public affairs for the Philadelphia Water Department, said that all of the department’s work is funded locally, by ratepayers. And that even includes the massive, forward-looking Green City, Clean Waters program. Sources said, too, that EPA funds that have already been granted for local brownfields planning and Superfund cleanups are not likely in jeopardy. And Christine Knapp, director of the city’s Office of Sustainability, said in a November 2016 interview with Grid that Greenworks, the local sustainability plan, won’t be affected by the federal budget or policies. 

Trump’s approach to environmental regulation does, of course, have some supporters. Rachel Gleason, executive director of Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, said her group applauds the Trump administration’s decision to reconsider Barack Obama’s climate and environment policies. And Kevin Sunday, who works on energy and environment issues for the Pennsylvania Chamber of Commerce, said that every government program could use some “thoughtful cutting.” The Chamber of Commerce only hopes that budget cuts don’t affect permit-review timelines.
Not all business leaders are in favor of the proposed cuts. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, Michael Bloomberg argued that businesses will continue to pursue the aims of the Clean Power Plan even if the regulations are undone. And Jon Jensen, a technical consultant at MaGrann Associates and co-chair of the Delaware Valley Green Building Council, said local builders are demonstrating a voluntary commitment to more sustainable construction practices because it benefits their bottom line as well as the environment.

But major reductions in funding could mean fewer state inspections of local water systems. And bold programs such as Green City, Clean Waters may never have gotten started without buy-in from the EPA. There’s also the question of progress. After all, it’s not as though the environment is perfectly safe and healthy right now. Environmental quality needs constant improvement, and most advocates say the EPA has never been as robust as it should be. 

A ‘massive void’ for communities of color
Perhaps most concerning of all for cities like Philadelphia, where a majority of citizens are people of color and a quarter of the population is poor, is the Trump administration’s push to eliminate the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, which was created in the early 1990s and is charged with ensuring that all communities receive equal protection from environmental harms. Historically, that hasn’t been the case. Studies have found that poor people and communities of color are likelier to live in areas with lower air and water quality and in closer proximity to toxic waste sites. Last year, a report by PennEnvironment and ACTION United revealed that areas within the potential blast zone of oil trains running through the city are populated mostly by people of color, while areas outside the blast zones are two-thirds white.

Jacqueline Patterson, director of the NAACP’s Environmental and Climate Justice Program, said the Office of Environmental Justice has been a crucial watchdog for marginalized communities. 

“The office has done a lot...” Patterson said. “I think a lot of people, especially communities that aren’t necessarily seeing relief, would be concerned about what hasn’t been done. But with the constraints that they have, of being a relatively small office with a relatively small budget and varying degrees of political embrace of what they’re doing, I think they’ve done a lot.”

The Office of Environmental Justice has been able to move resources into communities that are “suffering under environmental-justice challenges,” she said, as well as provide technical assistance to those communities and improve their level of civic engagement. Moreover, the office provides an environmental-justice lens that informs the work of the entire EPA, as well as other federal agencies, she said. 

It’s also the case that communities of color and poor communities, often one and the same, are more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, according to the NAACP. Coupled with the other budget cuts proposed for the EPA, Patterson said, the elimination of the Office of Environmental Justice could leave a “massive void” for marginalized communities. 

“Seventy-one percent of African-Americans live in violation of our existing air quality standards, and so if we have fewer standards and less monitoring and enforcement, how is that number going to be affected? Is it going to be 100 percent now?” Patterson said.

Diane Sicotte, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University and author of “From Workshop to Waste Magnet: Environmental Inequality in the Philadelphia Region,” said areas around Philadelphia such as Camden and Chester could be particularly threatened by further degradation of air quality standards. 

“When you have poor populations, there are so many things that can impact and degrade their health,” Sicotte said. “And the health problems that people get from pollution are so common—heart disease, lung disease, asthma, lung cancer, all of that stuff—they’re so common, how can you tease out that this is from the incinerator, and that’s from stress, and that’s from automotive pollution? But there’s a cumulative burden on people’s health, particularly people who are poor.”

What would be the result of a diminished EPA? 

“More people will die of lung cancer, more people will die of heart disease, because air pollution kills people,” she said. “It’s really that simple. Whether you die of an asthma attack or heart disease, it kills you. Water pollution kills people. It gives people cancer. It gives people kidney disease. It does all kinds of things that happen slowly and almost, sometimes, invisibly... But, people just will die. It’s really that simple. And that’s not even thinking about what it does to the ecosystem.”

From an imperfect ally to a clear adversary
The relationship between the EPA and environmental advocacy groups is a complicated one. On the one hand, environmentalists say, the EPA has always been underfunded, and only adopts regulations that industry can tolerate. On the other, since its creation in 1970, the EPA has been the only official lever of power at the movement’s disposal. 

Under the Obama administration, the environmental movement, which encompasses a vast array of focused causes, had an imperfect ally. In 2015, the administration announced the Clean Power Plan, its signature effort to combat climate change by setting a range of targets for reduced greenhouse-gas emissions in states across the country. Later that year, the U.S. signed on to the Paris Agreement, aimed at reducing carbon emissions worldwide. 

Advocates say both plans were important foundations for future action on climate change, even if they fall short of setting standards that scientists say are necessary to keep the globe from warming too much. Both plans also face uncertain futures under the Trump administration. 

Sam Bernhardt, the senior Pennsylvania organizer for Food & Water Watch, said his group has been saying for years that the EPA hasn’t been doing its job, and is now in the somewhat awkward position of rallying to save it. But in some ways, he said, it’s easier to deal with a clear adversary than an imperfect ally. 

“Obama was not going to get us to the place where we need to be on climate change,” Bernhardt said. “Hillary Clinton wasn’t going to, either. And so in some sense, this is an opportunity for us to set the right course. Instead of fighting against the Clean Power Plan, which is an awful thing to have to fight against—they named it very well, they didn’t name it the Let’s Build Fracked-Gas Power Plants Plan—we now have Trump and Scott Pruitt. And we need to seize on that.”

May: To-Do List

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

Illustration by Anne Lambelet

1. Try out a new neighborhood spot
Spring usually brings many restaurant openings, and two to try are The Lab in Fishtown and Second District Brewing in Newbold. 

2. Weed grass on walkways or sidewalks
The grass has been growing since February, which means it won’t be long at all before it goes to seed and multiplies. 

3. Finish planting the garden
It’s May! You can finally plant your cucumbers, melons, beans, okra, corn, squash and sweet potatoes. And don’t forget those long-to-fruit peppers!

4. Explore Spring Festivals
The South Street Spring Festival is May 6 this year, and on May 7 you check out the Chestnut Hill Home and Garden Festival. You’ll find Philly’s zaniest parade at the Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby and Arts Festival on May 20. That’s also the date of the Rittenhouse Row Spring Festival, and day one of the two-day 9th Street Italian Market Festival

5. Take a walk by the river
The Bartram’s Mile portion of the Schuylkill River Trail, from Grays Ferry to 56th Street, is now open. If you’re near the Delaware River, don’t forget to picnic at Pier 68.

6. Go to a plant sale
If you missed April’s plant sales, don’t worry. You still have time to get to Morris Arboretum’s plant sale May 13, the Brandywine River Museum of Art’s plant sale May 13 and 14, and the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s second plant sale on June 24. 

7. Keep resisting
It’s tough to keep going when it seems like every day brings a new issue to confront, but resist we must. The Philadelphia Office of Sustainability released a great guide of resources and actions you can take to protest cuts to the EPA. 

