Action Mom

What can one squeaky wheel accomplish? A lot.

by Paige Wolf

Welcome to Action Mom, a space where I will share my experiences advocating for change locally and globally. Certainly, wanting to make the world a better and safer place is by no means parent-exclusive. But the responsibility of protecting tiny little lives—in my case a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old—often spurs some dramatic action.

As parents, we often see concerning things and think, “Someone should really do something about that.” I have a habit of volunteering to be that someone. As a result, sometimes I get stuff done.

The consequences of resolving to take action are a mixed bag. Sometimes your efforts are fruitless. And, even if you succeed, you are bound to ruffle a few feathers. But even if you can move the needle half an inch in the direction of progress, it’s worth it.

Over the past year, I have sought change in matters large and small. I learned that, sometimes, speaking about something in your own backyard can bring about a broader policy change.

For instance, when I noticed a lack of safety precautions for oil-based polyurethane floor finishing applied at my family’s local recreation center, my primary concern was making sure kids would no longer inhale those fumes. When I noticed what can best be described as the smell of a giant red exclamation mark, I immediately reached out to the city’s Parks and Recreation department—with emails revealed by a Google search—to see what was going on.

After the city investigated, it realized this was not just a problem at the location at hand; maintenance practices across the city’s rec centers needed reassessment. Later, a councilwoman told me that this sparked an official policy change.

Then there have been times when I can’t be sure my actions had a direct effect, but after seeing the desired result, I can feel satisfied that maybe my actions mattered. For example, after a trip to Harrisburg, I was appalled by the abundance of antiquated landfill-fodder plastic foam in the capitol building’s cafeteria. In fact, at that time, it was the only serving vessel available.

I decided to call this out with a blog post, a few phone calls and a series of angry tweets. A few months later, I learned they had switched over to much more eco-friendly containers and serveware. Was this just a fortuitous coincidence, or was something I did a catalyst for a container revolution? It really doesn’t matter. Action Moms aren’t striving for personal glory—we just want to see stuff get done.

And sometimes the journey is long, arduous and complicated. My petition to the school district for more transparency and accountability finally received a response after months of effort. But the information I was able to glean was just the tip of the iceberg. Fortunately, in this case, my action led to a connection to a coalition doing meaningful work to significantly improve this space. It helps when you don’t have to fight these battles alone!

We see you, Action Moms. We see you advocating for protected bike lanes, fighting to preserve historic buildings and crusading for stricter gun regulations, better food labeling, safer cosmetics, cleaner water and more commercial recycling. We see you signing petitions on your lunch breaks, marching in the streets with your babies strapped to your chest, calling your members of Congress.  

If you smell something, say something. Don’t just swallow the fumes. Tell a friend to say something, too, because you cannot underestimate the power of numbers. We are all in this together.

Paige Wolf is the author of “Spit That Out: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt.” Follow @paigewolf on Twitter.

Urban Naturalist

Pigeon in: Murals of critters spark joy, conversation

by Bernard Brown

It started with a blank wall that needed a pigeon… or a rubber duck. Tattoo artist and muralist Evan Lovett could see the wall from the window of the Philadelphia Tattoo Collective where he worked in Kensington, just below the Berks El stop.

“I got really sick of staring at it, since every time I see a blank wall I just imagine what could be on it,” Lovett said. “And the shape of this wall just perfectly fit a pigeon, or a big rubber duck, but I wanted to make a pigeon.”

The building’s owner was initially reluctant about having a mural painted. Lovett offered to do it for free: “[The owner] was like, ‘What are you thinking of putting up there?’ I was like, ‘I kind of want to do a big pigeon.’ He took a moment and said, ‘I love pigeons.’ I just happened to nail the one thing he liked.”

It took a week to plan and an afternoon to paint. On June 20, 2016, Lovett and a friend rented a lift and used house paint salvaged from the dump along with a few cans of spray paint. “We began at noon and were done by 5.” The pigeon, dubbed the “Prince of Front Street,” took his place on the wall, and VURT’s Local Critter series was born.

Visual Urban Renewal and Transformation, a nonprofit group of public artists, paints other subjects as well; for example, a cat-themed Fishtown mural and a series depicting local workers, but Lovett focuses on the city’s critters. A menagerie of other painted critters have since joined the pigeon on Philadelphia walls, including “Fawn Jawn,” a pair of deer painted in East Falls; “Token Squirrel,” depicting a squirrel holding a SEPTA token, near Norris Square Park; and the “Bickering Birds,” a pair of house sparrows in Queen Village. Lovett sees the critter murals as a break from the advertising images that bombard us every day, and as a tool to get people to notice overlooked wild neighbors.

“If we paint a mural of a particular bird,” Lovett said, “and it raises your awareness that, hey, they live here, you might start seeing it everywhere.”

Murals don’t just educate; they can help revive a neighborhood. In Port Richmond, Natalie Shaak sought the perfect mural to highlight a playground revitalization project next to her house.

“Initially when I bought my house I thought, ‘Wow, there’s a really blank blue wall next to a playground. It would be a great place for a mural,’” Shaak said. The Webb Street Playground, bounded on three sides by Webb, Thompson and East Sergeant streets, had seen better days. The equipment was falling apart, nighttime drug users left needles behind, and customers from the Wawa across the street tossed empty cups and other litter, according to Shaak. It was “not very welcoming, not very exciting, not very clean, but a prime location with a lot of potential.”

Shaak approached VURT and they agreed on a pretzel-eating raccoon for the wall. Lovett drafted a mockup of the “Pretzel Bandit,” and Shaak added it to her GoFundMe campaign for the playground. With the raccoon image as a hook, and with support from the Olde Richmond Civic Association (ORCA), Shaak was able to raise nearly $4,000 for new trash cans and other beautification measures, as well as the mural. Neighbors have begun to organize for more extensive equipment rehab. ORCA got the Philadelphia Streets Department to empty the trash more frequently, and the 26th Police District is paying closer attention as well.

“This project is an example of what can happen when people in a neighborhood come together,” Shaak said.

Murals tend to inspire more murals, Lovett has found: “We meet really interesting people who say, ‘We like what you’re doing, it is helping the community,’ and it sparks a conversation.” A recent deer mural in Manayunk led to the plans this spring for one honoring the peregrine falcons that nest in St. John the Baptist Catholic Church.

Lovett reports mostly positive feedback, though it can be hard to please everybody. While he was working on the “Prince of Front Street,” a passerby lowered his car window to complain that the pigeon should have been an eagle.

“A couple weeks later we were down Front Street a little bit more painting a big eagle with an American-flag background,” said Lovett, “and a guy yells, ‘Another eagle?’”

At least it started a conversation.

A Novel Approach

Climate activist Bill McKibben makes a switch to fiction

by John Henry Scott

When a conversation becomes as extensive as the one surrounding climate change, it can be difficult to remember where it started. Granted, it would be pretty hard to isolate a single point of origin for an entire field of study, developed by decades of observation and research. However, when attempting to identify the moment when climate change became a global conversation, one possible catalyst would be the publication of author and environmentalist Bill McKibben’s 1989 book “The End of Nature.” Considered to be the first book about climate change for a general audience, “The End of Nature” helped spread the idea—from the scientific community to the world at large—that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions affect global weather patterns.

Since then, McKibben has written a dozen books about environmental issues as well as many articles and columns for publications such as The New Yorker and The Atlantic.

This past November, he published his first book of fiction, “Radio Free Vermont: A Fable of Resistance,” inspired by the outcome of the 2016 election. The book explores themes of nonviolent resistance and increased sustainability through community and local economies, suggesting that creativity is key to effecting change.

Climate change is not the focus of the novel, although it is addressed at points. Instead, the plot of “Radio Free Vermont” follows Vern, an aging radio host with a lifelong career in local broadcasting, as he organizes a grassroots effort to allow Vermont to secede from the United States. Along the way, he receives help from Perry, a teenage tech-wiz; Trance, a former Olympic biathlete; and Sylvia, a self-reliance guru; all of whom serve as caricatures to embody traits McKibben feels are representative of Vermonters and their culture, such as resourcefulness, neighborliness, determination and good humor.

The cartoonish characters fit the tone and shape of the novel, which is upbeat and whimsical while managing to address actual issues. There is a sense of play to the writing which seems to advocate for itself as a means of problem-solving—complex problems call for creative solutions.

As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that McKibben is not actually suggesting secession as a viable remedy for the problems of Vermont or any other state. Instead, it seems he has created an allegory of the old phrase attributed to Scottish town planner and social activist Sir Patrick Geddes, “Think local, act global.”

Grid recently had a chance to ask McKibben as few questions via email concerning the novel, fiction as a medium and how local economies translate to larger cities such as Philadelphia.

What prompted you to write a novel? What about fiction interested you?
I’d been working on it for a long time, mostly out of homesickness for Vermont as I traveled in my role as a climate advocate. I was very interested in resistance, and it seemed like a good way to write about it—to help people understand how it can be creative and fun.

You’ve built a career in nonfiction writing, publishing more than a dozen books over the past two decades. Why did you choose this moment to write a work of fiction?
Well, I decided to publish it when Trump got elected. Everyone was sad and anxious, and it didn’t seem like we needed a dark and difficult book from me. Instead, time for something that mixed its meaning with good humor—and a fair amount of beer.

Did you encounter any challenges working within this medium?
I found it great fun. To me, the characters were like interview subjects—who generally said what you wanted them to say.

Did you receive any valuable advice from fiction authors during the writing of “Radio Free Vermont”?
I didn’t dare tell a soul, except my wife, Sue Halpern, who is a very fine novelist and who encouraged me to keep at it.

Beyond the plot of secession from the United States, it seems that a lot of “Radio Free Vermont” is about building a sustainable community/economy in a rural state. What suggestions do you have for people who are interested in creating a sustainable, local economy but who live in a large city such as Philadelphia?
Well, cities seem much easier in many ways. Everything is so close! You don’t have the big distances rural people must deal with. There’s less land to grow food, but more than you would expect. And so many other resources—Philly is full of people like Judy Wicks who have been hard at work on this problem.

What are some things that people who live in urban areas can do to reduce their dependence on imported products/resources?
Seek out and enjoy things that come from close by. So, beer—which there’s lots of good examples of in Philly. This is all much easier for me because I never learned to drink coffee—even with global warming it’s going to be a while before you’re growing that in Pennsylvania.

In the novel, the Coors Brewing Co. is condemned but the character of Sylvia wears Carhartt and drives a Subaru, brands that seem to serve in establishing her Vermonter identity. Can you talk a little bit about this identity and the difference between Coors and Subaru?
Well, for the moment we don’t actually have any Vermont car companies to choose from. Also, Coors Light tastes really terrible, but Subarus work pretty well—in my memory; it’s been awhile. For some reason they don’t have hybrids.

Where might you, personally, draw the line in terms of ethical consumption?
If I’m drinking beer from farther than about a half mile away, it seems to me like I’m doing it wrong.

Natural Born Killers

Outdoor cats wreak havoc on wildlife

by Bernard Brown

It sure seems generous and altruistic to take care of a stray cat. It is, on the face of it, a noble activity. Confronting the consequences, however, isn’t easy.

Birds, small mammals, butterflies—all can end up in the jaws of a domestic cat. Even well-fed domestic cats keep killing smaller creatures for fun, as cat owners know. Hunting might be a natural cat behavior, but there is nothing natural about how our house cats hunt. We’re talking about an exotic species in the Americas that has not evolved alongside our wildlife. And of course we feed cats, boosting their population densities far higher than anything our native critters ever see from natural predators. The effect is disastrous, and a robust body of scientific research backs this up. The domestic cat is responsible for killing at least 1.3 billion birds and at least 6.3 billion mammals in the contiguous United States every year, according to a 2013 study published in the science journal Nature Communications. Outdoor cats’ habits vary, but on average each one kills about 24 birds and 160 mammals per year. And there are a lot of unowned cats in Philadelphia (not counting the pets allowed outside)—estimates range higher than 300,000. Even if we make the conservative assumption that our urban cats have less killing opportunity than their rural counterparts, that’s still a lot of dead birds and bunnies—a lot of wildlife that Philadelphians won’t experience.

