Dream Job

Sonja Claxton has always known what she’s passionate about, and now, as the Organizational Wellness Manager for Common Market, she has the title to prove it.

Earlier this year, Claxton was working at a health research company in Wayne. She liked her job, but felt disconnected from her roots in social and environmental sustainability.

Sonja Claxton, Organizational Wellness Manager, Common MarketWhile studying international business and economics at Temple University’s Fox School of Business and Management, she founded the student organization Students for Responsible Business, which later became Net Impact. She also pushed to make a business ethics class standardized business school curriculum.  Now,  Claxton “wanted to bring my network  into my job.”

Mirroring her work at Temple, Claxton and a coworker co-founded a sustainability awareness group in the office, where they helped colleagues recognize the negative effects of wasteful workplace activities and the benefit of using resources wisely.

“I didn’t feel I was a valuable asset to my company until I started to use my knowledge of the sustainability and health and wellness world to show leaders that sustainability practices are more effective than they think,” she says.

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Clock Work

Since midnight on December 31, 1898, Philadelphia City Hall has known the time. That is when its four 26-foot diameter clocks began service, powered by compressed air. In 1947, this system was replaced by four synchronous electronic motors, a contraption that continues to power the clocks today. Housed in relatively small boxes, the motors move the clocks’ hands — the 11-foot minute hand and the nine-foot hour hand — via a long metal rod. In this photo, the rod is camouflaged amongst the perma-scaffolding inside City Hall’s tower, but if you look closely, you can see it running up the center. Right at 6 o’clock. For more on this story, visit Hidden City Daily, hiddencityphila.org.

Strawberries: Jammed with flavor and nutrition

story and photos by Grace DickinsonIf there’s any public place where it’s acceptable to openly act like a kid again, it’s out in a strawberry field. Forget any worries of a red-stained face, mud on your knees, or washing or paying for your fruit — just let the moment melt around you as you relish the sweetness of a fresh-picked strawberry. All thoughts flee as the natural sugar hits your lips in one of the tastiest moments of life.

Anyone who’s experienced a strawberry straight from the vine knows that a supermarket strawberry should be known by an entirely different name. The flavors are that dissimilar. Even a locally purchased strawberry from a farmer’s market won’t stand up to one from the field. When you hand-select every strawberry from the vine, you get the sweetest carton you’ll likely ever take home. Plus, when you do the picking yourself, you get to eat a few along the way. Again, don’t worry. This month’s featured farmer, Norm Schultz, says it actually puts a smile on his face to see kids go home with a red face. And for the record, it’s fine by Schultz if adults eat a few, too — it’s a natural part of the picking process.

If you can’t get past an unwashed berry, or simply want a supply right outside your back door, consider growing your own. Spend an evening taking berries straight from your strawberry patch to a bowl of vanilla ice cream, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever let them leave your garden.

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Sustainable Economy = Sustainable Community What the sustainable economy movement means to me

Story by Jamie Gaulthier | Illustration by Stephen Haigh

I was born in southwest philly and lived there until I was 9. The sights and sounds of that time are vibrant — hopscotch, penny candy, water ice, jump rope. It would never be called a “good” Philly neighborhood, but it’s what comes to mind when I think of a typical one. I remember starkly when things began to change for the worse — the crime, the drugs, the poverty. A standout event was the time a neighbor broke into our house when my mom and I were home alone. We heard the glass shatter and my mom told me to run. I did, as quickly as I could, up the street to my grandmom’s house, the wind roaring in my ears, my heart a drumbeat. We moved soon after — by then, we could afford it, my parents having both recently attained professional degrees. The new neighborhood, Wynnefield, was nicer and safer.

 Over time, I noticed what happened to those we left behind in the other neighborhood. How poverty kept them from learning, and blocked their access to fresh, healthy food. How it incarcerated them and killed them. How poverty led many to accept that there was not much of a world beyond the confines of their block. That to me is about a lack of equity and it is what attracts me to the Sustainable Business Network (SBN) and the sustainable economy movement. I believe that over time this effort will ensure equity.

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The Lost Art of Found Food: If you know what you’re looking for, delicacies abound on the ground

David Siller’s talent for hunting out nettles, pawpaws, quince and dozens of other delicious, edible plants that grow wild in the region have made him a favorite of chefs at restaurants like Russet, Kennett, Pumpkin and Will. Will chef Christopher Kearse was Siller’s first customer when he was cooking at Pumpkin. “I showed up with ramps and nettles and told him about the other stuff I had,” recalls Siller. “He said ‘Bring it on.’”

How did you get your start as a forager?

I’ve been foraging professionally and selling to restaurants for four or five years. Before that, I was foraging for myself. I was the kid who would eat berries from the schoolyard. After college, I started learning more about plants. I’m a conscious harvester, which means listening to the environment and caring about the sustainability of the plants.

What is the attraction of foraged ingredients?

They taste awesome and they’re unique. It’s not just fiddleheads and ramps. The wild food world is so broad. I get excited about the uncommon things, like Cornelian cherries. I try to encourage chefs to get creative with uncommon ingredients.

What does it take to be a forager?