8. Get your screens in
If you haven’t already done it, put in your screens. It will keep your home cool at night and deter you from turning on the AC.

9. Clean up the yard
Spring is the best time to prune many trees and shrubs, including roses, and you’ll also want to check out the yard or patio for places mosquitoes can breed.

10. Unleash the tomato starts
It’s the one we’ve all been waiting for: Time to plant the tomatoes. The chance of frost is over, and many people use Mother’s Day (this year on May 14) as their go-to date for knowing when to get those fragrant green tomato starts into the ground.

A tangled web of states’ rights, business interests and public health

Natural Law & Order

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

America watched in fascination last year as an armed, native-born, private militia occupied Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. Some were convicted and others were acquitted on charges that included conspiracy to obstruct federal officers, firearms violations, theft and depredation of federal property. One protester died trying to evade a federal blockade.

Among the concerns of the ranchers and others who holed up for over a month at the popular wildlife sanctuary was the idea that stewardship of public lands should be the purview of states, not the federal government, and that states should have the right to privatize and monetize the land: They called for the federal government to relinquish control of the refuge’s 1.4 million acres. 

Matters of ownership and public benefit are always complicated. Property owners in Pennsylvania, for instance, have banded together in an encampment called “The Stand” to protest the state’s use of eminent domain to bury natural gas pipelines under their property.

So, to recap: In Oregon, private citizens occupied public land to insist that it should be available for private uses such as mining, and in Pennsylvania, private property owners are essentially occupying their own land to keep state-approved fossil fuel interests out.

A “states’ rights” approach to federal oversight and regulation is often portrayed as a pro-business strategy, and it’s the war cry—genuine or not—driving the deep cuts proposed by the Trump administration to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

At stake is the right to clean air and water—to public safety—a matter on which the administration would like to have it both ways: Trump cites public safety as the reason for his retrograde “law and order” immigration policies, even though immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans. Meanwhile, 200,000 people die prematurely each year in the U.S. from air pollution.

But saying “pro-business” is so vague as to be unhelpful, since “business interests” depend on what business it is you’re talking about. 

In a recent New York Times Magazine article titled “Siege Has Ended, But Battle Over Public Lands Rages On” writer Kirk Johnson details how companies such as Patagonia, whose business interests include the American public having land (equipped with fresh air and clean water) available to them for outdoor recreation, don’t always favor state control that could more easily lead to privatization. According to the report, Patagonia and other aligned companies now have unlikely allies: conservative outdoorsmen who are also concerned about privatization and degradation of natural resources.

If you really want your head to spin, though, consider that President Trump’s own advisory council is split on whether to stay in the Paris climate accord, and—wait for it—former ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson, now our secretary of state, is one of those in favor of “keeping a seat at the table.” For the record, according to another Times article, ExxonMobil’s new chief is in favor of the holy grail of environmental policy fulcrums: a carbon tax. So are the heads of Royal Dutch Shell, Shell Canada, BP and Suncor.

If these headlines and articles in just one newspaper are any indication of what’s to come, environmental alliances will be shifting just as radically as other political alliances in this new age. 

As we sort out the purview and priorities of the federal government versus the states, if your business is making money from formerly public lands—or railroading natural gas pipelines through private backyards—you may have cause to celebrate. But if your business is breathing clean air or drinking clean water, you may be out of luck. 

In either case, when you look to the left and the right at your allies, the faces may surprise you.

May: Comings & Goings

Philly Releases Action Guide After Trump’s Executive Order on Climate Change
Mayor Jim Kenney released a response in late March to the Trump administration’s executive order aimed at rolling back climate change programs and regulations. The order includes directing the Environmental Protection Agency to rescind the Clean Power Plan, aimed at reducing carbon emission from power plants. 

“Eliminating the Clean Power Plan and other programs that fight climate change is irresponsible. A hotter and wetter climate will have a disastrous impact on the health of our residents and our communities,” said Mayor Kenney. “Additionally, the proposed Trump budget would have immediate and drastic effects on many programs that Philadelphians rely on, such as those that support local air pollution prevention efforts, or that help residents save money on energy.”

The order also removes barriers to coal, oil and gas development on federal lands, and rolls back orders for federal agencies to consider climate change in decision-making. The executive order came two weeks after the Trump administration released a proposed budget that includes cutting the appropriation for the EPA by 31 percent and eliminating funding for a variety of environmental and climate change programs.

In order to help residents take action against these cuts and the dismantling of environmental programs, Philadelphia officials put together a guide at that includes facts about the environment and resources for contributing to environmental causes locally.

Mayor Kenney is among 35 U.S. mayors who have sent a letter to the president objecting to the executive order on climate change. The letter, issued in March by the Mayors National Climate Action Agenda, tells President Trump that they “fear your administration’s actions and executive order will undermine America’s leadership on climate action, if not take us backwards.” 

Housing Authority Breaks Ground for Affordable Homes in Strawberry Mansion 
The Philadelphia Housing Authority broke ground in March on a new 55-unit development in the historic Strawberry Mansion neighborhood of North Philadelphia. 

“This new housing development—which will provide several different housing options to the residents and families of Strawberry Mansion—will help to ensure that there is affordable housing available here, so that the neighborhood’s residents have real choices when looking for homes where they can build and grow their families,” said Gov. Tom Wolf. 

The 55 new apartments will comprise one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom homes and will exceed 2015 Enterprise Green Communities criteria—the leading U.S. standard for the design, construction and operation of energy efficient and environmentally responsible affordable housing, according to a press release from the city. Renovations along the perimeter will include trees, lighting, curbs and sidewalks.  

Philadelphia Housing Authority is investing $23 million in the homes and in neighborhood upgrades, of which $13 million will come from private investors via the sale of low-income housing tax credits. The balance will come from public housing funds and private financing through the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program.

West Philly Garden Won’t be Sold
The Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority unanimously rejected a deal April 12 that would have sold 11,000 square feet of green space at Powelton Avenue and Wiota Street to developer AJR Endeavors LLC, which had planned to build eight single-family homes on the site, reported

The space includes a garden that was started by residents in 1984.

Philadelphia Orchard Project Celebrates a Decade of Planting and Volunteerism
To mark its 10-year anniversary, Philadelphia Orchard Project is posting articles delving into each year of its history at, profiling volunteers as well as urban-renewal projects—which include planting edible fruits and vegetables in formerly vacant lots, community gardens and school yards.

“We are proud to have planted five new community orchards and involved 1,330 volunteers and 3,382 total participants in planting, caring for, and celebrating community orchards in 2016,” said Executive Director Phil Forsyth on the POP website. “POP staff expanded our educational offerings, including workshops on organic pest management, mushroom cultivation, and a four-part urban ecosystem design course.” 

POP also recently hired Alyssa Schimmel to serve as part-time education director. 

Sustainable Business Network Names New Director
Anna Shipp has been promoted to the role of executive director of Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. Shipp has 14 years of experience in nonprofit programming and management, as well as a four-year history with SBN serving as manager of the Green Stormwater Infrastructure Partners.

“We received dozens of applications and interviewed many very qualified and talented candidates for this role, but Anna continuously stood out among them,” said SBN Board Chair Colleen Bracken. “Anna has proven her effectiveness by growing the GSI Partner program into a thriving global model for local, sustainable economic development.”

Temple University Unveils Sustainable New ‘Tiny House’
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held April 7 after the completion of a sustainable tiny house at the Temple Community Garden. The 160-square-foot structure includes thermal envelope construction, a green roof, rainwater harvesting, solar photovoltaic system and a composting toilet. 