And when it comes to birds, how we manage our cats affects our neighbors all over the hemisphere. Our common yellow-throats—charismatic warblers that breed in our wetlands—winter in Central America. The dark-eyed juncos that spend their winters in our gardens breed in northern forests. And scores of other species visit Philadelphia for only a few days on their way along the Atlantic flyway. Every time a cat kills a magnolia warbler or an olive-sided flycatcher in Philadelphia, it is an international loss.

Cat advocates (and the multimillion-dollar lobbying groups behind them, such as Alley Cat Allies) claim that trapping, neutering and releasing (TNR) unowned cats will reduce their population over the long term. Although this might work in small, isolated areas with particularly dedicated caretakers, it is a futile effort on the scale of a city like Philadelphia. A few missed female cats can produce a lot of kittens, and colonies are magnets for irresponsible cat owners who would rather abandon pets than do the work of finding them a home.

Cat advocates also often claim that more cats will fill in when we remove colonies of unowned cats (the “vacuum effect”). These claims completely ignore the active human role in this process. Stray cats wouldn’t hang out on your block if it weren’t for the guy who gives them some tuna every night, and the same goes for larger colonies. It might be impossible to completely remove cats from the urban landscape, but we can do a lot more to shrink the population and reduce their impact.

Grid readers know that living in a city doesn’t mean giving up on nature: a mockingbird’s serenade from the roof of a rowhouse, a monarch butterfly drinking from a flower, the antics of chipmunks in the garden. All provide wild experiences in our daily lives. This is true whether you have the privilege to escape to a “wild” place on the weekends or if you’re a 10-year-old whose entire world is her neighborhood.

Those who care for unowned cats do so with the best intentions, but sadly there is no such thing as a no-kill solution. What we can do is keep our pets inside, and we can trap strays to remove them from the landscape. Even if that means we euthanize some of them, we save lives. More than that, we do our part to keep nature around our city: for ourselves and for our neighbors.

Bernard “Billy” Brown co-hosts the Urban Wildlife Podcast. He also volunteers as the Philadelphia coordinator for the Pennsylvania Amphibian and Reptile Survey.

Seoul Food

Heritage Farm enriches soil and community with Korean natural farming techniques

by Emily Kovach

What do you get when you put equal parts fish waste and sugar in a bucket, cover it with leaves and forest soil, and let it sit for five months? A stink bomb? Not quite. This is actually do-it-yourself fish fertilizer. And it’s just one of the ways Adrian Galbraith-Paul and his small team at Heritage Farm are using Korean natural farming methods to improve the fertility of their soil and increase the farm’s output.

Established in 2011, Heritage Farm sits on a 2-acre plot just outside the northwest corner of Fairmount Park. Galbraith-Paul and one other person work as full-time farmers, and with the help of part-time workers and seasonal interns and apprentices, they grow a variety of vegetables (with a focus on salad greens) from the four high tunnels and a petite greenhouse. The farm sustains itself by selling produce at an on-site market and to local restaurants—customers include big names such as Vetri, Fork and Aldine—but this urban farm is really about growing and facilitating relationships.

Heritage Farm is part of Methodist Services, a nonprofit whose mission is to serve vulnerable families by offering, according to its website, “housing, child care, education programs, permanence in families, mental health services and nutrition programs.” Residents at Methodist Services can enter mentoring programs on the farm, learn about food and nutrition, gain skills, practice self-reliance and connect with one another on the small patch of green.

Galbraith-Paul has been at Heritage Farm since the summer of 2013. As a college student, he pursued a degree in political science. “I wanted to be part of a solution… but I learned that politics is an area where you have to constantly compromise in your beliefs,” he says. “I felt that farming was more pure… My parents have a small manufacturing business, so I’ve always been around producers, and that’s always resonated with me: actually growing the thing, being at the base.”

After reading his way through the works of Wendell Berry, the prolific American writer, environmental activist and farmer, Galbraith-Paul decided to go into producing food. After a few internships, he landed at Heritage Farm and worked his way up to farm manager.

Though the farm was relatively productive before his arrival, his experimentations in Korean natural farming methods have resulted in exceptional positive changes. “The standard organic methods in North America are really dependent on using consultants and purchasing fertilizers, and the goal of Korean natural farming is for the farmers to make that stuff themselves,” he explains.

That means farmers make their own fertile soil by crafting biological inoculants. Galbraith-Paul will go into the forest and capture microbes, bacteria and fungi, bring them back and cultivate them, then reintroduce those materials to the farm’s soil. This creates a broad base of beneficial microbes that fight off pests and disease and make minerals viable at a high rate. He also sources fish waste from some of the restaurants that the farm sells to and creates the fish hydrolysate described above.

“Establishing healthy soil life is the key to healthy plants,” he says. “Doing this takes commitment; it’s not like going out to the store and buying something.”

Every year since Galbraith-Paul’s arrival, Heritage Farm has doubled its output, and other urban farming experts are starting to take note of this creative approach.

“One of the aspects of Heritage Farm’s systems that I find most intriguing is its use of waste products from the community, such as coffee grounds, wood chips  or ‘spent’ fish, to create fertility inputs for the farm,” says Aaron de Long, the Delaware Valley hub manager and dairy grazing apprenticeship education coordinator for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. “Closing system loops in this way is the essence of regenerative, sustainable agriculture.”

Galbraith-Paul’s experimentation in Korean natural farming methods is largely self-taught. Though these methods are still niche among farmers in the U.S., he has found a few mentors, such as Tobacco Road Farm in Lebanon, Connecticut, which he visited this summer on a trip sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society. The methods are also growing in popularity in the high-end marijuana farming community, which Galbraith-Paul sees as proof of the method’s viability. “From a pure farming standpoint, [marijuana] is a crop that has a lot of demands, and it’s a difficult and expensive thing to grow,” he says, “so farmers will invest in what grows the best.”

While the size of Heritage Farm won’t allow for endless doubling of production, Galbraith-Paul plans to keep investigating ways of improving on its model and expanding the natural farming practices. “That’s one of the things about urban farmers… Limitations on things like land force people to be more innovative,” he says. “It’s definitely been a good thing for me as a farmer.”

Buying the Farm (Share)

Grid’s guide to CSAs in the city

by Emily Kovach

In and around our fine city, CSAs are so commonplace (a wonderful thing!) that we almost considered skipping an explanation of what those initials even stand for. But for those new to the concept, and even just as a reminder for those of us who dutifully pick up our cardboard boxes every week, here goes: CSA stands for community supported agriculture. It’s a seasonal—sometimes yearlong—subscription to a farm or producer, which ensures them a steady cash flow throughout the highs and lows of the growing season and hooks the customer up with weekly deliveries or pickups of seasonal fruits, veggies and other tasty things to eat. It’s a way that, as a society, we can help independent farmers not just stay afloat, but actually thrive in the face of Big Ag. Amid a growing economy of subscription-based businesses, “CSA” has become a bit of a buzzword, and we urge you not to lose the true meaning of what it is: a symbiotic partnership between member and farmer.

CSAs to Know:

Mostly Produce with Add-ons

Greensgrow Farm Share
Subscribers to this urban farm’s seasonal share receive an array of fruits, veggies, vegan or dairy protein options, and more.
Areas served: Pickups in Kensington and West Philadelphia
215.427.2780 ext. 2

Philly Foodworks
This program offers mostly certified organic produce, and the noncertified produce is grown with clean farming practices.
Areas served: Philadelphia and western suburbs
215.221.6245

Pennypack Farm
Likely inclusions in this farm’s next summer/fall share: collards, bok choy, bell peppers, tomatillos, radishes, kale and more.
Areas served: Northeast suburbs and Montgomery County
215.646.3943

Red Earth Farm
Produce from this farm in Kempton, Pa., is grown without synthetic pesticides or herbicides. Red Earth also offers options for eggs, cheese, yogurt and honey.
Areas served: Philadelphia, western suburbs, West Chester, Lehigh Valley
610.756.3600

Lancaster Farm Fresh Co-op
Choose from large shares (11 to 13 produce varieties, weekly) or medium shares (six to eight varieties) of certified organic produce from a cooperative of family farms.
Areas served: Philadelphia and surrounding suburbs, west as far as Harrisburg, north as far as NYC, and south as far as D.C.
717.656.3533

Tinicum CSA
Pick out your favorite veggies directly on the farm, May through November, every week or every other week.
Areas served: Bucks County
215.630.2172

Taproot Farm
Sign up for a 23-week share in summer or a 12-week share in winter for veggies, berries, melons and options for fruit, eggs, mushrooms, bread and dairy.
Areas served: Greater Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley and Berks County
610.926.1134

The Common Market Farm Share
The Common Market Farm Share provides members with a rotating seasonal variety of fruits, vegetables, artisanal cheeses, poultry and more.

Meat & Cheese

Primal Supply Butcher’s Club
Vacuum-sealed packages of pasture-raised beef, pork and poultry are available for weekly or alt-weekly pickups, with additional options for fresh eggs, loin steak or other items in the online store.
Areas served: Pickup sites throughout Philadelphia, and one in Cherry Hill, N.J.

Collective Creamery
Subscribers can pick up grass-fed, handmade cheese, butter and yogurt every other week, along with special treats from Collective Creamery’s friends in the local cheese trade.
Areas served: Philadelphia, Lehigh Valley, as well as Chester, Berks, Delaware and Montgomery counties

Yellow Springs Farm
This farm in Chester Springs offers assortments of both fresh and aged pasteurized cheeses twice a month.
Areas served: Pickup sites in Chester County, Mount Airy and Roxborough
610.827.2014

Flowers

Jig-Bee Flower Farm Share
Jig-Bee members select their closest pickup location and get 20 to 25 stems of seasonal flowers, already arranged and ready to be placed in a vase.
Areas served: Pickup sites in South Philly, Kensington, Center City and Fairmount
267.777.9636

Cover Story: Best in Class

Innovative approaches to public education provide promising results

by Steve Neumann
photos by Kriston Jae Bethel

Hilary Hamilton, a founding teacher at Science Leadership Academy Middle School located in Powelton Village, is leading an exuberant army of young students sporting headphones through their neighborhood on an unusually warm December day. Like new shoots fooled by a hint of spring, they’re eager to display the fruit of their learning. Along with teachers, family members and community members, they are embarking on a walking tour of the school’s neighborhood that includes podcasts explaining the significance of historical sites in their neighborhood. Each podcast was researched and recorded entirely by students from Hamilton’s and fellow humanities teacher Sarah Bower-Grieco’s classes.

“The Bravery in the Neighborhood Project was meant to combine situated bravery in history with situated bravery in yourself,” Hamilton says.

Earlier this year, the class focused on those times in history when it was considered courageous to read and write, studying the plight of enslaved blacks in America in the 1700s, women in the 1850s and English-language learners in public schools today. Students then had to write their own autobiographies of instances when they had to be brave in reading and writing.

Mosadi LaFair, a sixth-grade girl who lives in West Philly, reflected on the time she had to be brave in learning how to read:

There was a point in my life when I didn’t know how to read, and all the other kids in my class were ahead in everything. But I was too afraid to ask for help. I thought kids would make fun of me for not knowing how to read.
At the end of the day I didn’t have any bravery to think that I was doing awesome. I felt like I was dumb. When I got home from school I was so mad that I couldn’t read the words or write the words, but my mom said I had to go tutoring today and I didn’t feel like going to tutoring. But I had to.
So when I went to tutoring the tutor asked me to spell the word ‘usually’ and I spelled it.
And at that moment I was like ‘WHAT!’

The site Mosadi researched for the walking tour is 40th and Lancaster, the location of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Freedom Now” speech in 1965, now memorialized with a bust and a mural on the side of a building.

Nolen Gerwer, another sixth-grader at the school, clearly enjoyed both the activity and the feeling of being valued. “It’s something that I enjoy doing, because people get to hear me talk, and people can learn from me when I’m doing a podcast,” he says.

