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.
Each year, the average American discards eight batteries, and about 600 million fluorescent light bulbs make their way to landfills.
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.”
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;
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.
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.
This 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.
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.