Thirty-five Temple students from 18 disciplines competed in a contest to create conceptual design ideas for the sustainable tiny house, then assisted with engineering and construction of the building. The tiny house will host workshops, demonstrations and meetings for the university and neighboring community. 

Wind and solar power are still dependent on fossil fuels

Blowin’ in the Wind

by Jerry Silberman

Question: How much of the energy we use comes from fossil fuels?
The Right Question: How much of the energy we use is dependent on fossil fuels?

Last month we identified the sources of energy that make our high-technology civilization possible. 

What it really comes down to is fossilized sunlight, energy initially captured by photosynthesis, and fashioned into coal, oil and natural gas over many millions of years. Thinking about human culture as a system for capturing energy to support increasing populations of our kind on the planet, there have been two changes that stand out in our several-hundred-thousand-year history as true watershed moments. The first was agriculture, developed independently in several parts of the world between 8,000 and 12,000 years ago. The second was the exploitation of fossil fuels, initially through steam engines, just over 300 years ago. 

In the preceding 12 millennia, human population crept up at a very slow rate, with only arithmetic increases based on incremental changes in technology and the expansion of the territory dedicated to agriculture. The surplus energy available from agriculture changed only very slightly for thousands of years. Global population several times dropped from one century to the next. Dozens of generations of people lived such that their lifestyle would have been very familiar to their great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents. It took 10,000 years for human population to reach one half-billion, shortly before 1700. 

With the fossil fuel revolution, all hell broke loose. The incredible quantities of energy available allowed exponential increases in population and consumption. Global population doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion in just 40 years, from 1960 to 2000, as energy from fossil fuels also doubled.

So exactly what part of our current energy consumption comes from fossil fuels, and how do we use them?

Two charts generated and updated regularly by the Energy Information Administration can provide us some important background and context.

We can see that renewable energy from wind and solar are 2.4 percent of our total energy use, and 6 percent of our electricity use. Together, wind, solar and hydro—the renewable technologies used for electricity—generate 12 percent of our electricity. The rest comes mostly from natural gas and coal. 

We can see that our transportation system is 95 percent dependent on fossil fuels. In the case of freight transportation, not broken out in this chart, it is virtually 100 percent. 

Unfortunately, most of the modern renewable energy technologies are completely dependent on fossil fuel energy subsidies, and, without them, they are nearly impossible to carry out. 

Consider the fossil fuel needed to construct a modern, 1.5 megawatt capacity wind turbine. The materials needed for these turbines often originate on two or three continents and are moved to their assembly point in ships, trucks and trains. The efficiency of the turbine depends on highly technical electronic controls. Rare metals sourced from around the globe are crucial. Large amounts of steel and concrete are needed, and the manufacture of concrete requires burning fossil fuel and releases substantial carbon dioxide from the concrete itself. Finally, the turbine must be transported to its final location and erected. 

Often, the size of components requires specially built rail cars and trucks. Then, there are the diesel-powered cranes and other heavy equipment used in the installation. Electric-powered technology for most of these construction processes is nonexistent. 

Much the same could be said for photovoltaic arrays. To achieve the recent improvements in the capture of energy, more very-scarce resources are used, and the electronics are equally complex. While not as physically massive as wind turbines, their complexity means they require a great deal of maintenance. 

Since both of these sources of energy are intermittent, even for the electricity they supply, they must be integrated into a grid that has fossil fuel capacity—mainly gas and coal-fired generators—to keep the electricity flowing even when it is dark or calm. 

Could a reliable electric generation system be based on wind and photovoltaic energy? Could such a system generate electricity to power sectors of society that are completely nonelectrified at present? 

Stay tuned for the next two columns.

Jerry Silberman is a retired union organizer who now devotes his time to negotiating a resilient future for all of us.  

Pennsylvania leads the U.S. in supporting farmers to be better water stewards

Farmers, Water Protectors

by John Henry Scott

While many people believe access to clean water should be a basic human right, the necessary level of government involvement to regulate water is a more contentious issue. In Pennsylvania, voluntary programs that work with our region’s farmers are one way advocates are protecting our water supply.

Since 1972, the federal Clean Water Act has helped to reduce point-source water pollution, such as specific and discrete waste from factories and pipelines. However, the regulation fails to address “nonpoint” sources of water contamination: the stormwater runoff that trails over many buildings, roads and—importantly—farms. It can include a toxic mix of motor oil, garbage liquids, animal waste and pesticides that all eventually flow into nearby bodies of water. That water makes its way into the entire Delaware River watershed, the source of clean drinking water for more than 15 million people in the region.

Andrew Johnson is the director for the William Penn Foundation Watershed Protection Program, which is itself part of the larger Delaware River Watershed Initiative, a coalition of more than 50 organizations dedicated to improving water quality in the area. 

“We support organizations that have lots of experience working with farmers,” said Johnson. “We focus on specific geographies where agricultural runoff is known to be a specific source of impairment of water quality.”

With the assistance of nonprofits supported by the William Penn Foundation, farmers can change the way they manage their fields or their livestock to the direct benefit of water quality. One strategy is mass planting of trees along the edges of streams that pass through farm fields—otherwise known as a riparian buffer, these small, man-made forests help filter runoff. Over time, they also begin to shade the stream, lowering the water temperature to the benefit of aquatic life. 

Other farm practices that benefit water quality include building new stream crossings for livestock so that they don’t create sediment runoff, stream-bank fencing and nutrient management plans. 

“Putting manure out in the field at the right time and place can help control the amount of nutrients that are applied onto the land,” said Johnson. “Nutrient management plans help defend the stream from the impact of those applied substances.” 

Because of the lack of federal regulation, all the work done by the Delaware River Watershed Initiative has to be done through voluntary compliance with the farmer or landowner. 

“[Nongovernmental organizations] play a really important role in working directly with farmers and enabling them to access public and private money so they can address issues of water quality on their land,” said Johnson. 

One such organization, the Brandywine Conservancy, holds agricultural and conservation easements (the right to work with land you do not own) on farms and natural areas around Pennsylvania and Northern Delaware.

John P. Goodall, head of the farmland protection program for the conservancy, helps farmers navigate the various bureaucracies that provide help with funding to mitigate farm impact on water quality. According to Goodall, these practices not only improve the quality of the water but the productivity of the farm as well.

“These efforts can improve herd health, if they have livestock,” he said. “Getting animals out of contaminated water means fewer vet bills. It can also improve the amount of production, such as weight gain and milk production in cattle.” 

Hugh Lofting is one of the landowners Goodall works with. Lofting makes his living through his construction business but also owns a family farm in West Marlborough, Pennsylvania. The farm has been active for hundreds of years and has a stream that feeds into the White Clay Creek. 

The Brandywine Conservancy—along with the William Penn Foundation and the Delaware River Watershed Initiative—has assisted Lofting with upgrading the conservation plan (which he has had since 1976, one of the first in Chester County) and implementing different practices to help temper the farm’s impact on the stream. 

Lofting began building his riparian buffer in the 1980s by planting 1,800 trees along the stream, a joint effort between the conservancy and his family. 

“Ever since then, I’ve been really interested in sustainability and farming cover crops,” said Lofting, referring to crops such as rye and barley that are grown specifically to protect and enrich the quality of the soil.