One of Nolen’s best friends, Amoz Lee, a new sixth-grader at the school, agrees. “I think doing podcasts are awesome,” he says. “Especially the research about my topic, the Title and Trust Company, which got shut down by the Great Depression. I thought that was really intriguing.”

The SLA podcast is an example of project-based learning in which kids are tasked with completing a real-world task. This technique has its roots in the progressive education movement, which advocated for more student-centered classroom approaches that were believed to promote “deeper learning” through the active exploration of real-world problems.

In 2008, education researchers Brigid Barron and Linda Darling-Hammond conducted a review of the research literature on project-based learning, concluding: “Students engaged in inquiry-based learning develop content knowledge and learn increasingly important twenty-first century skills, such as the ability to work in teams, solve complex problems, and to apply knowledge gained through one lesson or task to other circumstances.”

However, a 2017 working paper, published with the support of MDRC (formerly Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation) and Lucas Education Research, suggests that the evidence for the effectiveness of project-based learning in improving student outcomes is “promising but not proven.”

The authors did note, however, that some research on project-based learning showed positive academic and noncognitive gains for both suburban and urban students, especially in science and social-studies classes.

State of Education
The work that Hamilton and schools like Science Leadership Academy are doing is situated in a political context that could best be described as a battleground.

Journalist Dana Goldstein documents this in her 2014 book “The Teachers Wars”: “Teachers have been embattled by politicians, philanthropists, intellectuals, business leaders, social scientists, activists on both the Right and Left, parents, and even one another.”

The Philadelphia School District has been an especially grueling combat zone.

A major point of contention has been the School Reform Commission, created by the state of Pennsylvania in 2001 after the school district was declared financially distressed. The SRC closed many public schools in the district and allowed more charter schools to be established. Critics of charters say that they lack transparency, divert funds away from needy neighborhood schools and, on top of all that, don’t necessarily produce better academic outcomes. To the relief of many educators in Philadelphia, the SRC just voted to disband itself this year.

But as recently as March 2013, the SRC voted to close 23 Philadelphia public schools because of the ongoing funding crisis and the flight to charter schools.

To make matters worse, an analysis conducted by the Pennsylvania Department of Education found that, despite the state agreeing to provide additional funding to help the district stave off its budget crisis, “Philadelphia has received less state school aid than its standing as one of Pennsylvania’s poorer communities would merit, if that money were distributed according to need,” reported The Philadelphia Inquirer in November.

But like the dogged persistence of a rose that grows in concrete, to paraphrase the late rapper Tupac Shakur, Philadelphia continues to grapple with the best way to ensure the sustainability of its public schools.

Over the past several years, the school district, under Superintendent William Hite Jr., has opened seven new high schools as part of the school district’s Innovation Network. The ultimate goal is to reinvent and reinvigorate the concept of the school for those students who have been ill-served by the existing system.

Like Science Leadership Academy, the Workshop School—also part of the Innovation Network—employs a project-based learning model.

Rebecca Coven is in her second year of teaching there, and, like many new teachers, she wondered how she could get her students to be passionate about something. She now concedes that this was a misconception.

She found that her students were passionate about a lot of things: They’d talk about gender inequality, they’d talk about race and mass incarceration. They were fired up and angry, but they didn’t know how to take action, or didn’t understand that their voices could be heard and that they could, in fact, make a difference in the world.

“It’s through project-based learning that I can help give them the tools,” Coven says, “and show them the different ways they can not just get fired up but channel that energy into action.”

One project Coven’s 10th-grade class did this semester was centered around the topic of mass incarceration. Earlier this year, her class visited the museum at Eastern State Penitentiary on Fairmount Avenue. They then spent several weeks becoming “experts” on aspects of mass incarceration, thinking critically about the action steps they might take to address it. The final deliverable for the project is for the students to create their own exhibit and present it at a public symposium at the penitentiary itself.

“I’m going to give you guys an image from one exhibit from [Eastern State Penitentiary] that we saw,” Coven says to her class, “and a piece of poster paper so you can answer these questions.”

The questions Coven puts up on her whiteboard are: What does this museum exhibit teach you about mass incarceration? What is effective about this museum exhibit? Does this museum exhibit encourage you to take action? If not, what might be added to encourage people to take action?

“When you come up with your own museum exhibit,” Coven continues, “you’re going to try to encourage other people to take action to reduce the amount of people in prison.”

When the students are done with their posters, each group takes a turn presenting them to the class.

Salena Robinson, 15, leads her group’s discussion. The exhibit they had to analyze was a confession board with letters from some people who are in prison combined with some who are visitors, and students had to figure out who wrote which letters.

“What I think they should have done instead of putting just the letters up there,” Salena says, “was put up a quote from each letter. People don’t go to a museum to read and read and read—they want to see interesting stuff, crazy cool stuff. Who’s going to read at an old prison?”

Unlike some of her peers, though, Salena isn’t as passionate about the mass incarceration project.

“I’m not much of an activist,” she says. “Like, ‘Oh, my God, black rights!’ I think they’re important, and I stand by those people who do that every day, because it takes guts to go out there and be like, ‘Oh, black rights matter!’ It’s just that I don’t have the energy or the personality. I’m more of an introvert, overall.”

But Salena is very passionate about creating art. One of the defining projects for her was one called Digital Memoir, in which students had to reflect on a time that was especially educative for them.

“For me,” Salena says, “it was learning that my lack of sleep could actually help out with my talent of art. So I decided to draw my whole memoir.”

Salena says some students decided to use photos, others used one single photo combined with a voiceover. When everyone in the class was done, they presented them all.

“I’m not really a reality type of person,” she says. “I’m more of a fantasy person. Like, ‘Oh, my gosh, colors! Vibrancy!’ I like art. I want to stick with art.”

As for Salena’s plans after the Workshop School, she wants to go to California for college.

“I want to get into animation, and it just seems like if I go to where Disney or Pixar is, then I’ll get the best experience there,” she says.

Salena has also been working on a comic strip whose main character is named Rando.

“He’s a cat, I guess,” Salena says. “He’s like a superhero; he always comes in to save people, and people look up to him. But he’s like Deadpool in a way. He’s a reluctant superhero.”

In addition to Science Leadership Academy and the Workshop School, one of the newest schools in the Innovation Network is Vaux Big Picture High School, which opened its doors in September. Vaux is located in a historic art deco building in the Sharswood section of North Philadelphia.

Although run by Big Picture Learning—a national organization known for promoting a high school education centered around students’ interests and career goals—it draws students primarily from its neighborhood, and the teachers are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. However, it is funded similarly to a charter school in that the district provides a lump sum per student, and the school has the autonomy to spend that money as it sees fit.

Jessica McAtamney, assistant principal at the school, says Vaux is all about finding kids’ passions and putting them into action in internships with local businesses and organizations.

“It’s all student-centered,” she says, “so it really meets the students where they are.”

Vaux has an exhibition component to its curriculum that lets students present their work each quarter, based on a learning plan that’s individualized for them. McAtamney says it helps students narrow down what it is they like to do, and what they’re good at.

“These students develop a relationship with the teacher, and that person becomes that student’s advocate,” she says. “They become their mentor and their coach, and they help navigate that kid through the system.”

Vaux also has a systemized block where the students spend a significant amount of time off campus, in a component called Real-World Learning. Here, they’re exposed to all sorts of potential career pathways.

“It’s trying to engage them in something meaningful that will spark them careerwise,” McAtamney says. “They have to prepare to go on the trip, and when they get there they have to look critically at the space to see what career opportunities you could gain either from being employed by that organization or, if you studied within that field, what you could get from it.”

Over at the U School, also in North Philadelphia, humanities teacher Sam Reed III—whose students affectionately refer to him as simply “Reed”—says they hang their hat on three principles: competency-based learning, restorative practices and learning that connects students to 21st-century skills.

“We’re not tied down to traditional grades, although the work is aligned to Common Core standards,” Reed says. “We’re really focused on what it is that students can do, and then monitoring that and honoring where they are.”

In a competency-based model, students are grouped by how independent they are as learners rather than by grade level.

So some students are semi-autonomous, where they’re in a classroom, but it’s not run like a traditional one. There may be some kids who are working on one

project, and some who are working on another project, and the teacher is there supporting and facilitating that.

But there are also classes that are more teacher-directed, and those are where every student is generally doing the same thing at the same time, and the teacher is building them up to the point where they can have more autonomy.

Beyond the Innovation Network
While the Innovation Network shows early promise and continues to grow, dedicated and proactive public school teachers throughout the school district look for ways to compensate for the funding inequities that plague the city.

“I think people need to understand that there are amazing things that happen in schools across Philadelphia every day,” says Chris Lehmann, co-principal at Science Leadership Academy in Center City. “The people who work within them are serious-minded people who believe in doing their best for the kids they serve.”

A prime example of this is Ismael Jimenez, who teaches African-American history at Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School.

“If you travel down the river of tears,” he begins, “in a boat of broken promises, under heavy fog, it’s hard to be clear exactly what your knowledge is.”

Jimenez repeats this line by Talib Kweli, hip-hop artist and social activist, like a mantra throughout the lesson.

On his whiteboard today he puts up a quote from Brazilian educator and activist Paulo Freire’s widely read book, “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”: “The oppressed want at any cost to resemble the oppressors.”

“If we want to resemble the powerful,” Jimenez says to the class, “and you’re not powerful, what are the consequences of that?”

“You let them define you,” says 11th-grader Brittany Diaz. “You’re corrupted.”

The class is at the end of a unit called “American Economic Foundations: The Institution of Slavery.” Today they’re considering the story of Phillis Wheatley, an African girl enslaved at age 7 and educated in the household of the prominent Wheatley family of Boston in 1761.

In 1773, Wheatley became the first African-American—and the second woman—to publish a book of poems. Having been immersed in the values of white society, she came to view white culture as better than her native African culture—as attested to in the final line of one of her poems: “Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d and join th’ angelic train.”

Jimenez encourages the class to make real-world connections to Wheatley’s story, followed by a whole-class dialogue.

“Use your knowledge about the beliefs, accomplishments and death of Phillis Wheatley to develop a short essay relating Phillis Wheatley’s life to the experiences of African-Americans generally throughout American history,” Jimenez says.

Because Jimenez’s school isn’t part of the Innovation Network, it still relies mostly on traditional curriculum and pedagogy. Jimenez’s class has become a small garden of roses in a mostly concrete landscape.

“I only like his class,” says 11th-grader José Toledo. “It opens up your mind to things about the world that you never would have thought of.”

José’s classmate, Mai Nguyen, agrees. “On the first day,” she says, “he told us we won’t pass his class without thinking. Every day he gives us a quote and some analysis, and how it ties into real-world situations.

“It urges you to think rather than just sitting there and copying from the board,” she continues. “It really makes you wanna stand up.”

Down in South Philadelphia, Jayda Pugliese has taken things into her own hands regarding resources. Her fifth-grade class at Andrew Jackson Elementary School just got its third 3-D printer, thanks to Pugliese’s own initiative.

Pugliese utilized a website called Donors Choose, a kind of GoFundMe for teachers, to get her first one from MakerBot. The price tag for the version she acquired was a steep $5,000.

But then MakerBot donated a second 3-D printer to her class after they saw an article about how her students made prosthetics. The third 3-D printer, a PrintrBot, is a little more old-school, but was also donated by the owner of a 3-D print supply company called Repkord.

“We’re making a prosthetic leg for a bulldog named Walter,” says fifth-grader Carla Luna. “He was in something terrible, like dogfighting. Now he’s in a happy home. Once we make the prosthetic, he’ll come visit us.”

“We’re also selling ‘LOVE’ statues to make money for different causes,” says Carla’s best friend, Dibanhi Ronzon. “Like one for a school in Africa, because they’re going to shut down if they don’t get enough money.”

“My philosophy is ensuring you make real life connections to anything that you do,” says

Pugliese, who also utilizes project-based learning in her classroom. “I have 71 percent of my students perform at advanced or proficient on their benchmarks, so clearly the connections I’m making are having a positive impact on their standardized test scores — and I’m not teaching to the test.”

