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.Read More
Garden Supply Hot Spots
by Laura Everard
Whenever you talk to gardeners, regardless of who they are, where they live and what kind of garden they have, they always have the garden center that they swear by, and they tend to get very “Sharks and Jets” about the whole situation. I don’t claim to have the perfect inventory, but here is my own brief list of plant sources for the home gardener. All of them are within a brief walking or driving distance from Center City, are locally owned and offer a wide variety of plants and products that are bound to please a gardener of any experience level.
Primex Garden Center
435 W. Glenside Ave., Glenside, Pa.
This fantastic, family run garden center is just a short drive from the city, and it is certainly worth the trip. The friendly staff is knowledgeable and happy to answer any questions you might have about your garden, and they sell everything you may need to get started from ground up: high quality tools, soil, mulch, fertilizers and pots in every shape, size and color. Primex also stocks hard-to-find items that will excite even the most modest plant geek. Whenever I go to this garden center, I am also pleased to see that they carry local products such as Organic Mechanics soil and mulch. Primex prides itself in having the largest range of organic products in the region, and it always has a wide variety of plant material. A huge advantage that Primex has over many of its competitors is that it is open year-round, and although its plant material is limited in the winter, you can still find many items to help you plan for the next growing season.
Greensgrow, which just turned 20, is arguably one of the best options for the urban gardener in Philadelphia. The original farm is in Fishtown, and there is a smaller satellite garden center in West Philadelphia. Both locations have a refined, high-quality range of plant material that is well taken care of by their passionate staff, and they’re open year-round. As soon as you walk in, you’ll see repurposed objects, such as rain barrels, being used to grow arrangements that range from ornamental to edible. The aesthetic walks hand-in-hand with their admirable push toward sustainability and eco-friendly practices. The staff is knowledgeable of practices ranging from small-scale, urban landscaping to hoop houses and farming, so any gardening questions you may have are likely to be answered. You can find organic potting medium, organic fertilizers and basic tools, and you won’t want to miss all the interesting containers that are often tailored for an urban lifestyle, such as pots that can hang on banisters. They also offer a CSA program and participate in the SNAP program; they are committed to providing local, healthy foods to the community, regardless of income.
7631 Ridge Ave.
As the name suggests, this clandestine garden center is tucked away in the Roxborough/Manayunk area and is frequently overlooked by many residents. Despite being a little farther outside of Center City, this fantastic place should not be missed. Upon entering, you are surrounded by beautiful plants and trees that are sure to inspire. The knowledgeable staff and high-quality plants are just a couple of reasons why this place truly stands out. The very reasonable prices can even compete with box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s, so this is a fantastic choice if you are just starting out and are scared of blowing your budget while experimenting in your garden. Despite the fact that it doesn’t have a website (although it does have a Facebook page), you can find glowing reviews all over the internet, and the locals swear by it. Like other garden centers, it also sells a selection of tools, soil and other gardening supplies. The friendly owners and staff make you feel welcome and are happy to advise you on any gardening plans. Unlike many such centers, Secret Garden is open seven days a week, which is a huge bonus for the weekend gardening warrior.
1526 E. Passyunk Ave.
Tucked away on bustling Passyunk Avenue in South Philadelphia, this funky warehouse holds tons of surprises. Urban Jungle prides itself in being an urban gardening specialist, so if you’re in a row home, it will probably have what you are looking for, including hangable planters. The constantly rotating variety of plants, containers and knickknacks helps set this garden center apart from many others—this shop aims to please, and you’re sure to find something a little different that will make your garden (or your living room) unique: Don’t miss the terrariums, figurines, water features and air plants. Another thing Urban Jungle is known for is vertical gardening, so if you are considering a green wall for your space, this place should be one of your first stops for a consultation, and the staff will take you through design, installation and maintenance. They also offer consulting and landscaping services for standard gardens, just in case you need a little extra help with your project.
Keeping Our Connection to Sun and Seed
by Ryan Kuck
Every year come tax time I have to pause for a long while when the 1040 asks for my occupation. At first the mild rebellion of writing “urban farmer” was alluring, imagining that someone in some deep office had to scratch their head to figure out what category that fits under. Then I imagined them looking at my paltry income for the year and giving a knowing chuckle. “Idealist,” “Young’un,” “Liberal,” “Fool.” But, hey, at least I could get my taxes done in 12 minutes.
This wasn’t supposed to be my path. I was well on my way toward being (or more likely interning for) the next Frank Lloyd Wright or Robert R. Taylor. But the ephemeral nature of Penn’s architecture program, with its abstract analysis through wooden models, lack of even basic computer training and—ugh—insistence on art history, didn’t grab hold. One day I saw a flyer on campus inviting anyone to “come plant carrots with kids,” and before I knew it I stopped going to class and had a new career.