“Recently, we did a lot of work through the Brandywine Conservancy regarding water that ran off the barn,” said Lofting. “The barn is pretty close to the stream, so we put a lot of dry wells [a pit with stones and fabric that filters groundwater before it enters the stream] in for the water to run off on. We put another road in, and put some soils in the field to control the water going into the stream. I’d like to stress the importance of people being conscious of what goes in their streams.” 

This consciousness, despite a lack of legal obligation, can go a long way toward cleaner water. 

The efforts of the Delaware River Watershed Initiative are focused on scientifically predetermined areas that would benefit the most from this kind of intervention.  

“This is a really exciting thing we’re doing,” said Johnson. “And we’re doing this on a scale that I don’t think is happening anywhere else in the country.”

Where to get the best plants this spring

Garden Supply Hot Spots

by Laura Everard

Whenever you talk to gardeners, regardless of who they are, where they live and what kind of garden they have, they always have the garden center that they swear by, and they tend to get very “Sharks and Jets” about the whole situation. I don’t claim to have the perfect inventory, but here is my own brief list of plant sources for the home gardener. All of them are within a brief walking or driving distance from Center City, are locally owned and offer a wide variety of plants and products that are bound to please a gardener of any experience level.

Primex Garden Center
435 W. Glenside Ave., Glenside, Pa. 

This fantastic, family run garden center is just a short drive from the city, and it is certainly worth the trip. The friendly staff is knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions you might have about your garden, and they sell everything you may need to get started from ground up: high quality tools, soil, mulch, fertilizers and pots in every shape, size and color. Primex also stocks hard-to-find items that will excite even the most modest plant geek. Whenever I go to this garden center, I am also pleased to see that they carry local products such as Organic Mechanics soil and mulch. Primex prides itself in having the largest range of organic products in the region, and it always has a wide variety of plant material. A huge advantage that Primex has over many of its competitors is that it is open year-round, and although its plant material is limited in the winter, you can still find many items to help you plan for the next growing season.

Greensgrow Farms & Greensgrow West
2501 E. Cumberland St. & 5123 Baltimore Ave. 

Greensgrow, which just turned 20, is arguably one of the best options for the urban gardener in Philadelphia. The original farm is in Fishtown, and there is a smaller satellite garden center in West Philadelphia. Both locations have a refined, high-quality range of plant material that is well taken care of by their passionate staff, and they’re open year-round. As soon as you walk in, you’ll see repurposed objects, such as rain barrels, being used to grow arrangements that range from ornamental to edible. The aesthetic walks hand-in-hand with their admirable push toward sustainability and eco-friendly practices. The staff is knowledgeable of practices ranging from small-scale, urban landscaping to hoop houses and farming, so any gardening questions you may have are likely to be answered. You can find organic potting medium, organic fertilizers and basic tools, and you won’t want to miss all the interesting containers that are often tailored for an urban lifestyle, such as pots that can hang on banisters. They also offer a CSA program and participate in the SNAP program; they are committed to providing local, healthy foods to the community, regardless of income.

Secret Garden
7631 Ridge Ave.

As the name suggests, this clandestine garden center is tucked away in the Roxborough/Manayunk area and is frequently overlooked by many residents. Despite being a little farther outside of Center City, this fantastic place should not be missed. Upon entering, you are surrounded by beautiful plants and trees that are sure to inspire. The knowledgeable staff and high-quality plants are just a couple of reasons why this place truly stands out. The very reasonable prices can even compete with box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, so this is a fantastic choice if you are just starting out and are scared of blowing your budget while experimenting in your garden. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have a website (although it does have a Facebook page), you can find glowing reviews all over the internet, and the locals swear by it. Like other garden centers, it also sells a selection of tools, soil and other gardening supplies. The friendly owners and staff make you feel welcome and are happy to advise you on any gardening plans. Unlike many such centers, Secret Garden is open seven days a week, which is a huge bonus for the weekend gardening warrior.

Urban Jungle
1526 E. Passyunk Ave. 

Tucked away on bustling Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, this funky warehouse holds tons of surprises. Urban Jungle prides itself in being an urban gardening specialist, so if you’re in a row home, it will probably have what you are looking for, including hangable planters. The constantly rotating variety of plants, containers and knickknacks helps set this garden center apart from many others—this shop aims to please, and you’re sure to find something a little different that will make your garden (or your living room) unique: Don’t miss the terrariums, figurines, water features and air plants. Another thing Urban Jungle is known for is vertical gardening, so if you are considering a green wall for your space, this place should be one of your first stops for a consultation, and the staff will take you through design, installation and maintenance.  They also offer consulting and landscaping services for standard gardens, just in case you need a little extra help with your project.

Terroir shines through Va La’s family farmed wines

A Time, a Vine and a Place

by Emily Kovach

For Anthony Vietri of Va La Vineyards, wine has always been a family affair. Since 1928, they’ve owned the farm in Avondale, Pennsylvania, where Vietri and his wife currently live, grow grapes and make wine. It was started by his Italian great-grandparents; Vietri’s daughter now represents the fifth generation to live there. 

As a child, Vietri would make wine with his great-grandfather and uncle from grapes they’d purchased from a vineyard in California. “We tried an experimental way of making wines, and it was cool to have that kind of freedom as a kid, and that served me well going into it commercially,” he says. His family also grew produce on the farm for their own consumption (the Vietris can trace farming through their family tree back to 16th-century Italy) and owned a mushroom business, Carozzo Mushrooms.

In 1995, after pursuing a career in the entertainment industry for over a decade, Vietri came back to the farm for a few months while traveling for work. He says he always planned to leave his industry at age 35, and he and his wife, Karen, were dreaming of a move to the Central Coast in California to open a small zinfandel winery. But, back on his family farm, he had a revelation, looking out over the fields and realizing how well wine grapes might grow there. 

“I told Karen, ‘We can go to California and we’ll love it, or we can stay here and do it. We’ll be going uphill because Pennsylvania has a terrible reputation for wine, but we’ll be doing it with our families. It’ll be 10 times harder, but every little step will be more rewarding,’” he remembers. “I let her decide, and she said, ‘Let’s try it here.’”

The first step of their plan was to decide which varieties of grapes they wanted to grow and have the vines grafted. Throughout that time, Vietri worked with his family, researching the winery’s future, designing the buildings, getting permits and beginning the buildout. They planted their first vines in 1999, the grapes came in 2001, and they opened the winery in 2002, the same week their daughter was born. Vietri recalls how hard it was to convince a bank to give them a business loan, each one more confused than the last about the prospect of a profitable winery in their area. 

“Finally, we secured a loan from a bank where the executive was a wine enthusiast, and she understood what we were trying to do!” he says.

Growing grapes on their particular hill on the East Coast meant a different kind of winemaking. Instead of following market demand for recognizable varietals such as merlot or cabernet, Vietri wanted to pursue vins de terroir, a 9,000-year-old method of winemaking. While vines at many vineyards are neatly separated into distinct plots, Va La makes field blends, with many varieties of grapes growing in their individual plots all mixed together in the rows. Hills require a nuanced understanding of how elevation and the angles of sunlight affect each grapevine. Vietri says his goal is to match each type of grape to the “language” that his hill is speaking. 

“Instead of saying, ‘People want merlot and that’s what we should plant,’ our idea was to make wine special to this site, and that’s all we care about,” he says. “And that was about finding out what these soils want to grow.”

Vietri explains that America’s taste for single-variety wine goes back to the very beginnings of the culture’s introduction to the beverage as a commodity. European wine producers wanted to sell their wines to Americans, and realizing that these customers preferred to drink varietals, began to change their growing and marketing practices. 