Pugliese is also the recent recipient of the Milken Educator Award, which is comparable to winning an Oscar in education.

“You don’t apply for it,” Pugliese says. “All they tell you is that you’ve been selected by a blue ribbon panel within the state of Pennsylvania.”

Along with the award comes a $25,000 check.

“It’s ironic,” Pugliese says, “because a few months prior to winning, I had to drop out of a doctoral program because of financial difficulties. After I won, I was able to re-enroll the following semester. Now I’m about to start my dissertation.”

Since winning the Milken Educator Award, Pugliese has focused more on being a voice for teachers. She’s currently on the Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee, a group that brings stories from the classroom to various stakeholders to help them understand the effects of funding inequities across the state.

“It shouldn’t be a balancing act for a school to decide whether they’re buying textbooks or having a school counselor, or getting a SmartBoard or having 36 kids in a class because they can’t afford another teacher,” she says.

The Philadelphia School District’s experiment to cultivate roses that can thrive in the traditional concrete of public education is “promising but not proven,” just like the project-based learning many of the schools use. There remain some considerable challenges.

One is how to define success in an environment of standardization and accountability that values test scores above all else.

Many Innovation Network schools are aware of this and have come up with systems that satisfy that need. At the Workshop School, for example, students present exhibitions at the end of each grading quarter where they get up and talk about their learning.

“We have a very robust, several-page, project-based report card,” says Simon Hauger, co-founder of the school. “And because we still live in a system that wants grades, we convert that work into grades that make sense to colleges and school district officials.”

Another potential obstacle is whether the kind of innovation these schools are experimenting with can work with the typical public school student.

In Philadelphia, as elsewhere around the country, many students reach high school with no other experience of education except the “banking concept” described by Freire in “Pedagogy of the Oppressed,” where students are viewed as passive piggy banks into which the coins of knowledge are deposited.

“Last year I had a student who used to call me Google, because he thought I had all the answers,” says Coven, of the Workshop School. “But when I told him I didn’t have them, and that we’re learning together, he started calling me Coach, because I was helping them develop their skills.”

Fortunately, it looks like the Philadelphia School District has at least some tacit support statewide in the form of Secretary of Education Pedro Rivera, himself a Philadelphia native from the Hunting Park section.

“We’ve been trying to build an accountability system that thinks differently,” Rivera said in an interview with Lancaster-based Fig magazine last year. “Right now the system doesn’t allow for a real clear articulation of agreement around how we’re allocating resources.”

“We have to understand,” he said, “that there is no one formula that works for every kid or every community. Education is hard work, and you’re always looking for the silver bullet. At the end of the day it’s just folks that are willing to do whatever it takes to educate kids.”

And that’s just what teachers in the school district have been doing, whether they’re part of the Innovation Network or not.

Reed at the U School realized this at some point during his 20-year career of teaching, which is why he calls himself an “accidental activist.”

“In this moment in education reform,” he wrote for Penn GSE’s Perspectives on Urban Education in the summer of 2013, “where teacher agency meets opportunity, it became important for me to embrace my role as a teacher activist.”

“As a teacher-activist deeply committed to transforming the landscape of education reform in my city,” he writes, “I think this moment offers opportunities for the District to support sustainable school-led transformations.”

New School, Old School

A suburban high school student makes a bold choice

by Micah Hauger

When I told my friends I would be switching schools, they were stunned. Last year, I chose to transfer from a “high-performing,” well-resourced suburban high school to attend an urban public school in Philadelphia for my junior year. I didn’t get kicked out, and I didn’t fail out. I actually made this choice because I believed it would better prepare me for life.

Like a lot of other families, my parents moved to a “great” school district when I began kindergarten. I flourished in school—I was reading novels at a young age, taking advanced math in middle school and had an active social life. My teachers loved me and my parents were proud.

At the same time, I was witnessing the work my father was doing. He had started an after-school club at the auto shop at West Philadelphia High School, which grew into EVX, the award-winning electric car program, and then a pilot program at the Navy Yard called the Sustainability Workshop. At the core of the work he was doing was the belief that real-world, project-based education could help engage students who were not responding to traditional classroom learning.

So when I entered middle school and found out that a project-based program was being offered, I eagerly applied. I was accepted, and it was an amazing year. Instead of having a test on the different layers of the earth, we actually re-created them with large draping papers and designs in the hallway. I applied for the seventh-grade and eighth-grade programs each successive year, and loved them.

As a rising ninth-grader, I attended Lower Merion High School, along with all of my friends, most of whom I have known since I was young. My experience of LM was that it was often just a grind to memorize mostly useless information to pass the next grade-orientated test. I got good grades in freshman year but I did not enjoy learning, and by 10th grade I was no longer a straight-A student.

For my junior year, I decided to transfer to the Workshop School, a project-based school in Philadelphia. This was a huge switch for me. In addition to having the distinction of commuting from the suburbs to an urban high school, there were two other factors that set me apart. One, my father is the principal at the school, and two, I was one of the two or three white kids attending a school where the student body is almost 100 percent black.

Of those two factors, being the son of the principal is the bigger challenge. People are sometimes not sure if they can tell me things, worried I could report them to my dad. It makes me feel like I can view certain situations, but not actually participate in them.

I’m happy to say that being the white kid isn’t that bad. In general, compared to Lower Merion, students at the Workshop School are friendlier, the mood is lighter, and everyone laughs a lot more. It feels easier to be yourself.

The complete cultural flip and being—for the first time in my life—the minority taught me a lot about collaboration and communication. I found myself intellectually engaged and enjoying this new community. Working on projects with people who are different from me is something you can’t learn in a traditional suburban classroom.

I still talk to my friends from my previous school. Last year was horrible for them, up all night studying for something forgotten just weeks later, addicted to caffeine with major sleeping problems and much more. Overall, they tell me that school sucks and they hate it. I’m happy to say that is not how I feel. I am now able to say that school is fun, and I never thought I would be able to say that again.

Micah Hauger is a senior at the Workshop School, where he started his own Thai rolled ice cream business, Philly Rollers. He will attend MissionU this fall.

Camp Like a Champ

Summer Adventures to Write Home About

by Lauren Johnson

Going to camp can help turn the lazy days of summer into stimulating experiences filled with learning and adventure. Not only do these programs present a wonderful chance for kids to try something new, they also implement skills and foster friendships that will last a lifetime.

For many kids, camp is one of the first times away from their family or daily social environment, making it a great opportunity to practice decision-making skills in a supportive setting. Being able to make choices is an excellent way for kids to develop confidence and independence—both valuable traits to acquire at a young age. Additionally, learning how to achieve something new as a group helps build camaraderie rather than competition.

Being away from electronic devices helps encourage kids to interact with the world around them, whether that be connecting with nature, engaging socially or simply having a chance to indulge their own curiosity without distraction. With so many camps to choose from, there’s something to satisfy almost everyone. Here are our top picks to help your child have the best summer ever.

Science and Sustainability

Adventure Treks with the Schuylkill Center
Teens and preteens start their expedition at the 340-acre Schuylkill Center before venturing out to state parks and forests along the East Coast.
Ages: 10–15
When: July 11–Aug. 17
Cost: $325–$880
Where: The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education, 8480 Hagy’s Mill Road

The Franklin Institute
Future scientists get a hands-on approach to learning through projects such as building circuits, making chemistry concoctions, studying the solar system and more.
Ages: Kindergarten–ninth grade
When: June 11–Aug. 31
Cost: $369–$399
Where: The Franklin Institute, 222 N. 20th St.

William Penn Charter School Science Camp
Steven Wade (aka “Science Steve”) teaches campers topics ranging from robots and electrical inventions to baking-soda rockets, how to make slime and more.
Ages: 6–12
When: July 9–13, July 23–27, June 25–29
Cost: $395–$445
Where: William Penn Charter School, 3000 W. School House Lane

The Academy of Natural Sciences
Weekly themes include learning about dinosaurs, insects, mythological animals, and reptiles of the past and present.
Ages: 5–12
When: July 9–Aug. 31
Cost: $320–$360
Where: The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Penn Museum’s Anthropologists in the Making
Penn Museum offers a variety of anthropological themes for children, such as exploring cultures from around the world, learning about ancient artifacts, and discovering how perceptions are shaped by myths and legends.
Ages: 7–13
When: June 25–Aug. 17
Cost: $280–$320
Where: Penn Museum, 3260 South St.

The Waldorf School’s Nature Makers Camp
Weekly themes include beekeeping, herbal tea making and urban farming, with opportunities to meander through forests and hike the Wissahickon Trail.
Ages: First–third grade
When: June 18–July 13
Cost: $300 per week
Where: Penn Museum, 3260 South St.

Seaport Summer Camp
History and adventure combine as kids explore both on and off the water. Campers learn to row and kayak, and will discover the history of the city’s waterways while aboard the cruiser Olympia and submarine Becuna.
Ages: 6–12
When: July 25–Aug. 17
Cost: $330/week (non-members until April 15); $355/week (non-members after April 15)
Where: Independence Seaport Museum, 211 S. Columbus Blvd.

Camp Invention
Inspire a future inventor to think creatively and scientifically to bring creations to life. This year’s theme is “Fast Forward!” and includes instruction on building a robotic pet, a self-driving bot and more.
Ages: 6–12
When: June 25–June 29
Cost: $250
Where: Harvey Sabold Elementary School, 468 E. Thompson Ave., Springfield, Pa.

Awbury Adventures
Campers choose from four adventurous themes: Camp Katniss, Harry Potter Camp, Get Cooking in the Cope House Kitchen, or Advanced Wilderness Survival Skills.
Ages: 10–14
When: June 18–Aug. 3
Cost: $275–$600
Where: Awbury Arboretum, 1 Awbury Road

Elmwood Park Zoo
Discover your wild side as you learn about the zoo’s inhabitants through crafts, activities and stories, along with getting up close and personal with unique creatures from around the world.
Ages: 6–11
When: June 18–July 20, July 23–Aug. 17
Cost: $250–$275
Where: Elmwood Park Zoo, 1661 Harding Blvd., Norristown, Pa.

Lavner Camps
Tech-savvy kids get savvier with classes that teach coding, robotics, 3-D printing, virtual reality, video game programing and more, hosted by the Ivy League campus of UPenn.
Ages: 6–15
When: June 18–Aug. 24
Cost: $329–$549
Where: University of Pennsylvania, Houston Hall and Irvine Auditorium, 3417 Spruce St.

Sandy Hill Farm
Animal lovers learn the basics of horseback riding in an intimate small-group farm setting. Campers also learn how to care for other farm animals such as ducks, chickens, goats, pigs and bunnies.
Ages: 5–11
When: June 11–Aug. 10
Cost: $65–$400
Where: Sandy Hill Farm, 1918 Sandy Hill Road, Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

Arts and Culture

Culinary Arts Summer Camp
Dig into the world of pastry and artisan cuisine as you learn how to masterfully prepare dishes while experiencing a regional gastronomic tour of the United States.
Ages: Ninth–tenth grade
When: July 16–17
Cost: $249–$289
Where: The Restaurant at Walnut Hill College, 4207 Walnut St.

Miquon Day Camp
Located in a 10-acre wooded valley, this classic summer camp is complete with swimming, arts and crafts, and freedom to experience the great outdoors.
Ages: 4–11
When: June 25–Aug.17
Cost: $415 for one week, $3,320 for all eight weeks. See website for additional pricing.
Where: The Miquon School, 2025 Harts Lane, Conshohocken, Pa.

Mud & Music on 50th
Keep an eye out for more details about this collaborative summer camp with the Green Tambourine Music Studio and Black Hound Clay Studio.
Ages: 5–14
When: Aug. 6–31
Cost: TBD
Where: Black Hound Clay Studio, 711 S. 50th St.

Art Camp
Theme-based classes teach students how to work in 2-D and 3-D while using a range of artistic mediums such as sewing, ceramics, comics, drawing and painting.
Ages: 4–14
When: June 11–Aug.17
Cost: $270–$400
Where: Philly Art Center, Cherry Hill Location, 1721 Springdale Road, Cherry Hill, N.J.