I have a truck, boxes and bags, a shovel or two, a scale and a knowledge of plants and locations. I’ll go about 100 miles in all directions. I have my eyes open all the time. Sometimes I’m just going for a hike and poof! There’s maitake mushrooms. It’s like finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

So, anyone can do this?

I’ve seen people of all ages get into it. It’s good to have a teacher before you start. It’s definitely not a good idea to just go out and pick random leaves and start eating them.

David Siller is a professional forager from the Delaware Valley. If it’s edible and marketable, he knows where it grows. Visit him at yosoybean.com.

Art Goes to Market: The Edible Garden combines food, art and sustainability

story by Jon McGoranLocal artist Meei-Ling Ng is no stranger to farmers markets, both as a participating farmer and as a frequent customer. But for the first time, on June 15 at the Headhouse Square Craft & Fine Arts Fair, her artful interpretation of the farmers market will be part of the market itself. “The Edible Garden” is a series of acrylic paintings of vegetable and fruit cross sections on recycled concrete. A sampling of the work is pictured above as part of an installation at the Elkins Estate garden in Elkin’s Park, where it was displayed next to the vegetable beds.

“The whole idea is to set up an installation like a farmer vendor display, with my new works on baskets, boxes, etc., looking like a real farmer vendor selling vegetables,” Ng explains. “Customers can pick and buy what they like, and they can put them in their outdoor garden or display indoors. I also see this idea as an opportunity for an interactive installation work with visitors in a farmers market environment.”

Environmental issues are a recurring theme in Ng’s work. “I am an artist, an organic farmer and a nature lover, and I care about these factors and how it is all connected to sustainability,” she explains. “My main goal is to use my art installations as a tool to learn about preserving nature, sustainable living and organic urban farming. To draw people’s attention and look closely at these issues. These are the factors that inspire and motivate me to continue creating art. I want to create art to get the sustainability message out.”

This will be the 45th year for Headhouse Square Craft & Fine Arts Fair, held by the Creative Collective at the Historic Headhouse Square at 2nd & Pine St., in Society Hill, Philadelphia. The show will take place under shelter of the Headhouse Shambles pavilion, rain or shine. The exhibit will be one day only, Sat., June 15 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is free and open to the public. For more on Ng’s work, visit meeiling.com.

White Dog Alumni: Judy Wicks and The White Dog Café spawned a generation that continues to grow local food systems in Philadelphia and beyond

story by Molly O’Neill | Standing in front of The White Dog Café are (l to r) Wendy Born Smith, James Barrett, Judy Wicks and Kevin von KlauseDuring its 26-year reign, the White Dog Café and its satellite organizations incubated a host of talented young chefs, leaders and entrepreneurs. Today, their work continues to build upon Judy Wicks’ legacy in the realm of local, sustainable enterprise.

Award-winning chef Aliza Green, first to helm the White Dog kitchen after its major renovation in 1986, pioneered the restaurant’s local food program. Although Green now focuses primarily on writing cookbooks, she also serves as Director of Culinary Development for Erdenheim’s Heathland Hospitality Group, sourcing local ingredients and developing recipes for such venues as the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.

Kevin von Klause, James Barrett and Wendy Smith Born all bonded during their time in the White Dog circle. Then-sous-chef von Klause brought Barrett in to audition with Green for the position of pastry chef. Smith Born started in 1983 as a research/writing assistant for Wicks’ project The Philadelphia Resource Guide, then settled in as White Dog Manager. In 1993, Barrett and Smith Born left to co-found Metropolitan Bakery.

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Judy Wicks on Livin’ La Vida Local

story by Alex Mulcahy

A raucous standing ovation greets Judy Wicks as she takes the stage at the Academy of Natural Sciences to read from her memoir, Good Morning, Beautiful Business. Her closest friends sit in the first three rows, unaware that they are about to be drafted into service. But after delighting the audience with excerpts from the memoir that took her over a decade to finish, Wicks makes a request.

“I’d like to end tonight’s program with a song,” she announces. “So, would everybody in the first few rows join me on stage to sing ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth?’” A few moments later, the unlikely chorus sways on stage, accompanied by the Swing Set, a jazz duo that Wicks had hired to entertain patrons at La Terrasse decades ago. Once a ringleader, always a ringleader. Just shy of her 66th birthday, and three years after her retirement began, Wicks’ memoir is well timed. Her place in Philadelphia’s sustainability movement is secure, and her list of accomplishments is extensive: the founder of White Dog Café, Fair Food and the Sustainable Business Network — all institutions in Philadelphia — and on the national stage, the Business Alliance for a Local Living Economy (BALLE).

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Something Wild: Forest restoration brings back native wildflowers

story by Bernard Brown | photo by Jen Britton. Spring beauties beginning to bloom from the brush of the forest.Pink buds like miniature tulips reached for the sky from the gap in each bloodroot’s single leaf. This was the first time in my life that I’d noticed them. I spend a lot of time in the woods, at least for an urbanite, but apparently they’ve been the wrong woods.  

On this spring morning, photographer Jen Britton and I were tagging along with Joanne Donohue, Manager of Land Restoration for the Schuylkill Environmental Education Center, on a wildflower (“spring ephemeral,” if you want to sound like a botanist) tour.

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