Tunnel Vision: A network of farmers is using a new tool to extend the growing season

story by Liz Pacheco | photos by Emily WrenEntering the high tunnel at Mort Brooks Memorial Farm in Mount Airy is a little like stepping into a time machine. In early March, there are dense rows of rainbow chard and arugula, and a few beds have green stems poking through the soil. Farm manager Rick Rigutto reaches down and pulls out some chard, munching on a pink-hued stalk as he walks through the tunnel. While it’s been unseasonably warm, these greens shouldn’t be ready for eating for weeks. Most farms shut down by December, but Mort Brooks keeps on growing – and not in greenhouses. Instead they use sturdy, metal pipe frames covered in plastic sheeting known as high tunnels.
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Leaders of the Pack: Kids and parents flock to Pennypack Farm

story by Shaun Brady | photo by Emily WrenOn spring, summer and fall afternoons, Pennypack Farm is the hot spot for local families. Parents gather at the Montgomery County nonprofit to examine the selection of crops laid out farmers market-style in the harvest house. Kids head straight for the U-Pick crops and start on rows of green beans, raspberries and other coveted produce. But fresh fruits and vegetables are not the only goodies these member families will return home with, says Margot Bradley, the administrative director and one of Pennypack’s founding members. “Every time somebody sets foot here, they’re going to learn something. We look at every visit to the farm as an education.”
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Family Ties

story by Mary Elizabeth Clark, SSJ | photo by Howard PitkowIn my parent’s house, faith and action went hand in hand. For 15 years, my mother met monthly with an interfaith group to discuss the Middle East. Through that organization, she protested the treatment of Russian Jews by wearing black and demonstrating downtown. My parents, both Roman Catholic, raised me with their religion, but taught that “catholic” (lowercase “c”) means all-encompassing. Therefore, Roman Catholics must have an all-inclusive love. With that understanding, I felt a desire to learn about other faiths and traditions as enriching as my own.
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When Doves Cry: The lowly pigeon is bird feed for resurgent predators

story by Bernard Brown photo by Craig StottlemyerAbout a year ago, I was sent a video of a red-tailed hawk plucking a dead pigeon on the roof of a car, right across the street from the Burger King at Eighth and Market. A crowd of cell-phone photographers surrounded the truck until the spooked raptor moved to another table (on a nearby light post).
Hawks aren’t the only predators that like to eat pigeons. We domesticated the pigeon, or rock dove, originally a Mediterranean and Central Asian species, more than 5,000 years ago. As you watch the scruffy “rats with wings” begging for crumbs at your bench, it might be hard to imagine, but we brought rock doves here as food. Our urban pigeons are descendants of escaped livestock, later mixed with generations of pigeons bred for racing or showing.
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Cheese of the Month: Oldwick Shepherd

Last year, Valley Shepherd Creamery in New Jersey appeared on my radar and quickly became a favorite source for rustic, raw-milk cheese. This Pecorino-style wedge made from the milk of pasture-raised sheep is a good choice for February, when your disposition needs sweetening and your palate craves dense, nutty cheeses. Tuck a wedge of Oldwick Shepherd into your down vest pocket and go for a walk in the woods. Pair this with a flask of scotch, and you’ve got a mood lifter—call it the ultimate stay-cation package.

Oldwick Shepherd has a natural (edible) rind and a dense paste like a Pecorino, but it tastes more like a cave-aged Gruyère crossed with a clothbound cheddar. The wheel I tried was caramel-sweet and herby; near the rind, I detected pronounced walnut notes. Unlike other sheep cheeses, there isn’t a muttony finish. As one friend from the Garden State recently told me, “This cheese makes me proud to be from New Jersey.” 