Rock to the Future
Unleash your inner rock star as you learn to write, play and perform music. Campers collaborate with others, then perform live for friends and family.
Ages: 13–17
When: July 24–28
Cost: $250 per week; free for low-income Philadelphia youth
Where: Rock to the Future, 2139 E. Cumberland St.

Philly School of Circus Arts
Aspiring performers learn how to juggle, walk a tightwire, spin plates or defy gravity while swinging from a trapeze.
Ages: 5–18
When: June 18–Aug. 31
Cost: $80–$950
Where: Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, 5900A Greene St.

WHYY Summer Filmmakers
Learn how to tell your story through film. This program explores all aspects of filmmaking including shooting, editing, screenwriting and casting.
Ages: Middle school and high school programs available
When: July 9–27 (high school program); Aug. 6–17 (middle school program)
Cost: $1,800–$1,950 (high school program); $1,100–$1,250 (middle school program)
Where: WHYY Studios, 150 N. 6th St.

Sewing Camp
Watch your creative ideas come to life as you learn everything from stitching a button to constructing your own clothing and accessories.
Ages: 5–15
When: July 18–Aug. 24
Cost: $390–$410
Where: Butcher’s Sew Shop Junior, 1912 South St; 800 S. 8th St.

Woodworking Camp
Learn the basics of woodworking and gain experience in proper tool use while creating functional wooden crafts to take home.
Ages: 9–11
When: Weeklong classes in July and August. 2018 dates TBD
Cost: $299, plus materials
Where: Philadelphia Woodworks, 4901 Umbria St.

Dance Camp
Beginners learn the basics of ballet, jazz, hip-hop, modern dance, and how to move creatively and confidently.
Ages: 7 and up
When: July 16–27
Cost: $200–$375
Where: Wissahickon Dance Academy, 38 E. School House Lane

Music Theatre Philly
Campers learn voice technique, how to act through song, storytelling skills, costume and set design, and more.
Ages: 4–7; 8 and up
When: 2018 dates TBD
Cost: $375
Where: 262 S. 12th St.

Spanish Summer Camp
These classes are taught entirely in Spanish, allowing for full immersion in the language. Art, theater and craft-making aid in the fun. Beginners are welcome.
Ages: up to 10
When: July 16–Aug. 17
Cost: $300–$325
Where: Bilingual Butterflies, 627 S. 2nd St., 2nd Floor

Summer Clay Camp
Learn how to use clay in several ways, including sculpture, pottery, animation and more. These small classes offer lots of hands-on fun.
Ages: 6 and up
When: 2018 dates TBD
Cost: $160–$360 (2017 pricing)
Where: The Clay Studio, 137–139 N. 2nd St.

Bike Talk

The unnecessary death of a local bicyclist

by Randy Lobasso

You can barely hear Richard Fredricks’ remarks over the sanitation truck across the street and the heavy sheets of rain coming down on dozens of umbrellas at 11th and Spruce streets in December. Barely a month prior, Fredricks’ daughter Emily, 24, was killed on her bike by the driver of a trash truck when she was right-hooked across the bike lane.

Since then, Philadelphia’s cycling community has held several demonstrations, vigils and protests for Emily and other cyclists who’ve been injured on our streets, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, where I work, put out seven demands they want to see enacted now to make the streets safer. As of this writing, the city won’t agree to any of them.

What it has agreed to—at least in theory—is Vision Zero, the legislative idea that changes in engineering, education and enforcement can cut traffic deaths in an area to zero. The city has written an action plan to do just that by 2030. But that probably means very little to the 60 or so people standing out here in the pouring rain today.

Fredricks notes how his daughter bought a bicycle upon moving to Philadelphia just six months ago, and he had helped her pick it out. She rode on Spruce Street to get to work every day, he noted, because the bike lanes were large and, in theory, safe.

But not safe enough. Now, over the coming months, real decisions have to be made if we all want to live in a city where cyclists aren’t remembering their fellow community members the way so many did today.

For too many motorists, transportation is about convenience and being on your own schedule; speeding and running red lights when you’re late, checking Facebook while you’re idling, and parking in the bike lane when there’s no legal parking space. This is all universally unacceptable, and yet, it continues with impunity. And until physical changes are made on the street, people in their cars will continue their deadly behavior.

According to the police department, 96 people were killed in traffic in Philadelphia last year. Of them, three were cyclists. The vast majority of traffic deaths here continue to be driver-on-driver. But that doesn’t make Emily’s death any less tragic.

For years, cyclists have petitioned and pleaded with the city to install physical protection on Spruce and Pine streets in Center City. Given these are the city’s most-biked lanes, it seems like a no-brainer. But neighborhood resistance, and councilmanic dictatorial privileges, have put an end to those efforts every single time.

Today, we’re left with a situation in which the vast majority of tickets given for vehicles parked in bike lanes are written along Spruce and Pine, with no end in sight.

Every day, at any given time, cars are sitting in the bike lane, their owners seeing to some mundane task or another. Other times, delivery vehicles are parked there for hours on end, forcing cyclists into traffic because loading zones are controversial, too.

You can’t get to zero deaths if you continue to turn a blind eye to some of the most egregious traffic behaviors by those operating some of the most dangerous machines. As the months since Emily’s passing—and years before it—have shown, you can’t expect motorists’ behavior to change because of a tragedy.  

But Emily’s life wasn’t supposed to end because a driver cut her off on a road made unsafe by government inaction and neighbor resistance.

Only real changes to infrastructure will stop the behavior and the accidents. It’s going to take tough executive choices if the city is serious about Vision Zero.

Randy LoBasso is the communications manager of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia and an award-winning journalist.

Editor's Notes: A Time to Leap

Our grassroots movement needs to think bigger

by Alex Mulcahy

When rethinking the economy, small steps won’t cut it. That’s one of the critical points made by the indispensable Naomi Klein in her latest book, “No Is Not Enough.” She argues that a vision needs to be offered that is radically different from what we currently have, and it must provide a blueprint for a society that could work. I know, who has time for vision when everything we value is under daily attack and must be defended? But as the name of the book states, it isn’t enough to just try to play defense. We have to take the time to flesh out an alternative.

This takes work. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about energy, housing, farming or education. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. And the answers won’t come from one person, or from the top down. While it may be tempting to imagine a kindhearted, larger-than-life billionaire such as Oprah coming in and saving the day, the truth, Klein argues, is that it just won’t work. We don’t need a savior. We need a framework, a values-based vision.

In 2015, Klein, a Canadian, was one of the conveners of a diverse group of activists and thinkers determined to hash out what this vision could be. The goal was to connect the dots between Black Lives Matter, the anti-fracking movement, indigenous peoples’ rights, clean air and water activists, labor rights advocates and farmers. Did such disparate groups have enough in common to form a plan?

According to Klein, some difficult conversations occurred, but the answer was a resounding “yes.” Collaboratively, they drew up something called the Leap Manifesto. It is a relatively brief but extremely powerful document. It simply and clearly lays out the priorities of the movement, and the subhead of the document says it all: “The Call for a Canada Based on Caring for the Earth and One Another.” With some minor tweaks, this could be the Declaration of Independence for the 21st century.

Find a copy of the Leap Manifesto and feel inspired. I’d like to key in on onesection, and that is the recommendation that we shift our economy to low-carbon jobs that include caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public interest media. In the U.S., for every dollar that is spent on education, over $6 is spent on the military. What if those dollars were split equally between those two pursuits? (Actually, if you really want to fill your heart with joy, imagine if the military and education budgets were flipped!) Just imagine what the teachers and schools that we feature in our cover story could do with better funding. Not only would our schools (and students) benefit, but the pollution produced by the military would be significantly diminished. The United States military is, after all, the largest polluter on the planet.

What if the intention of most people’s jobs was to help other people? Yes, healthcare and childcare and education would be a big part of it, but what if other services such as nutrition, personal training, music and art instruction were affordable to all? Imagine how rich and healthy our lives could be.

Before you write this off as the fever dream of a delusional optimist, keep this in mind: The Leap Manifesto was drawn up because we are facing a climate catastrophe. We have very little time to make an about-face with our lifestyle. Half measures will not work. For change to happen, we need to have a vision. Let’s be bold.

***

I’d like to publicly recognize the wonderful job that our outgoing editor-in-chief, Heather Shayne Blakeslee, did from 2015 to our January issue this year. The editorial thrived under her stewardship, and her contributions to the magazine went well beyond the stories you read. Thank you, Heather. We hope to see you back in the pages of Grid soon.

Alex Mulcahy
Editor-in-Chief
alex@gridphilly.com

Winter Warmer Lentil Salad

A medley of earthy flavors will melt in your mouth

Jan2018_WinterWarmerLentilSalad.jpg

By Anna Herman

A good salad is always greater than the sum of its parts, whether assembled from the freshest garden greens or a thoughtful mixture of leftovers. Salad—from the Latin for salt—is the alchemy of disparate ingredients pulled together with a lively vinaigrette, or some other preferred dressing.  In winter, I’m more than willing to trade the crisp crunch of lettuce for the warmth of wilted greens.

Lentils cook quickly and absorb flavorful vinaigrettes or seasonings, making them a very useful legume. Red, green and brown lentils, which get so soft as to lose shape, are perfect for soups and stews. Black and French lentils (lentilles du Puy) cook quickly, but retain their shape when soft and are best for blending with a grain for a pilaf or featuring in a salad.

Sherry Dijon Vinaigrette:

• 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

• 1/3 cup sherry vinegar

• 1/2 cup fruity olive oil

• 1 clove garlic, very finely minced or
pressed through a garlic press

• 1 teaspoon salt

• Fresh ground black pepper

• 2 to 4 teaspoons minced scallions
and/or parsley (optional)

Add all ingredients to a jar. Close
with a tight-fitting lid and shake well
to emulsify.

Salad:

Serves 4 to 6

• 2 medium beets, trimmed and
washed (or 2 store-bought roasted,
peeled beets)

• 3/4 cup uncooked lentils du Puy
(French green lentils)

• 1 bay leaf

• 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed

• 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

• Salt and pepper as needed

• 3 tablespoons olive oil

• 4 tablespoons minced onion

• 2 to 3 cups sliced mushrooms— any variety or a mixture— the more interesting the better

• 3 heads of frisée, trimmed, washed well and spun dry. Frisée is in the chicory family along with endive and escarole. If frisée is unavailable, feel free to substitute.

• 3 tablespoons toasted walnut pieces

To Assemble:

1. Heat oven, or toaster oven, to 375 degrees. 

2. Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and place in oven. Cook 25-45 minutes until soft to
the touch when pressed. Larger beets will, of course, take longer to cook.

3. Remove beets from oven and allow to cool, still wrapped.

4. Remove foil. Using a paring knife to assist, slip off the beet skin. Slice into bite-size pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons of the sherry Dijon vinaigrette. If using store-bought roasted beets, cut into pieces, toss with vinaigrette and let beets sit out to room temperature.

5. In a medium saucepan, add the lentils, bay leaf, garlic and thyme, and add enough water to cover by 1/2 inch. Bring to a boil, lower flame to a simmer and cook 10 to 12 minutes until a tested lentil or two are just soft and cooked through. 

6. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and stir, and let lentils sit on stove as you prepare remainder of salad.

7. In a sauté pan, heat oil until it shimmers over medium heat.  

8. Add the onion and mushrooms, season with salt and fresh pepper, and stir often until mushrooms and onion wilt and caramelize.

9. Add the frisée on top of the mushrooms, put a top on the pan, and let frisée wilt for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on how tender the frisée was to start with. If substituting Belgian endive, do not wilt. If substituting escarole, let cook for up to 6 minutes until well softened.

10. Drain lentils, remove smashed garlic and bay leaf, and toss with 2 tablespoons of the vinaigrette.

To Serve:

Remove frisée from the pan and use it to line the bottom of a serving plate or platter. Add 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette to the mushrooms remaining in the pan and mix well. Spoon lentils in the center of the frisée-lined plate. Arrange mushrooms and beets on top. Sprinkle with walnuts. Drizzle any remaining vinaigrette on top to taste.