“Vins de terroir is actually a lost part of our culture… Italians planted vineyards in Napa in the 1800s, and I remember in the 1980s and ’90s, people were uprooting them because winemakers wanted control and wanted each style of grape separated,” Vietri says. He bought vinology textbooks and began to teach himself these techniques, many of which reminded him of how he’d made wine with his family as a kid. 

“Wine science is very, very important, but sometimes we get too caught up in it… Just because you’re a chemist doesn’t mean you’ll be a great chef,” he says.

Va La’s first year in business was scary for Vietri, who was committed to making a different kind of wine, in ways different from what anyone else in the state was doing at the time (dry and Italian, versus sweet and French), and he was working with equipment on a scale he didn’t have much experience with. He just had no idea if anyone would accept it. 

He recalls a day when they’d just done their first round of bottling. Karen came home from her day job and looked into the winery, entirely filled with cases of wine. “She walked in and sort of staggered near this pallet and buried her head in her hands and said, ‘Who’s going to buy all this wine?!’” Vietri says. “And I was used to talking her off the ledge, but this was the one time I didn’t have an answer.”

But with no advertising budget to speak of, relying solely on word-of-mouth and a loyal community of regular customers, Va La is still making its small portfolio of field blends in 2017. Each Spring, Vietri walks through his fields, trying to identify which vines are thriving or being rejected by the soil, seeking to improve his model. The vineyard is made up of four separate parcels, each one with a distinct personality, dependent on its soil composition and angle to the sun. 

“Certain varieties excel in different years… We’ve gotten better at understanding each variety in each section, and when those years occur, and exploit them more,” he says.

This attention to the grapes and the winemaking process has earned Va La a stellar reputation in both the region and the country. Jon Medlinsky, owner of the restaurant Martha in Kensington, says Va La is the only real intersection of local and natural wines that he’s ever come across.

“Anthony Vietri’s dedication to showcasing the soil and climate of Avondale definitely comes through every sip of his complex, layered and thought-provoking wines,” Medlinsky says. “I don’t usually speak in superlative terms, but Va La wines are far and away the best wines we offer, and we couldn’t be more proud or honored to serve them.”

Vietri credits much of Va La’s success to its younger consumer base. “Millennials have been the greatest thing to happen to us,” he says. “Unlike the generations who may have more money, millennials have an open-mindedness to anything we do.” While he notices that some of the older visitors to the winery have preconceptions of how things “should” be done, most younger guests want to taste the wine first, and then decided if it’s good. 

Without their unbiased patronage, Vietri believes his operation long ago would have been forced to go mainstream and rely more heavily on a wholesale model. 

“What we have here is a tiny farm, but we are able to sell almost 100 percent directly to the public, to meet them and interact with them… As far as I’m concerned, it’s the greatest thing ever,” he says. “All of the info coming to us from these huge marketing industries was saying millennials would be terrible for the wine industry, but they were completely wrong. They didn’t get that this generation is really into how things are made and are open to all different kinds of food. They want to try things.”

Recipe: Spring greens showered with Vietnamese fish sauce, ginger, peppers and lime

Spicy Watercress Salad

by Brian Ricci

When I was a child, my mother would bring home bags upon bags of watercress each spring. They were gifts from one of her colleagues who cultivated watercress in his garden at home. Mom would gently rinse it and then clip the long tendrils, discarding the thicker, more fibrous base in preference for the young, tender tops. They would then find their way into a salad creation that evening, and then the next.

Freshly clipped watercress can taste of black pepper and chlorophyll. It can also have light citrus notes or sometimes smell of fresh chervil or tarragon. It contains multitudes! 

Spicy Watercress Salad with Vietnamese Fish Sauce, Lime, Cashews, Ginger and Chilies
Serves: 2 to 4

For the salad:

  • 3 bunches watercress—look for tendrils with no bruising or yellowness 
  • 2 limes, segmented
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut lengthwise, then into thin half-moon shapes
  • Roughly 1/3 of a pound cashews—I prefer to toast and roughly chop them from raw
  • 15 sprigs of mint leaves, plucked
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 cup fish sauce—Three Crabs brand is my
  • personal choice
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 cup Sugar in the Raw
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 inch peeled ginger, grated fine—a microplane will do the trick
  • 1 clove garlic, microplaned like the ginger above
  • 1 long hot pepper, sliced lengthwise, deseeded and cut into a fine dice


  1. For the vinaigrette, combine all the ingredients and whisk. Allow to sit for 20 minutes and then taste. Adjust as you like with more sugar, lime juice or salt.
  2. For the salad, first trim the watercress sprigs with kitchen scissors to about 1½ lengths from the top—keep the remaining if you wish and make watercress soup or pesto. Plunge the tops into cold water and agitate. Then gently dry on towels. This can be done a day in advance.
  3. Toast your cashews in the oven at 375 F for about 15 minutes and look for a light, evenly browned color. Let them cool, then roughly chop them.
  4. Segment the lime by slicing the top and bottom off of the fruit. Then, cut off the peel, following the natural curves of the fruit. Remove as much of the white pith as possible. Then cut along the membranes that separate each segment, cutting at a slight angle inward along the membranes. Once you’ve cut along both sides of each segment, use the knife to loosen and remove each segment. This can be applied to pretty much all citrus, great and small.
  5. Assemble the salad by adding the watercress, cashews, cucumbers and lime segments in a large mixing bowl. Grab your mint and shred it with your fingers. Add the vinaigrette to taste and adjust with salt and pepper. Serve immediately.

Brian Ricci is a chef living and working in Philadelphia.

Access to land contributes to healing and self-determination

Refugees Take Root

by Lan Dinh

Growing up on the 4700 block of Sansom Street, an area where many Southeast Asian refugees were initially resettled, I still remember the food oasis in our 5-by-5 back porch. Beautiful, big, fuzzy leaves crawled up every vertical inch of available gate, pole or fencing. My parents were skilled in choosing the best branches to build strong, uncollapsible forts. I would play in the fort, hiding among hanging melons and vegetables of every size, some bigger than my head. Magical buckets gave birth to large, juicy, delicious tomatoes, peppers and more. I remember our pet ducks that would mysteriously disappear right before a large community dinner. Transforming tiny row home stoops and backyards into food jungles has been a story of Southeast Asian resettlement and resilience since the 1980s and 1990s. This predated the trendification of urban gardening. As I have learned from my parents, it began as a form of survival and a desperate hope to recreate a semblance of home. 

Southeast Asian refugees from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos came to the U.S. en masse in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, known in Vietnam as the Resistance War Against America, which followed hundreds of years of colonialism. The legacy of colonialism meant that the region experienced one of the worst levels of land-ownership disparity in the world among the wealthy and poor leading up to the war. This is what inspired Vietnamese revolutionaries to organize peasants around the promise of equitable land redistribution. This is a war in which the U.S. dropped 19 million gallons of Agent Orange herbicide on 4.5 million acres of land, which contaminated water and soil and continues to cause serious illness. 

More than 1 million people fled land dispossession, violence, genocide and starvation. Southeast Asians were relocated to the U.S. between 1975 and 1995 as part of the largest resettlement of refugees in U.S. history. Tens of thousands were resettled in resource-poor areas of Philadelphia where they faced poverty, racism, language barriers, loss of voice and social isolation. Mostly populated in South Philadelphia, as development and gentrification rises, the Vietnamese community continues to be uprooted along with other working class communities of color.