I just did my taxes last night. Now it takes 20 minutes (kids complicate everything), and that pause was longer this time around.
In 2017, as the new executive director of Greensgrow Farms, I sit at a desk most days, or rather, pace anxiously around my desk. Can I still write “urban farmer” if I haven’t touched soil in over a week? Aren’t there some rules around this? The last few years, for sure, I spent more time with a hammer in my hand than a shovel, but at least I was still getting my vitamin D from the sun instead of a bottle, and I still had to scrape my boots on the muck board outside my door.
Greensgrow celebrates its 20th anniversary this spring, and naturally we’re thinking about what the next 20 years will bring. Sometimes it’s hard to look beyond, “Well, the cherry harvest is probably gonna suck this year after that cold snap.”
I am no more prescient than the next upstart know-it-all to say what the future holds. I am, though, encouraged to see new models for food production emerging that further integrate agriculture in our cities. Sometimes the cynic in me wins out when terms like “agrihood” are thrown around the interwebs as if someone invented the next tractor.
Agriculture has always been central to community, and places like Las Parcelas in Norris Square and Glenwood Green Acres in North Philly have been agrihoods for decades. So, yes, this is the future of urban agriculture, because it is also its past. The same can be said for “vertical farming” or “aeroponics” or the countless other inventions that promise to change how we feed our growing cities. Sometimes it’s easy to see these projects as false prophets, when there’s no math in the world that says we won’t still need Lancaster County and South Jersey and California to fill our bellies—you know, the folks who write just “farmer” on their taxes. I’m sorry, but we all can’t eat just lettuce. But these things, too, will play a role in farming’s evolution, just as irrigation technology has always driven adaptation.
In many ways farming is always the same, no matter the context or the technology. Farming is also an innovation laboratory. And the farmer has always needed to be an inventor (and a plumber, vet, mechanic, huckster and geneticist). In my relatively short career, I’ve made biodiesel, built birdhouses, scrubbed algae, taught social studies, cozied up to politicians and put a pig on a diet all in the name of urban agriculture.
But you are always fighting invisible forces of climate, genetics, soil, sun, sweat—learning to give in to the biological imperative of the seed—becoming accustomed to failure and still somehow being surprised by success.
As cities grow and as we look to keep urban agriculture relevant, the farm has to keep adapting, keep incorporating new roles and, above all, prioritize accessibility. We need city planners, musicians, chemists, math teachers—even architects—to all find a place on the farm so that it can continue to integrate with our built environment and so our cities don’t lose that connection to nature and to seed.
This all requires continued advocacy and action to ensure that green space remains available to farmers, and that farms find new collaborations. We must insist on our equal rights to land, on par with housing, hospitals and commerce. Or, to quote Greensgrow’s new vision statement, “ensure that urban agriculture is recognized as an essential element of how cities promote equitable economic opportunity, positive health outcomes and ecological stewardship for all.”
I can tell you what I hope the future of urban agriculture is. I hope that it is rooted in sun and soil. I hope we recognize that access to growing space is essential to the success of our neighborhoods. I hope we all can come to call ourselves urban farmers to some degree. And I hope that the suit in the IRS building nods in appreciation when my “urban farmer” tax form crosses her desk—and that it’s not the only one.
Ryan Kuck is an urban farmer and the executive director of Greensgrow Farms.
Management Positions Change at Top Energy and Sustainability Groups
The Managing Director’s Office of Philadelphia hired Nic Esposito as director of its new Zero Waste and Litter program. Esposito has worked previously for Parks and Recreation as a training specialist, project manager and—most recently—sustainable practices manager. The city’s goals for this program include: diverting almost all waste from being sent to conventional landfills and incinerators by 2035; better management of litter and illegal dumping in public spaces; and implementing measurable standards to demonstrate the progress of these goals.
Greensgrow Farms announced that long-time staff member and program director Ryan Kuck will lead operations at its Kensington and West Philly locations following the passing of founder Mary Seton Corboy, the previous executive director. Kuck’s previous titles at Greensgrow include sustainability manager, food access programs manager and director of Greensgrow West.
Jamie Gauthier is the new senior director of public partnerships at Fairmount Park Conservancy. She served as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network for almost four years.
Phil Rinaldi announced his retirement in early December as chief executive officer of Pennsylvania Energy Solutions. He has been a central figure in expanding Philadelphia’s role as an East Coast “energy hub”—a proposed long-term project widely criticized by environmental activists and those opposed to reliance on fossil fuels.
NextFab Opens its First Delaware Studio for Training and Workspace
NextFab—a membership-based studio and consulting space for manufacturers, designers and entrepreneurs—opens its first Delaware location this month, expanding from its studios at 2025 Washington Ave. and 1227 N. 4th St. in Philadelphia.