Turn this into a complete meal with a hunk of hard cheese or breaded baked goat cheese
and a crusty bread. A mug of beer or hard cider wouldn’t be amiss.

Recipe: Grandma’s Manicotti

Cheese-filled crepes and a warm salad will satisfy in the cold weather

Jan2018_GrandmasManicotti.jpg

By Brian Ricci

This month’s recipe for manicotti is based off of my grandmother’s. She used to make this most often for Sunday afternoon family dinner. With a great spread of food before us, we would gather around her big table and eat for what seemed like hours. The prep could be done the day before, leaving her time to spend outside of the kitchen with her children and grandchildren.

Crepes
Makes about 15 crepes

• 6 eggs

• 3¼ ounces all-purpose flour

• 1/2 cup water

• 1 tablespoon salt

• Pinch of parsley, chopped roughly

Process all the ingredients together in a food processor or whisk together until just combined. Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour. In a nonstick pan, add tablespoon of oil or butter and set the heat to medium. Ladle about 1 ounce of batter into the pan and swirl around to spread and coat the bottom of the pan. Allow the batter to cook evenly—this takes about 1 to 2 minutes. You are looking for the crepe batter to go from wet to dry—but no color. Then, take the crepe off using a spatula. I tend to do this project first and wrap them in bunches of 10 to keep them fresh.

Cheese Filling

• 2 pounds ricotta

• 5 eggs

• 4 ounces Parmesan, grated

• 6 ounces fresh mozzarella, shredded

• 1 teaspoon nutmeg, grated

• Salt and pepper to taste

The filling is very straightforward. Simply mix these ingredients in a bowl using a spatula. When complete, fill each crepe with about 1/2 cup of the mixture by placing it 1/3 up from the bottom. Then roll the bottom end and tuck it underneath to create a cylinder of deliciousness. To finish, bake in a Pyrex or baking dish lined with olive oil in a 350 F oven for 20 to 30 minutes to set the egg mixture. Modifications: You can add some simple tomato sauce to the manicotti just before baking. For the winter, try adding braised greens, mashed sweet potatoes, or even pickled peppers or onions for a more nourishing or robust flavor.

The Better Business Bureau

Five Philadelphia benefit corporations you should know

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By Grid Staff

Benefit corporations, which incorporate in a way that requires owners to consider community and environmental impact as well as their bottom line, are still relatively rare. But of the approximately 50 benefit corporations in Pennsylvania, half are located in Philadelphia, and they all go through a rigorous third-party certification with the nonprofit that started the certification, B Lab, via it’s B Impact Assessment tool. So when you’re about to look for goods or services, check out the list of companies at bcorporation.net to support enterprises that are committed to supporting you back. We wish we had room to list them all, but here are a few to get you started.

MIO

What They Do:
Provide design services and U.S.-made furnishings and lifestyle products with an eye on environmentally friendly materials, life-cycle analysis and end-of-life considerations for the products—even on a budget.

Why They Do It:
“As designers and entrepreneurs, we learnt early on that our moral grounding is an asset in business. Sustainability and social responsibility are a commonsense approach to business. Products are about people and experiences, so our focus is on our customers, how our products are made, used and those who make them.

“Back when we started MIO, making products in the U.S. seemed counterintuitive to most. To this day our material choices and our creative designs cause surprise. We strive to shift paradigms and bring sustainable products and stories to life.

“Our model is far from perfect! Staying true to our moral compass in business is a delicate art that even the most successful companies struggle with (just read or listen to Yvon Chouinard talk about Patagonia). These challenges make us a better company, but more importantly they make us better humans.”

Jaime Salm, creative director, MIO

mioculture.com

Vault + Vine

What They Do:
This full-service florist is a design studio, retail space and community center wrapped into one. The staff specializes in using seasonal, locally grown flowers and ethically sourced materials and products.

Why They Do It:
“Being a B corp is important because it provides us with a way to measure accountability in our actions as a business. Without this type of accountability, there’s no real way for consumers to know what and how we’re making a difference with our business. I also choose to certify as a B corp because a lot of people still hear sustainability and think ‘100% organic’ and ‘100% local’—both of which are important, but still just part of the equation. When it comes to ‘people, planet and profit,’ what we do best as a business is support our people: giving back to our community with time and money, hiring locally, buying locally and providing as many benefits to our employees as possible. From there, we use the B Impact Assessment to determine next steps for continuing to grow and improve ourselves as a business. Is it hard? Yes. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely!”

Peicha Chang, owner, Vault + Vine

vaultandvine.co

Organic Planet LLC

What They Do:
Organic Planet LLC offers personal chef services for people with unique dietary needs, with a focus on organic and healthful meals. It also offers value-chain coordination to benefit small farmers, as well as food safety education.

Why They Do It:
“The way I choose to do business really comes down to self-interest and common  sense. If I treat my colleagues, customers and suppliers with kindness and respect, I am more likely to receive the same in return. If I source from local food producers who are passionate and responsible in their methods, I get incredible food that inspires me to be a better cook, which helps my clients to be happy and healthy,  and keeps me in business. If I pay farmers fair prices and support them in their efforts to sell to the wholesale marketplace, they are more likely to stay in business. This means more agricultural land in sustainable production and a diverse and regenerative foodshed. I feel privileged to do this work and provide these services. I would be a fool to poison the living web that sustains me. Bottom line: It’s much more fun this way!”

Lindsay Gilmour, owner, Organic Planet LLC

lindsaygilmour@comcast.net

Houwzer

What They Do:
Houwzer is a full-service, tech--enabled residential real estate brokerage. It is the industry’s first commission-free listing model for home -sellers, and it pays realtors a salary rather than
through commission. 

Why They Do It:
“Houwzer was created to reimagine the home-buying and -selling experience for members in our communities. Our vision is to be the best real estate company in the world—enriching the lives of our clients and agents, while supporting our communities. Saving sellers half the cost on the sale of their home and providing buyers with trusted, salaried realtors was vital work toward our vision. Yet we wanted to take our commitment to the community a step further by ensuring our company values were carried out. Thus, Houwzer became the country’s first B corp residential real estate brokerage. Like our business model, Houwzer has approached social entrepreneurship uniquely. We like to call it the Rule of 10: giving back 2.5 percent of profits to charitable partners, spending 2.5 percent of our time volunteering, and allowing for at least 5 percent employee ownership. As we work to change the broken residential real estate industry, the B Impact Assessment will continue to ensure we are using business as a force for good.”

Mike Maher, co-founder & CEO

houwzer.com

EcoInnovate

What They Do:
This B corporation offers management solutions to companies that will create environmentally friendly workplaces. By instituting simple in-house changes to organizational behavior practices, EcoInnovate helps clients reduce waste, conserve energy and save money.

Why They Do It:
“Unfortunately, we cannot rely on political leadership and regulatory standards to drive the needed changes to protect our environment in our communities, states or country. A market-driven approach to change is important. We are proud to be a member of the growing B corp movement that supports and promotes environmental sustainability, social justice, transparency and accountability, while advancing its mission to help businesses implement positive changes in its processes.”

Allen Hall, director & partner

ecoinnovate.co

Joining the Family Business

In a search for meaning, a social entrepreneur gets back to her roots

Illustration by Faye Zhang

Illustration by Faye Zhang

Essay by Nancy S. Cleveland

I had an uncle we thought must be a CIA operative.

At his memorial service, I was talking with one of his colleagues (a guy whose body language screamed, “Don’t ask me what I do!”). I was prattling on about my uncle’s purposeful, passion-driven work and how I wanted to do something meaningful like that. 

With an intensely penetrating look, he responded, “So, what’s stopping you?” 

It was a question that spun me around. 

I thought about my long career as a lawyer and how I’d reinvented myself many times. I’d worked as a litigator, in real estate and in telecom, building out wireless communications infrastructure. Despite a lot of career reboots, for me, practicing law evoked a near constant yearning for more purposeful work. My primary way of doing good was writing checks to charities. Good, but not that personally inspiring or meaningful.

I thought about my mother and her lifelong passion: women’s empowerment. Her passion for helping women inspired her to scale new ways of getting women into the skilled workforce that she needed for her local medical practice. She changed lives. Maybe not a lot of lives, but over time, her efforts had a ripple effect through two generations. It was from her that I learned two important lessons: Social impact doesn’t have to be monumental to be meaningful and important, and a strong and passionate belief in the change you seek can make a difference. 

I grew up in a family where making a difference was just what people were supposed to do. I was hardwired to become a social entrepreneur. And yet, there I stood at my uncle’s funeral, and a man I’d never met before was asking me directly: What’s stopping you?

The answer? Me.

Anyone considering an entrepreneurial move faces the risk and fear of failing. But those aren’t the only things you have to hurdle. It requires some soul-searching with questions like, What would I sacrifice? What will I gain? Is the change important enough to me? You have to knock down a lot of barriers to succeed as a social entrepreneur. But just getting started, getting out of your comfort zone, is the first and biggest—and one that I realized I had control over. 

That conversation at my uncle’s funeral was 13 years ago. It took me two years to find a strong enough passion, another year to change career paths and 10 more to hone ideas, meet my co-founder, assemble a team and launch a totally new software-based approach to sustainability management for business. Every day, it’s the purposeful, passion-driven work I was yearning for. 

Bringing a social-impact product to market is never the result of a single human being’s efforts. It is evolutionary, dynamic, collaborative and complex. And those are also the qualities that make being a social entrepreneur hugely rewarding, never lonely and well worth it. 

My mom passed away a few months before my uncle, so she never got to witness my journey. But I know she would be proud of the work my team is doing to make the world a better place. It makes me happy to think that, in a way, I’ve finally joined the family business.

_____

Nancy S. Cleveland is a principal at Sustrana, a software company that provides sustainability management solutions.

Navigating Reentry After Prison? There's an App For That

Hackathon brings together parolees, technologists and journalists to create tech prototypes for the greater good

Jan2018_TheresAnAppForThat.jpg

By Belinda Sharr

Reentering society after spending time in jail or prison can be challenging. Finding a job with a criminal record isn’t easy, and without money to purchase clothing and secure housing, it proves doubly challenging, as many employers require an address on an application. And then there’s reconnecting with family and finding support, which adds to the challenge.

Code for Philly (a community of civic technologists) and the Reentry Project (a collaboration of 15 newsrooms dedicated to solving issues of prisoner reentry) decided to meet this issue head-on—they hosted a “hackathon” event in October as an opportunity for journalists, technologists and reentering individuals to work together to create technology that will improve the lives of those reintegrating into society after paying their debt through a prison term. According to the Economy League, 44,000 Philadelphians return each year.

Robert Hudson was a hackathon attendee who has experienced the challenges of reentering the workforce. His team’s project, an app and website that connects mentors and mentees, was already in the works by the time the hackathon took place, and he continues to work on it to this day. 

Hudson was affiliated with Code for Philly, which helped him start his project, Mentor Philly (visit mentorphilly.com or text 215.515.9696). The app can be used by people who are out of the system and looking for a mentor, and also for those who would like to mentor others. 

“Mentors and mentees can use it to communicate without having to utilize traditional reentry services,” Hudson said. “The idea was modeled behind my progress and how I utilize my own mentors.” 

According to Jean Friedman-Rudovsky, project editor for the Reentry Project, the idea for the event was conceived from a few different places—but namely it was created with the recognition that there is a desperate need for technological innovation in the reentry space. 

After painstakingly laying the groundwork for the event, the hackathon culminated in a Friday night kickoff with about 50 people, and a Saturday team-building day. At the end, four impressive prototypes were debuted: Hudson’s mentor app; an SMS texting system to help people find Wi-Fi locations near them; a bilingual English and Spanish language website with resources on housing and employment; and a family needs assessment app that helps families create a profile of a returning family member along with a list of needs. 