Tenaya Darlington,
madamefromage.blogspot.com

Look for cheeses from Valley Shepherd Creamery at Di Bruno Bros. and Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market. Valley Shepherd Creamery, 50 Fairmount Rd., Long Valley, N.J. valleyshepherd.com;
908-876-3200

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Plastic Ocean: How a Sea Captain’s Chance Discovery Launched a Determined Quest to Save the Oceans

Avery, 358 pp., $26 written by Capt. Charles Moore with Cassandra Phillips reviewed by Katherine SilkaitisWhen Capt. Charles Moore set sail from Honolulu in 1997, he and his crew stumbled upon a floating phenomenon. Estimated at two million square miles, the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre is home to nearly three million tons of plastic debris. Here marine life share space with fishing nets, glow sticks and oyster spacer pipes as well as more mundane detritus of modern life, like pens, coffee stirrers and plastic bags.
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High Line: The Inside Story of New York City’s Park in the Sky

Farrar. Straus and Giroux, 339 pp., $29.95 written by Joshua David and Robert Hammond l reviewed by Katherine Silkaitis

When New York City’s High Line opened in June 2009, it was the culmination of a decade’s worth of work spearheaded by two unlikely West Side residents. Joshua David, a travel journalist, and Robert Hammond, an entrepreneur, both wanted the city’s unused elevated freight line—which ran uninterrupted for more than 15 blocks—to be saved and repurposed, instead of torn down. High Line is David and Hammond’s story in their own words, accompanied by images of the High Line after its construction in the 1930s, its abandonment in the 1980s, and its rebirth as a public park.

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New Roots: Home Grown Institute offers skills, motivations for sustainable life

Imagine an entire weekend dedicated to teaching sustainable skills of all kinds—backyard chicken raising, beekeeping, composting, gardening, healthy cooking and home energy efficiency. The Home Grown Institute, whose inaugural conference is this March, has planned to do just this. The conference is tailored to provide attendees with the skill sets and motivation to transform their own lives through workshops, tours and hands-on experience.

Sarah Gabriel, founder and Wyncote native, envisions the HGI not as an educational vehicle, but as a “container” through which community partners—Weavers Way Co-op, Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and Friends of the Wissahickon are already on board along with more than two dozen others—can instruct individuals in the types of methods and approaches they can carry back to their own communities.

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Growing Their Own: North Philly neighbors pick their own produce from a new urban farm

written by Dana HenryThis past April, Kevin Musselman, coordinator for the Kensington Area Neighborhood Advisory Committee (KANAC), approached neighbors at Frankford and Cambria Streets in West Kensington. “We’re going to start a farm in that lot over there,” he told them. The lot he was referring to, like many derelict parcels inthe area, was frequently the site of drug activity and prostitution.

“A farm? In the hood?” the neighbors questioned.

“Yeah, a farm, right in your neighborhood,” responded Musselman.

This neighborhood, where KANAC currently facilitates grassroots community projects, is part of the first congressional district in Pennsylvania which in 2010, ranked fourth highest in the nation for food hardship—meaning households don’t have enough money to buy all the food they need. In 2009, the district had ranked second. Recently, the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which helps stock fresh produce in underserved areas, has aggressively targeted Kensington, but for decades residents have had trouble finding much to eat besides chips, Honey Buns, hot dogs and other highly processed meats and starches. In 2010, after a group of neighbors—including members of neighborhood organizations such as Philly Tree People, Harrogate Tree Tenders and Kensington Food Co-Op—attended an annual Community Leadership Institute conference in Louisville, Ky. held by NeighborWorks America, they decided it was time for Kensington to get a farm.

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Map Quest: How to find Philadelphia's solidarity economy

story by Samantha Drake Any doubt that the Philadelphia region has a thriving alternative economy, complete with cooperatives of all kinds, can be answered by a look at the map created by Craig Borowiak, political science professor at Haverford College.  

The Philadelphia Mapping Project illustrates the evolving “solidarity economy,” which, according to Borowiak, includes “economic activities that prioritize relationships of reciprocity, democratic participation and community needs.” Perhaps the most prominent co-op in the region is Weavers Way Co-op, with locations in Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy and more than 4,900 member households. But Weavers Way isn’t alone. Philadelphia has dozens of childcare and preschool co-ops, artist co-ops, community development organizations, community land trusts, community gardens, credit unions, food co-ops, housing co-ops and other organizations.

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