Land has always been political and personal to Vietnamese people. Although there has been trauma from oppressive denial of land, chemical warfare and displacement, it has also served as a source of resilience and as a political tool. 

In the summer of 2016, VietLead, a grassroots nonprofit, explored how Vietnamese community members perceived the multifaceted issues of land and community control. In a six-week community-organizing bootcamp, called SumOurRoots, high school students learned about the history of Vietnam, food sovereignty and movements for social justice. They then interviewed and captured the stories of 60 community members. One interviewee summed it up: “Knowing your heritage is to know what it looks like, what it sounds like, what it tastes like, what it feels like. Gardening is like a ceremony: Everyone must have their own routine.” 

Growing is seen as a critical part of restoring self-determination in the Vietnamese community. Cultural foods are seen as essential to Vietnamese identity, as it is passing on tradition to younger generations in the face of assimilation to American culture. It allows community relationships to build, as one interviewee noted, “We can’t talk to each other, because I don’t know English, but we can at least sit together, have some tea and just look at my garden.” For retraumatized refugees, gardening provides spiritual and mental healing. Another interviewee related, “It gives me the purpose to wake up every morning.” Gardens have the power to rebuild dignity and self-worth through validation: Refugees can affirm the knowledge they hold with the land. 

Gardening is an activity that the Vietnamese community may partake in more than voting or attending school meetings, as almost every house has a garden or bucket of plants. Growing together on a shared piece of community-controlled land has the potential to build increased civic participation in the Vietnamese community that can extend beyond the neighborhood to activities such as organizing against pollution from local oil refineries and rising
deportation orders. 

Access to land remains a clear priority. VietLead is a member of Soil Generation, a black- and brown-led coalition working for food sovereignty and land access in Philadelphia. Student leaders of VietLead have testified with Soil Generation for increased protection of existing community gardens and transparent pathways to ownership. As Neary Narom, a VietLead student leader has written, “With the power of gardening, it gives us strength to believe that those memories [of war] may scar us, but it cannot and will not leave a permanent mark. We need the city to make access to land a priority so that we can create gardens in order for our elders and community to heal, both physically and emotionally.” 

VietLead will implement the second installment of SumOurRoots to build power within the Southeast Asian community in solidarity with growers of color, collaborating with the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia and the Bhutanese American Organization of Philadelphia. We must prioritize securing access of land for disenfranchised, low-income communities of color—so we can build communities of self-determination—not for
corporate development.

Lan Dinh is the farm and food sovereignty projects director with VietLead, and you can find more information on the organization and its SumOurRoots project at

Perfect plant picks for that tricky backyard patio

Made in the Shade

by Laura Everard

“I can’t grow anything because my garden is too shady.” If I had a dollar for the number of times people told me this, I would have enough money to buy all of the plants they would need to revamp their shade garden! Just because you aren’t living in the blinding sun doesn’t mean you can’t grow a wide variety of interesting, beautiful plants that have a positive impact on your ecosystem.

Native plants can benefit your garden in several ways: They attract pollinators, preserve the local ecosystem and promote biodiversity.  Also, native plants will already be well adapted to the area so they will usually be easier to care for in the long term than many exotics.  You can find natives at many local nurseries, and the staff are usually happy to help you select your plants.  

Do your research before you buy, because there can be multiple plants with similar names that are not the native varieties. Never collect plants from the wild. It can negatively impact the ecosystem in the area—although removing plants from the wild can change the look of the landscape, the biggest concern is that 90 percent of native insects feed on three or fewer species of plant, so removing specimens from the wild can directly affect the microecosystem.  You can also bring pests and diseases that you may not have seen in the wild into your garden.

Here are a few of my favorite native shade perennials, which are surprisingly easy to grow and propagate.

Asarum canadense/wild ginger
Despite its name, wild ginger has no relation to the ginger we eat. It picked up its name from the strong scent that the rhizomes emit when crushed. Early settlers used this plant as a ginger substitute, and it is sometimes still used today in herbal mixtures. This plant is a low-lying ground cover with large, green leaves that make it a fantastic shade specimen. Sometime between April and May, when you lift up the leaves, you will find funky maroon flowers that look like something out of a fairytale. They grow best in moderately damp—but well-drained—soil and succumb to very few pests. Wild ginger is a perennial that spreads through rhizomes, so digging and transplanting can both spread and control it. The flowers can attract butterflies, and the plants act as a host for pipevine swallowtail caterpillars. It is sold at many garden centers, and you only need one to get the party started, since they spread on their own. Propagating through division in the spring is best once you have established plants.


Mertensia virginica/Virginia bluebells
Emerging in the early spring, Virginia bluebells put on a gorgeous display from April to June before dying back to the ground for the year. The incredible flowers start off as pink buds that open up to reveal trumpet-shaped blue flowers. Virginia bluebells should be planted with other, longer-lasting plants, since they go dormant halfway through the year. The show they give you in the spring makes them worthy shade plants that brighten up any dark area. They do best in well-drained soil with a high organic content. These perennials are easily propagated via seed, but you can always buy them at a local nursery. They attract bees, butterflies and moths, so if you are interested in hosting pollinators in your garden, check this plant out!

Polygonatum biflorum/Solomon’s seal
This hardy rhizomatous woodland perennial is an excellent filler for any shade garden. Although they are great ornamental plants, they can be used as an edible starch. In May, small green and white, pendulous flowers appear along the stalk and last through June. In the fall, the flowers are replaced with beautiful dark-blue berries (which are not edible), and the foliage turns a striking yellow, making it a plant that will bring interest to your garden most of the year. Although they do best in areas with a lot of moisture, they are highly versatile and can tolerate a variety of conditions once established. This is a common landscaping plant and can be found in most garden centers that sell perennials. Since they are rhizomatous, they spread well and can be easily propagated and controlled through division.

Heuchera Americana/alumroot
Heuchera is a low-lying, clumping perennial with fascinating foliage. It is well known for having leaves that come in every color of the rainbow, but this specific variety is the one native to this region. They have silver and green leaves, and the intensity of color varies depending on the amount of light they are exposed to. Tiny cream flowers emerge on tall stalks in May and last until June. These stalks should be clipped once they are finished blooming to encourage more flowering. This plant’s foliage is evergreen, so you will have color in your garden year-round. All they require as far as spring cleanup goes is a basic trim around the base to remove the old leaves. They grow in a variety of soil conditions and can be divided once they have a couple of years to establish. You can find heuchera in any garden center that sells perennials.

Geranium maculatum/wild geranium or cranesbill
Wild geraniums are surprisingly versatile perennials that can tolerate a variety of light, soil and moisture conditions. Dainty pink flowers emerge on stalks in April and can last until August. Although you will get more blooms if you can provide some sunlight as well as rich, well-drained soil, this rock star will bloom in shade and poor soil conditions. Unlike the ornamental geraniums that we all know, deadheading them is not necessary; in fact, the maintenance level for these guys is surprisingly low. Wild geraniums are also known as cranesbill because of the distinctive seed heads that form after flowering. These plants can be propagated through rhizome division or by seed. If you collect the seedpods, wait until they darken in color, carefully cut them from the plant, and store them in a bag until you are ready to sow them. The pods will burst open in the bag, making it easy to separate the seeds. The seedpods can attract a variety of birds including mourning doves.