“I think the event turned out great—it far surpassed expectations, because we didn’t want to give people the impression that at the end you would come out with fully designed apps or websites,” Friedman-Rudovsky said. “Our goals were to bring together these different groups—journalists, those from the criminal justice system and technologists. I was pleasantly surprised to see the energy and enthusiasm that came out of it.” 

“The collaboration was fantastic. One of the goals of the hackathon was to build a community and spaces for collaboration; and seeing this problem [of reentry] being met,” said Dawn McDougall, executive director of Code for Philly. “There was a spirit and energy at the event. That like-mindedness is going a long way.”

Hudson thought that the hackathon created a positive environment, and that it shed light on the issues surrounding the reentry process, as well as the stigma. 

“I think [events like this] are a positive for folks coming home because it shows that traditional citizens are concerned about the issues in their community. For me, that’s the game changer—when you see people who are different interested in what you’re going through; they see people in their struggle and are interested in solutions,” he said. “The hackathon created a good opportunity for structure and support. It was about an issue in general: How do we support these guys and their road to redemption?”

_____

Four possible tech interventions for easing reentry after prison

1. SMS Text System: Halfway houses don’t allow smartphones or Wi-Fi, so the team created an SMS texting system where the user can text their location and receive information on where they can find spots with internet access. The service also offers assistance on locating food and shelter. 

2. Bilingual Website with Assistance: The website features pages of resources for employment, housing and more. The team also created a text application allowing flip-phone users to text “1” for job assistance or “2” for housing help.

3. Family Profile Needs Assessment App: This prototype was created for families of people who will soon be released. They can go in and make a profile of their returning loved one and detail what they need help with in 18 categories. The needs assessment will allow the person and their family to have a clear understanding of challenges. 

4. Mentoring App and Website: This app and website will connect people who need mentors with those who can help. It allows those who are released crucial access to people who can answer questions and guide them in starting their life again.

Greenbacks and Blue Water

Channeling a passion for clean water into a robust bottom line at United By Blue

Jan2018_GreenbacksAndBlueWater.jpg

By Justin Klugh

Regardless of where it flows, water brings life. At every depth, from oceans to puddles, it invites all kinds of organism to thrive. When humans started stacking up villages and cities, we did so on riverbanks, coasts and shorelines where food and water were abundant and the currents allowed for pre-industrial transit. But a few eons in, both shallow and deep bodies are choked with man-made waste, threatening the life it sustains.

Brian Linton, 31, CEO of United By Blue, wants to do something about that. 

Through lots of experimentation and experience throughout his career, Linton found that there is no easy way to streamline the conservation process, and he has learned which steps (and in what direction) to take through his business to achieve his goals. United By Blue, an environmentally conscious outdoor apparel brand and café, whose flagship store opened in Old City in November, is where he’s landed. For every purchase, the company facilitates the removal of 1 pound of trash from waterways.

Funding environmental protection and providing durable, sustainably produced clothing costs money. So while it’s understandable for some customers to look at an $80 price tag on a flannel shirt in United By Blue, blink twice and leave the store, Linton has a reason for the costs of his products. When you’re making clothes from sustainable materials such as organic cotton, recycled polyester or bison fiber, it’s easy to burn through somebody’s shopping budget. But Linton wants consumers to feel secure knowing their purchases are coming from a company that shares their sustainable beliefs, right down to the paint on the walls: United By Blue’s newest location in Philadelphia is LEED Platinum certified, the highest rating devised by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“I consider our pricing quite competitive, when all things are considered,” Linton explains. “You also have to think of the full value of a product when you’re making purchasing decisions nowadays, in terms of how it’s made, where it’s made and what it’s made of. For United By Blue, the thing we’ve always focused on is making things as responsibly as we possibly can, and the pricing reflects that. Full value, full price, full picture of a product is not the actual thing you put on your back; it’s everything that goes into it.” 

But Linton’s business isn’t outdoor apparel. It’s the outdoors. With four locations in New York and Pennsylvania, United By Blue stores don’t quite cover 71 percent of the planet: That figure belongs to our planet’s water sources, which is where the real work of United By Blue has begun. 

A lifelong appreciation for water and entrepreneurship

Linton was infatuated with water and the life it breeds as an adolescent, and that passion for water has saturated his entrepreneurial career. Every step he’s taken through his business endeavors has included a component to benefit the conservation of oceans and waterways. 

Linton went to sleep every night during his childhood in Singapore with the humming filters and electric blues of 30 fish tanks as his nightlight. After growing up in Southeast Asia, he made his way across the world, receiving educations formal and informal. He finished his BA in Asian studies at Temple University, where he won a business-plan competition in 2008, and spent the following summer driving from Maine to Florida selling stone necklaces to raise money for water conservation. 

Soon, the kid who had gone to sleep in a bedroom full of fish tanks figured out that his impact could be deeper if he narrowed the channel through which his entrepreneurial instincts rushed.  

“When I started eight years ago… I knew that I wanted to do something for oceans and waterways,” Linton says. “When I was putting down my concepts and ideas, it was everything from stopping shark finning to ocean acidification to coral bleaching… all these different issues associated with our oceans. I couldn’t address them all.” 

Soon, Linton’s business attracted people who shared his enthusiasm for clean water. In January 2016, Kelly Offner, a fellow Temple graduate, took over running United By Blue’s cleanup programs, including one on Oct. 3, during which 123 volunteers cleaned 4,200 pounds of trash off of Pier 68 on the Delaware River Waterfront. Offner has spearheaded United By Blue’s efforts to join an expanding community of environmentally conscious businesses.

“There are a growing number of companies voicing their concerns for the environment and urging their customers and communities to champion for conservation of natural lands and waters,” she says. “Especially in the current political climate, the more companies using their business to drive home positive messages and encouragement for environmental conservation, the better.”

United By Blue now focuses on rallying its 10,000 volunteers who have lifted 1 million pounds of garbage from our waterways. Linton has determined that the company’s best course of action has been to provide opportunities and direction for the masses of people willing to put their environmental values into action. 

“The most tangible thing that we could do as a brand was have a mission that people could get involved in on a tangible, concrete level,” he says. “There are a lot of people out there who want to do something on a Saturday or after work some days. These people don’t necessarily have the follow-through to do it on their own.”

“Our cleanups provide the opportunity for people to participate in what we ‘preach,’” Offner agrees. “People want to support businesses who are taking a stance on the things that matter most to them. The health of our rivers, lakes and oceans affects so many people, and providing a way for people to experience that firsthand is very important.”

That support continued with a second annual celebration of “Blue Friday” this year, an event Linton calls “the anti-Black Friday,” on which United By Blue encourages people to go out the day after Thanksgiving and pick up trash. 

“It might be a river, it might be an ocean, it might be a lake, it might be a park. The idea is to be thankful for the earth—instead of just rushing out to go shopping, take some time do something good for the blue planet that we live on.”

Poised for more growth and more good

Considering the severity of more and more instances of pollution, pushing back requires levels of stamina and tenacity that are more easily reached as a group. Linton, having grown the United By Blue brand to 80 employees in eight years, now sees opportunities for growth everywhere.

“We do encourage the DIY movement as well as joining us to do cleanups,” he says. “Blue Friday is ‘do it yourself’; we sent out bags, we sent out bandanas and gloves and things like that, but on a regular basis, we’re organizing and hosting cleanups across the country. The only way that it’s possible is if you have the diligence and discipline to continue the course that you aspired to at the beginning, and make sure you’re doing everything consistently and authentically. 

“If you don’t stay true to who you are on a personal and a brand level, you can’t build a successful brand,” Linton continues. “I’m proud to say we have been consistent, responsible and good, and we haven’t wavered from our desire to have an impact on oceans and waterways. And as a result, we’ve built a successful business.” 

The hope is that “successful business” can be redefined to mean more than just a line around the corner or a ledger full of black ink. It can mean local businesses using their platform to activate activists. For United By Blue, that means uniting around clean water, a universal need that the team believes is deserving of our collective effort to be sustained. 

“The beautiful thing about United By Blue is we create the format for people to do the good that they aspire to do,” Linton says. “United By Blue is something that’s very much grassroots, attainable, actionable, tangible: ocean conservation that can be done by the brand, as well as the people that support the brand.”

It’s a lesson learned from Linton’s ankle-deep globetrotting and the rousing of thousands of volunteers to the cause of purer waterways: Grassroots grow where clean water flows.

Cozying Up

5 Locally Made Textiles to Keep You Warm This Winter

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By Emily Kovach

Coats from Meri Fete

Meri Fete is a small fashion label founded by Meri Lazar and her daughters. Together, they create one-of-a-kind, demi-couture pieces meant for women who want something with better fit or quality than clothing off the rack. Much of their capsule collection comprises timeless dresses and separates with sleek, clean lines, but they also make gorgeous, sophisticated winter coats that don’t sacrifice warmth for style. 

“As all our items, the coats are intended to be timeless statement pieces made from a collection of individually selected quality fabric,” says Lazar. “We start with the fabric as our canvas and then we create the basic design that evolves with the progress of execution: cutting from the initial pattern, basting and sewing, to the final hand finishing and addition of details.”

Though the label is just two years old, the concept behind its founding goes back 40 years, when Lazar coupled her engineering training with her grandmother’s basic sewing teachings and began cutting fabric. While studying in engineering school, she was asked to maintain a fashion column in the college newspaper, and she developed an appreciation for couture. Later, while traveling for work, she would explore vintage stores and high-end boutiques in various countries.

One of Lazar’s daughters, Ioana, inherited her mother’s love of fashion and now works as a stylist, and she has poured her skill and passion into the label. The label’s practices also reflect their commitment to certain principles: A percentage of the label proceeds benefit various causes, including the International Rescue Committee and Waves for Water.  

Self-described as “slow fashion,” Meri Fete also sees itself as helping to encourage mindful consumption. “Items are designed to be ageless and timeless,” Lazar says, “thus aiming to contribute toward a more sustainable and less wasteful lifestyle.”  

Email hellomerifete@gmail.com for a preliminary consultation

Towels & Throws from Cuttalossa

Can fabric be light, airy and also cozy? Everything that Old City-based Cuttalossa makes points to yes. Its line of versatile cotton textiles feel equally ready for a warm winter snuggle as a relaxed summer picnic. The pestemals (like a throw blanket/towel hybrid), peskirs (good for kitchen towels, hair wraps or towels for little ones), and plush and ultra-plush towels (thick enough to double as a small area rug or child’s play mat) are soft and easy, with colors and textures that exude a modern minimalist comfort.

And if supreme coziness is what you desire, Cuttalossa’s line of alpaca socks, hats, mittens and blankets are just the ticket. They certainly will run you more than your average winter accessories, but their construction and quality means you’ll have them a long time.

Cuttalossa was founded in 2013 by Shannon Retseck. Community and sustainability are at the core of her mission; the organic hand-loomed textiles are sourced from a weaver’s collective in southern Turkey, and the wool is from a group of alpaca farms in rural New Jersey. You can shop online or visit its small setup in the back of Meadowsweet Mercantile, a home and lifestyle boutique in Old City.

cuttalossa.us

Quilts and Fabric from The Village Quilter 

Tucked into a charming cottage-esque building in Mill Race Village in Mount Holly, New Jersey, about 25 miles east of Philadelphia, is the Village Quilter, a quilter’s paradise. The cozy 1,000-square-foot shop offers bolts upon bolts of quilting cottons in all kinds of designs, patterns, books, classes and supplies. Twice a year, the weekends before Memorial Day weekend and Black Friday, the shops sells completed quilts. Village Quilter has been open for 15 years and doubles as a community gathering space where first-timers and seasoned quilters come together via classes, workshops, events and clubs. 

At the end of 2015, the original owner retired, and local Joyce Doenges, a frequent customer at the shop, decided to take it over.

“I had always wanted to own a quilt shop, and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity,” Doenges says. “I considered the Village Quilter my home shop... the perfect place to enhance my quilty stash, have a bite for lunch at the Robin’s Nest and do a bit of shopping. It was a bonus that I just loved the people that worked at the Village Quilter, and fortunately for me, they all decided to continue working for our incarnation of the shop.”

