The Family Stone

Illustration by James Heimer

A two-century-old stone mill
gets a second life generations later

My grandfather, Henry Fischer, was a master miller in Bavaria when he decided at age 20 to immigrate to the U.S. A classic American immigrant story of hard work and new beginnings, he eventually owned his own moving and storage company in Doylestown, but his passion for water mills remained. In 1947, he bought the run-down Castle Valley Mill property, spent a year restoring the house, and moved his family in. While he never got the mill running again, he continued to make repairs as time and money allowed, and collected mill stones and machinery— including an 1830 rolling screen, 1910 seed cleaner, 1888 disc aspirator and a 1880 Nordyke-Marmon stone mill—from all over Bucks County as mills were torn down or turned into restaurants and gift shops. My father, Robert Fischer, lived at Castle Valley from age 12 until he left for a career in the Air Force and aviation. Though it was his cherished childhood home, milling was not in his future. 


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Millions of Peaches

Fresh peaches, peaches in pies, peach salsa, peach smoothies and canned peaches. All good. | Photos by Emily Teel

Making use of pick-your-own bounty 

Once a year, my friend Colleen and I pack ourselves into her Honda for a trip to pick peaches at Mood’s Farm in Mullica Hill, N.J. Once we make it over the Betsy Ross Bridge, the drive to our destination is a short one. Soon we’re in the orchard, shaded by the sickle-shaped leaves of the peach trees.

Relative to pick-your-own berries, peaches accumulate quickly, and it can be difficult to gauge when enough is enough. When we’ve tired of eating them fresh, in pies or chopping them into salsa, we slice and freeze them for smoothies, or opt to can them.

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Watershed Moment

Water, gravity and sand combine to teach Philadelphians about stormwater runoff at the Cobbs Creek Environmental Educational Center. | Photo by Christian Hunold

Cobbs Creek Environmental Education Center
opens a new gateway into the park with exhibit  

For the longest time, it was a decrepit stables building in an infamous, crime-ridden park that neighbors were afraid to enter, alongside a creek that stank every time rains washed sewage into it.

 Then neighborhood activists led by Carole Williams-Green capped a 10-year organizing effort by converting the stables building into the Cobbs Creek Environmental Education Center in 2001, with classrooms for academic programming and meeting space for residents.

Fairmount Park increased cleanup efforts in the Cobbs Creek park and developed programming to bring neighbors into the park, including a 5k race, now in its fourth year. (Full disclosure: I served on the board of the center from 2008 to 2010.) The Philadelphia Water Department has made Cobbs Creek a model neighborhood in its efforts to reduce pollution from stormwater runoff.

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Getting Their Share

The Kensington Community Food Co-op needs 800 members by the end of 2014. | Rendering by MAKE.

Kensington community embraces their nascent food co-op

Stephanie Singer and her husband, Mike, had been interested in joining a food co-op for years, so when she initially heard that the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC) was coming to her neighborhood she was excited. But she concedes, “I was a little skeptical at first since I know these things can take years and years.” After attending the KCFC location announcement party at the Philadelphia Brewing Company’s tasting room on May 4, her reservations disappeared. “I was very impressed by the large turnout,” she says. “It felt like this was really going to happen. At that moment, we were ready to make our financial commitment, and we joined as members.”

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From the Ground Up

Philadelphia Urban Creators enact their bold plan
to educate, energize, empower and unite

Along 11th Street in North Philadelphia, a short drive from City Hall, are blocks of crumbling rowhomes and crowded public housing apartments, interrupted by the conspicuously new townhomes and condos of Temple University students. Vacant lots abound, edged by rickety fences and rife with weeds and litter. A few parks stand eerily empty, their rusty basketball hoops and crumbling concrete a testament of neglect. In the middle of it all stands a most unlikely neighbor: a farm.

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Solar Power, No Charge

Green Mountain Energy's Sun Club "flipped the switch" on its largest solar installation in Philadelphia at Greensgrow Farms on Earth Day. | Photos courtesy of newsworksGreen Mountain Energy donates solar panels
to community organizations

The large wooden stand high above the heads of customers picking through vegetables at Greensgrow Farms in North Philadelphia does more than just shield the sun while they shop—it’s pulling solar power, too. Equipped with 16 solar panels, the array provides the urban farm with clean, renewable energy. All told, the 5,000 kilowatt hours of power the solar array is expected to produce every year could save the organization about $1,000.

But Greensgrow Farms could not have done it alone. The nonprofit recently received a $20,000 grant from Sun Club, Green Mountain Energy’s program that provides solar panels and power systems for local organizations looking to better their communities. While the Texas-based company has been selling renewable energy since 1997, it expanded its operations to the Philadelphia area in 2012 and began looking for community organizations to offer funding for solar projects. The company now serves customers in Texas, Illinois, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania in markets where customers have the power to choose their electricity provider.

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Leader of the 'Pack

Ambler organizer and activist amazes all

Susan Curry, one of the founders of Pennypack Farm, has devoted her life to environmental issues. | Photo by Cheryl Wilks

Susan Curry is known throughout the Philadelphia region as an environmental organizer, perhaps most notably as one of the founders of Pennypack Farm, the first organic CSA-centric farm in Montgomery County. 

In 2000, Curry was part of a group in the Philadelphia area studying voluntary simplicity—in her words, 
"Voluntarily living with very little income by significantly reducing expenses”—through the Northwest Earth Institute, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that mentors those concerned with environmental issues. When the local group decided to start an organic farm, Curry wrote a letter to the editor of the Ambler Gazette, calling for a meeting at the Trax Café. The group became the founding committee of Pennypack Farm. “Every time we met at Trax Café, I had everyone write what they wanted our values to be," Curry says. “I always wrote ‘bringing like-minded, progressive people together to form a community.'" 

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