Aster divaricatus/white wood aster
White wood asters are fall-blooming natives that are easy to grow and generally pest-free. Tiny but plentiful daisylike flowers start showing up in August and last throughout the fall. These blooms will bring butterflies from all corners of the city into your garden. As the flowers fade, the center darkens from a vibrant yellow to a lovely burgundy, which perfectly coincides with the fall season. The flower stalks are black, which provides a lovely contrast against the brilliant white flowers. The foliage is also pleasing, with its heart-shaped, highly segmented leaves, offering interest for the majority of the growing season. Generally found in woodland settings, this plant can tolerate many soil and moisture conditions. These plants are easily purchased at garden centers that sell woodland natives, and they can later be divided once they have established in your garden.

Try Some, Buy Some

This is just a small sample of native plants, shrubs and trees that do well in shade gardens. Make sure you research other options so that you can have a garden that fits all of your specifications.  

Pennsylvania nurseries that specialize in native plants:

The Right Question: It’s Time for a Little Physics 101

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Stop Confusing Energy with Electricity

by Jerry Silberman

Question: Can we run our entire society on solar energy?
The Right Question: Which kind of solar energy would you like?

Right now, more than 90 percent of all of our energy needs are powered by the sun, so we can answer the first question “yes” and stop worrying about whether our lifestyle is sustainable, right?

Maybe not.

Before we discuss the different kinds of solar energy, we need to have some basic definitions. The way the word “energy” is used in the media, mainstream and otherwise, suggests that it is not well understood. In fact it’s quite simple. Energy is an abstract concept, not an object. Energy is the capacity to do work. You can’t hold energy in your hand.

Work, in turn, is defined in physics as simply causing something to move. So the work of rolling your bowling ball down the lane requires a certain amount of energy. Depending on your skill, some of that energy used to move the ball will do additional work at a distance: knocking down pins. What’s left of the energy in the ball, after some is absorbed by friction on the lane and impact with pins, will be transferred to the bumper at the end, which will move slightly (and heat up slightly) as the energy is dissipated. In the course of doing work, energy is dissipated into the surrounding environment, mainly as heat. It is then too diffuse to do any more work, and it will keep diffusing out into the universe.

We need concentrated energy to do work. Fuels are concentrated sources of energy, substances in which a great deal of energy has been stored in chemical form—and is stable over time. That stored energy is usually released by burning it to heat air or water, whose motion, in turn, we use to run complicated systems, such as automobile engines, or fairly simple ones such as fireplaces. Each time we change the form of energy, a portion of it is dissipated as heat: A smaller part is literally burnt off, and a larger portion actually does the useful work we seek.

Electricity is not the same thing as energy. Electricity is a very versatile form that energy can take to do work for us, and the generation of electricity is a transformation that loses power along the way, like any other. Usually, references to renewable energy mean “electricity derived from renewable sources.” Since most of our energy use is not in the form of electricity, this reference is often misleading.

One way to look at the trajectory of human civilization is to look at how efficiently we have been able to find and use various forms of concentrated energy to work for us. We’ll come back to this, but first let’s look at the flavors of solar energy that power our society today. Each kind of solar energy is a variation on the theme of capturing the energy in photons from the sun and transforming it so that it can work for us:

Photosynthesis. All of the energy in every molecule of food we eat was originally stored by a plant that can store the energy of photons in its own tissue through biochemical reactions.

Fossilized sunlight. Oil, coal and gas began as photosynthetically produced tissues, isolated by geological processes from the cycle of life, and further concentrated by the force of gravity.

Biomass. This is mainly firewood, on a global basis.

Hydropower. Incoming solar energy turned to heat in our atmosphere allows us to have weather. Temperature gradients give us the movements of the atmosphere and the hydrologic cycle, by which water is evaporated and returns to the ground as rain. Dams store energy mechanically, rather than chemically.

Wind power. Solar energy creates temperature differences in the atmosphere, which result in air currents. Windmills convert this kinetic energy directly into electricity.

Photovoltaic electricity.  Electric charge is captured directly from photons and converted by chemical processes to electricity in a form we can use directly.

What’s left? Nuclear electricity accounts for 3 to 4 percent of our total energy use. Uranium, the fuel for nuclear energy generation, is a nonrenewable resource, and its production is past its peak.

Over the last 200 years, the flow of energy through human society, both as a whole and per capita, has increased by several magnitudes, a situation that is overwhelmingly due to the consumption of fuels from category two above: fossilized sunlight. This, in turn, has resulted in an increasingly unstable climate, along with pollution that threatens to overwhelm public health.

The quantity of energy flowing through our (American) society is staggering. We know that it has to be reduced and restructured substantially to have a sustainable society for the next seven generations. Two “right questions” are: Where is substitution or reduction possible? What choices make sense for individuals, and which must be made at a societal level?

Before we can answer these, there is much more to understand about how energy works now in our society. Which sources of energy are used for what tasks? What are the costs of using energy (environmental and economic) as we do now? Over the next several columns, we will cover some background information needed to discuss the right questions above.

Jerry Silberman is a retired union organizer who now devotes his time to negotiating a resilient future for all of us.

Healthy eating in the lunchroom at Friends’ Central School


Tiny Farm to Tiny Table

by Grid Staff

School cafeterias of old are notorious for mushy veggies and fried mystery meats, but students at Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood hope to promote healthful lunch hours with a new year-round food-growing program.

Students from nursery school through fifth grade are taught the significance of healthy eating by cultivating the Lower School organic garden—the foundation for Friends’ Central’s farm-to-table program—beginning with planting fruits, vegetables and herbs.

This fall, Friends’ Central launched a school lunch program called Lettuce Feed You. It features healthful meals, including vegetarian options, prepared in-house by Chef Wadiya Gooden for the school’s youngest eaters. The lunch table at the Lower School is supplied overwhelmingly by local farms, including its own expansive organic garden.

“Students are not just learning about making an impact, they’re actually living it and able to see it,” said Assistant Lower School Principal Ginger Fifer. “Last month, all the roasted potatoes on the cafeteria menu were from our garden, as well as the vegetables in the salad, the herbs in the dressing and the butternut squash.”

From enjoying food that connects to the curriculum—for example, Indian food during the first-graders’ study of India—to participating in food preparation, Lower School students use their knowledge of food to create a foundation for healthful eating.

Now in its fourth year, the Lower School garden is an integral part of the academic program. In addition to growing a number of cafeteria items on campus, the garden serves as a pumpkin patch and a butterfly garden, which both provide regular opportunities for outdoor, experiential science classes.

The new Ulmer Family Light Lab and the Natural Sciences Studio—one of four distinct makerspace studios within the Light Lab—have added depth to the students’ knowledge of how the farm-to-table program functions at the Lower School.

A group of fifth-graders recently measured pH levels and plant growth and added water with nutrients to the aeroponic towers in the solarium. They then harvested kale, arugula and leaf lettuce from the aeroponic towers to enjoy at lunch.

The new equipment has provided students an opportunity to learn the science of year-round gardening, said Brie Daley, director of the Light Lab.

“What’s nice also is that the learning is not in isolation. There’s a context as to why they’re learning aeroponics and hydroponics,” Daley said. “They’re coming in and owning these spaces and helping them to develop. It’s been a really great community project.”

Sidewalks. Rooftops. Raised beds. Give a city gardener an inch, they’ll take a mile.

Photos and illustrations by Marika Mirren

Photos and illustrations by Marika Mirren

How Does Your Garden Grow?

by Brion Shreffler

Turning the corner of South 10th and Christian streets in Philadelphia, heading north into the Bella Vista neighborhood, a newcomer out on a jog might be caught off guard by the fiercely squawking green parrot taking umbrage at their swift passage.