Doenges, who is also a second-grade teacher, reopened the Village Quilter in April 2016. In addition to relocating and expanding the classroom area and exposing existing barn doors along one wall of the shop, part of Doenges’ updating process has been harnessing the power of the local quilting community to do good. They support three charities: Project Linus, Ryan’s Cases for Smiles and Distributing Dignity. 

“We have a large network of quilters that visit us from all over the tri-state area... Many of our customers consider us their home away from home,” she says. “We take our hashtag, #ittakesavillage, seriously.” 

thevillagequilter.com

Clothes and Knits from West Oak Design

In February 2014, soon after the birth of her son, Christie Sommers wanted to find a way to work from home. Her goal was to open an online shop of some kind, and in preparation she started the Handmade Today Project and made one thing by hand every day for a whole year, posting each creation to Instagram.

“The Handmade Today Project was just the structure of accountability, feedback and productivity I needed to kick-start my business,” Sommers says. “The project itself brought a nice bit of attention to my work and legitimized me by showing I was tenacious and dedicated.”

When she’d built up an inventory of items, she opened West Oak Design, an online shop offering small-batch and one-of-a-kind clothing, bags and housewares. Sommers designs and handcrafts each piece with a zero-waste approach. Her clothing is loose and comfy-looking in a very effortless, cool way, and the rope plant hangers, fabric plant cozies and coiled rope bowls bring a tactile warmth.

She recently signed the lease on a new studio in Mount Airy that she’ll use to host workshops, offer shopping by appointment and host occasional open studio hours in addition to fabric printing, pattern cutting, product photography and general business operations. She’ll continue to dye fabrics and construct garments 2.5 miles away in her home studio in Wyndmoor.

westoakdesign.com

Pillows from Dance Happy Designs

Dance Happy Designs is an independently owned silk-screen print studio located in Swarthmore. It prints geometric motifs on fabric in cheerful colors, which is used to create pillowcases, table runners, tote bags and more. 

The company was founded in 2016 by friends Emily Scott, Julia Tyler and Liv Helgesen. The three met in 2012 when Scott, who owns a small shop in Swarthmore called Compendium Boutique, partnered with a Philly-based not-for-profit called Community Integrated Services, whose mission is to find meaningful employment for adults with disabilities. Tyler, who has Down syndrome, was placed as an intern at Compendium and was accompanied by her work coach, Helgesen. 

“Julia is very capable of doing a wide variety of tasks but she's fairly nonverbal... and she has her own pace,” says Scott. “The three of us just really clicked and bonded from the get-go, and five years later, Julia is still working at my boutique as an employee.” 

Tyler’s government funding changed when she turned 21 in March of 2016, and Scott and Helgesen brainstormed ways to help boost her employment. They tried screen-printing: Helgesen has a degree in it from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and Tyler showed a knack for it. Now, together, they produce handcrafted, high-quality home decor and lifestyle products in small, limited runs. Tyler, the lead designer, applies her interest in pattern and color to the aesthetic of Dance Happy’s products and design patterns. She chooses colors and helps to transfer her patterns for the screen-printing process. Scott is the company business manager and Helgesen is the lead printer.

“From cutting out new patterns to printing fabric to assembling products, everything at Dance Happy is done by hand and with a whole lot of love,” says Scott.  

Though they don’t have their own brick and mortar shop, their Etsy shop is stocked, a few local boutiques carry their products, and they often can be found at trunk shows and makers markets across the region.

dancehappydesigns.com

Our Collective Climate Delusion

If we’ve all lost our minds together, can we really know what’s happening?

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Illustration by Jameela Wahlgren

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Occasionally, a great reckoning will sweep through a culture, unveiling a world that will be shocking to some and unsurprising to others, but forcing change nonetheless. Take, for instance, the election of Donald Trump, which has thrown America’s long history of racism and our culture’s pervasive misogyny into the center ring of our current cultural, post-truth circus. But what will finally force a real conversation about the global threat of climate change? In his eloquent and unsparing book, “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable,” Indian writer Amitav Ghosh explores the cultural, political and psychological history of our species’ inability to grasp that our daily habits are threatening our lives. He seamlessly weaves together stories and statistics to remind us that the world humans have constructed is by no means under our control: Earth has limits, and so do we. But at what point will we recognize—and reckon with—that fact? And how do the stories we tell ourselves about the past and the future contribute to that reckoning?

You are best known as a fiction writer. What made you decide to write the lectures that constitute “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable”? And what role does fiction, or the humanities in general, play in helping us to process and understand our world?
AG: For me, climate change is impossible to ignore: It is the most important question of our times, and I wrote the book because I felt that it demands a response from every thinking person. Just as people once asked their parents, “What did you do during the war?” a future generation is going to ask their parents, “Why didn’t you pay attention to climate change?” 

As human beings, stories are fundamental to our understanding of the world. Perhaps if we listened to different stories we would better appreciate the scale of the challenge that we now face as a species.

You write in the book that our lives are not guided by reason but by “inertia and habitual motion” and that “those who uproot themselves and make the right preparations [for climate change] are precisely those obsessed monomaniacs who appear to be on the borderline of lunacy.” And you very specifically chose to use the word “derangement” in relation to the vast majority of people who cannot comprehend climate change. What does it mean to be sane at this point in our history as humans?
AG: I don’t think any of us can claim to be sane at this moment. We are all living in a kind of collective delusion, in which the political and economic discourse continues to conjure up horizons of unlimited “growth,” and we continue to use the very things that will ultimately destroy us—cars, planes, etc.

You observe that one effect of modernity is the shift in how we think about nature. In our literature and in our art, nature used to be an awesome force to be feared, respected and revered. And then—through our increased proficiencies in science, technology, engineering and math—we came to believe that we could control nature. How does it feel to you to be witnessing the results of our limitations? Of our hubris?
AG: It wasn’t just that modernity led people to believe that “nature” could be controlled—it led them to believe that the earth is inert. It is this illusion that has been shattered by climate change. James Lovelock’s seminal book “Gaia” showed us that in many respects the Earth functions as a living organism. But, of course,  this is what most premodern cultures believed anyway.

I’d like to talk about cultural memory. Great quantities of humans now live in places where our ancestors felt it unsafe to populate. You write in the book about the great incentives it took to get modern people to live on the island of Hong Kong, and about stone tablets left by earlier generations on the coast of Japan, warning of tsunamis and advising, “Don’t build past here!” Yet we chose instead to build not only a settlement but a nuclear facility there. One-third of America’s infrastructure is in our hurricane-prone Gulf Coast. Are we about to enter an age of remembering?
AG: The list of cities that are facing potentially catastrophic impacts is growing by the day. Hurricane Harvey may have been an important inflection point in the U.S.—at any rate, it seems to me that much more attention is being paid to this issue today.

One of the most enlightening parts of the book is the time you spend laying out how Eurocentric the dialogue around climate change is, and how the history of empire and of colonialism has also played a significant role in this story. Can you talk a little about that?
AG: It is a fact that the discourse on climate change is very Eurocentric. But this is, strangely enough, partly the fault of non-Westerners, because climate change is not a major subject of discussion in countries like India, China, Indonesia and so on—even though they all stand to lose a great deal. 

The impacts on India are widespread and intensifying. The most notable impacts are prolonged droughts, extreme heat waves, an increasing number of “rain bomb” events, and more and more agricultural land being invaded by seawater.

Most people cannot comprehend climate change or their contributions to it. We are also bad at imagining the sheer numbers of people who will be affected. You write that “the consequences are beyond imaginable: The lives and livelihoods of half a billion people in South and Southeast Asia are at risk.” What can help us conceive of this problem or how it will affect our fellow humans?
AG: The vastness of the scale of climate change is one of the factors that prevents us from grasping the enormity of the challenge, especially because we have become accustomed to thinking in delimited ways. Our approach to problems is to break them down into tractable units—but that often makes us lose sight of the interconnections of the big picture.

You cite many statistics in the book: Predicted sea-level rise may displace 50 million people in India; a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will decrease food production there by 25 percent; China feeds 20 percent of the world’s population on 7 percent of the world’s arable land, and desertification there is already causing $65 billion per year in losses. Scholars such as Robert Paarlberg have written that, because the United States may not see some of these same impacts and because our fossil-fuel lobby is so strong, U.S. action is stymied. Do you agree? And can the world solve this without the United States?
AG: I think the whole framing of climate change as primarily a threat to the world’s poor is very misleading. The truth is that everybody stands to lose in proportion to their circumstances. For many subsistence-level farmers, the impacts will surely be disastrous in that they will lead to complete immiseration. But in gross terms, the rich stand to lose the most, partly because they simply have more to lose and partly because they are more dependent on advanced infrastructure. During Hurricane Harvey, for instance, some of the richest people in one of the world’s richest cities were very badly impacted. Similarly, Puerto Rico is technically a part of the world’s richest and most advanced country, yet most of its people remain without electricity many weeks after Hurricane Maria. Cuba, by contrast, has been relatively resilient. In 2017 the U.S. probably had a higher tally of climate-related losses than any other part of the world.

Is there anything that gives you hope that we’ll solve this crisis?
AG: In my view, the idea that all problems have a “solution” is itself a hindrance in regard to thinking about climate change. At this point “coping” or “adapting” might be better words to use because many climate change impacts are already locked in—no matter what we do now.

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Amitav Ghosh is a celebrated writer whose books include “The Circle of Reason,” “Dancing to Cambodia and at Large in Burma” and “Flood of Fire.”

The Trickle-Down Environment

Federal policies are harming Pennsylvania

Illustration by Clarissa Eck

Illustration by Clarissa Eck

By Jacqui Bonomo

President Trump’s napalming of environmental protection is withering the air, water, landscape and public health of our nation. As the president’s agenda begins to manifest in on-the-ground changes—at the state and federal levels, in our fragile ecosystems, in waterways and throughout our imperiled climate system—we move closer to crises that future leaders, laws and technology will be hard-pressed to reverse.

The most striking impact of the president’s effect in Pennsylvania is how it’s emboldened anti-environmental elected officials in the state Legislature. The past year saw an unprecedented series of attacks on previously hard-fought, and typically bipartisan, environmental protections that, at least until now, provided basic measures and tools to clean our air and water. The Trump effect has spawned copycat policymakers who embrace the same bombastic and divisive tactics and rhetoric as the president. If the electorate does not reject these destructive personalities or turn them out of office, the prospect becomes grim for providing a healthy environment and uncompromised climate systems to future generations. 

But despite the extreme anti-environmental provocations of the Trump team, we are seeing small victories for clean water and air. A large state coalition of clean water advocates recently beat back the Trump administration’s attempt to zero out the budget for watershed protection and restoration projects in local streams of the Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The recently passed state budget closed Pennsylvania’s solar borders, and now clean energy credits needed to meet our renewable energy goals must come from solar projects and jobs produced here, and not from out of state, as previously allowed.  

We are witnessing a profound rejection of Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and his demolition of the Clean Power Plan, a reasonable path forward to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Our communities are stepping up to take their climate and clean energy futures into their own hands. Backed by their constituents, mayors and elected officials around the commonwealth have declared their intention to reduce emissions and move forward with climate action in places like Bethlehem, Downingtown, Mount Pocono, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Swarthmore and State College, with the list growing every day.

There are opportunities for state and federal policymakers to shed the polarized fever that’s beset them and make progress for our environment. Congress could surprise us and produce a good Farm Bill reauthorization that helps Pennsylvania agriculture and water quality, or pass the RECLAIM Act to provide funding to accelerate restoration of land and water impacted by legacy pollution from coal mining. The state Legislature could get serious about reforming and reauthorizing the alternative energy portfolio standard and continue to build on 70,000 clean energy jobs around the state. 

Yet, the pull of the president’s fear-driven environmental policy is so strong, I would not count on it. My money is on the regular folks and emerging environmental leaders who know there is too much at stake, and who will not allow this president to get in our way.

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Jacqui Bonomo is the president and CEO of PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization in Pennsylvania.