Stopping to note the parrot ensconced in his tree, said jogger might register the equally out-of-place headdress of elephant ears in a planter adjacent to the tree. As their eyes quickly shift right toward the façade of South Philly row homes, they’d find three massive aquatic pots holding blooming water lilies before jumping over potted miniature evergreens, a koi fish and turtle pond with a blooming water hyacinth, a window box full of assorted flowers, and more potted plants and evergreens—next to even more tropical plants.

These plants and trees decorate the exterior of the home of Robert Nuse—that’s his parrot—as well as the homes of his immediate next door neighbors, for whom he also does sidewalk gardening. He’s a contractor and property manager who studied agriculture, and he goes all out with planters and pots, just like many other row home dwellers.

As of early March, he’s getting ready for spring, just like many other Philadelphia gardeners who make the most of their green thumbs while having little to no green space.

Mathew Davis, a landscape and general architect who lives a bit further south, saw the potential in a former garage that he renovated for his new home. While he has a few sidewalk planters and a window box made from a wooden pallet, the 1,500-square-foot space atop the roof he repaired is where he tends to a roughly 50/50 blend of edible plants (vegetables and herbs) and ornamentals.

And on the other side of the city, Jenna Brown, who studied environmental science, is making the most out of a small North Philly backyard that doesn’t have soil conducive to planting—it’s situated within a commercial/industrial zone. She’s utilizing raised beds and a variety of planters and pots accumulated by the building she lives in.

A purpose for every pot
“It’s just pure hobby,” Nuse says, referring to the abundance of green that adorns the sidewalk here, including the tropicals he puts out once summer hits. You’ll want to see the two banana trees, but perhaps skip the Japanese devil’s tongue during the week and a half that it’s in bloom—its flower brings the charming aroma of decaying human flesh.

“I enjoy the shock value of it, to be honest with you,” he says. “People aren’t expecting to come across this in the city.”

He’s had the window planter that overlooks his do-it-yourself koi and turtle pond for 30 years. Prior to moving to his current address 23 years ago, that planter was bolted to the railing of a fire escape that held pots of various flowers on each step leading up to his apartment.

He started slowly once he moved to South 10th Street. By his fifth or sixth year, he was managing planters for neighbors on both sides of his property. Six-foot-tall topiaries frame his door and that of his neighbor to the left, who also has the three aquatic lily pots in front of their façade.

Brown takes a different tact, and only grows vegetables and herbs.

“You know exactly where your food is coming from, and knowing all of the energy you put into it makes you appreciate it more,” Brown says. “You have a strong bond and relationship to it.”

No ornamentals?

“I can’t keep a houseplant alive,” she admits.

Having just moved in, she’s looking forward to having a garden once again. Her most recent experience was running a garden plot tied to a yoga studio where she’s employed as an instructor.

Davis says his rooftop experiment goes beyond growing food for himself and raising starter ornamentals for clients. He intends to try his hand at building solar panels to power the pumps for the hydroponic systems he’s currently toying with.

While Nuse’s gardening is all about fun and engendering stunning visuals, and Brown’s is about self-reliance, Davis goes even one step further. “It’s about creating autonomous, localized economies as potential major stressors loom,” Davis says, “instead of relying on massive multinational corporations to provide us with energy and food.”

Start of the spring season
As of early March, Davis and Brown have planted seedpods for crops such as cucumbers, beans, peas, chives, broccoli and tomatoes. Once the warm weather sets in, the plants will be hearty and ready to thrive outdoors. Davis has grown salad greens and kale inside his greenhouse over the winter. Brown is planting those same greens as soon as her order from Bennett Compost arrives to mix with the organic soil she put in her newly constructed raised beds. Both also have cold-weather-hardy herbs such as rosemary and thyme planted outside.

While Davis plans to scale back the amount of ornamentals he tends—“too much work”—he’s looking forward to his perennial wildflowers and ornamental grasses popping up once again.

“I try to plant exclusively native species,” he says. “These things are designed to be in this part of the world.”

Nuse, on the other hand, loves trying new exotics. “I always want to do something different,” he says. “I’ve tried pitcher plants and they died both times. I’m not sure what I’m doing right or wrong. I had an Australian tree fern that grew up to about 20 feet before it died on me. I got another one but it’s struggling.”

While Davis has his many consultations to draw upon—he previously served as lead designer at Longwood Gardens—and Brown keeps a gardening journal, Nuse says that decades of mental notes inform his trial-and-error process as he explores growing new plants.

One thing he stresses—particularly to clients as a property manager—is year-round care, and not having dead pots.

So, besides planting winter blooming pansies, he has pots holding daffodil, crocus and tulip bulbs planted in the fall, which should be in bloom by the time you’re reading this article.

Choosing plants to fit the changing environment
Growing on any given location presents its own unique problems—and Nuse’s situation proves that those can change over time.

“Those pin oaks,” he says, referring to the massive trees opposite his property on the west side of the street, “weren’t there when I first moved in.” So while he’s trimmed back the smaller tree on his slice of sidewalk, he’s had to either find sunny spots for certain plants or call upon more shade-tolerant plants—something Davis frequently recommends for clients in South Philly with small swaths of backyards with varying amounts of sunlight.

Ferns, coral bells, hostas—plants Davis grows himself on the shadier parts of his roof—are what he recommends for shade-heavy backyards. He stresses that it comes down to balancing the direction from which your plants receive sunlight along with how much sun they need. For instance, the afternoon sun is perfect for tomatoes, but could be too much for other plants.

To shelter his ferns and other shade-loving plants from the afternoon sun, Davis’ greenhouse is lined along the top with repurposed polycarbonate panels from The Resource Exchange in Kensington.

“I try to use all reclaimed materials. I trash-pick a lot of stuff,” Davis says. Many of his “planters” happen to be 5-gallon “juice” buckets discarded by South Philly amateur winemakers.

He’s found a way to prevent his plants’ extra water needs from adding to his chores by constructing a passive drip-irrigation system that emanates from two rain barrels.

Brown found that the compact ground of her backyard was full of rocks and chunks of cement; her property was also apparently part of a cemetery. So she built her two, 2-by-4 raised beds from cheap lumber. “It took me three hours, including the trip to Home Depot,” she says.

And then there’s the likely toxicity of the soil.

“You shouldn’t put anything in the ground pretty much anywhere north or south of Center City,” Davis advises.

“When I lived in Northern Liberties at 5th and Girard, I had my soil tested and it came out at over five times the permissible levels of lead and cadmium.”

For his part, Nuse states that he has found that certain plants can’t take the wind exposure of being on the sidewalk. For some of his tropical plants, he recently installed large windows in his attic to help keep them warm during winter.

With barren dirt on her property, which should make for fewer weeds, and ample sunlight from the south, east and west, Brown doesn’t expect much difficulty in growing her vegetables. That is, unless a particularly bad pest sets in.

Nuse says he thankfully doesn’t have to guard against as many human pests as when he first moved in.

“I would take wire and wrap it around the plant and tie it to the barrels,” he says. He’d then weigh them down with cinder blocks, a tactic he still uses.

“The fact that the neighbors enjoy this so much—they look out after things,” he says.

While Brown looks forward to community dinners using her produce, Davis echoes sentiment shared by Brown and Nuse while speaking of the aesthetic his garden creates: “In mid-summer, it’s beautiful to have five different types of bees flying around while providing a habitat for other native species. It’s a beautiful place once it gets growing.”