A $350,000 grant from the Delaware Strategic Fund was approved by the Council on Development Finance in September 2016, which enabled NextFab to secure a lease for a 10,000-square-foot space at 501–509 Tatnall St. in Wilmington—an area referred to as the Creative District.
Activists Disrupt Business at Wells Fargo, Demand Divestment from Dakota Access Pipeline
Activists gathered at the Wells Fargo Bank and History Museum on Dec. 15 to protest the bank’s funding of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The group sang songs, displayed a banner and asked the bank’s manager to withdraw funding.
Standing Rock protesters—led by Sioux leaders who have gained national support at the site of the pipeline’s construction and at local rallies across the U.S.—cite as their main concern the pipeline’s proposed crossing of the Missouri River, which has the potential to threaten the water supply and encroach on land deemed sacred and sovereign to Native American populations.
A Dec. 5 protest at a local TD Bank made similar demands for divestment.
State Grants $45M to Conserving Parks, Trails, Community Space
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) announced in December that $45 million will be invested in 261 projects across Pennsylvania for new recreational opportunities and conservation of natural resources, according to PR Newswire.
“The health and vitality of our communities is reflected in the quality of parks and trails, access to rivers, open spaces and outdoor recreation opportunities,” DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn said during the announcement at Long’s Park in Lancaster.
Year-End Awards Given for Sustainable Practices in Building and Planning
Paul W. Meyer was presented with Montgomery County’s 2016 Planning Advocate Award in November, in recognition of contributions to advancing planning within the area. Meyer, executive director at Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, has also served as a member of the Springfield Township Planning Commission and the Montgomery County Open Space Board.
Also in November, the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Institute of Architects presented A. Stevens Krug of West Chester with the President’s Award. Krug chairs the Climate Change Advisory Committee, a group of 16 appointed representatives that advises the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
Lawrence Township was among 26 municipalities to receive Sustainable Jersey Silver Certification for 2016. In 2000, the township helped launch Sustainable Jersey, a nonprofit providing tools, training and financial incentives toward sustainability programs.
New Computer Literacy Lab Educates Public on Web Skills, Job Hunts
SEAMAAC (Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations Coalition), a nonprofit that supports immigrants and refugees in their search for opportunities in their new homeland, launched a series of computer literacy classes in November, with more than 80 people in attendance.
The courses, held Thursdays and Saturdays at SEAMAAC’s outreach center at 2110 S. 8th St., cover typing skills, Microsoft programs, cover letter and resume drafting, email setup and the basics of navigating the internet.
The Comcast Foundation provided funding for the computer courses, and Sunrise of Philadelphia is supporting beginner and intermediate English classes in conjunction.
SEAMAAC plans to include tutorials on Pennsylvania’s COMPASS program and the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Public Housing Grant Will Expand Education Aid for Residents
The Philadelphia Housing Authority (PHA) will be able to hire two full-time “education navigators” with a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). These new employees will work with public housing youth and their families as they apply for federal student aid and educational opportunities.
“Education is a game changer,” said PHA President and CEO Kelvin Jeremiah. “This grant will help alleviate some of the barriers that prevent residents from going to college.”
The grant was made under HUD’s Project SOAR (Students + Opportunities + Achievements = Results), a pilot program to expand educational services to youth living in public housing.
Retail Chain Unveils Large Solar Energy Project in New Jersey
Jersey-based arts and crafts retailer A.C. Moore hopes to cut energy costs by as much as 50 percent with the installation of a rooftop solar panel on its distribution warehouse in Berlin, New Jersey. The installation covers 12.5 acres of roof space with more than 11,000 individual solar panels and generates 4,620,000 kilowatt-hours of clean renewable electricity—enough to power more than 350 homes.
City Lifts Ban on Serving Food in Public Parks
Philadelphia announced on July 5 that it will withdraw its ban on serving food in public parks, a move put in place in 2012 that resulted in a lawsuit from religious organizations that provide food to homeless and hungry people.
The city established the Food Access Collaborative in 2013, working with the plaintiffs and others to improve the availability of food and related services in healthy and safe environments.
“The solution to homelessness and hunger is not to stigmatize it and hide it from public view,” said Mayor Jim Kenney. “I share with the plaintiffs a steadfast commitment to serve those in need and, together with other homeless advocates, will continue to pursue short- and long-term approaches to improve food distribution and other vital services and, ultimately, to end hunger and homelessness in Philadelphia.”
New Homes in Fishtown Receive Highest LEED Certification Available
Awesometown—a mixed-income project by development company Postgreen Homes, in partnership with New Kensington Community Development Corporation—has been awarded LEED Platinum Version 4 certification. The project is one of the first in Philadelphia wherein a for-profit developer has partnered with a nonprofit community development corporation to build eco-friendly affordable housing.
Listeria Cases Prompt USDA Inspection of Raw Dairy
Miller’s Organic Farm in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania, must submit to inspection by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to a July ruling by the U.S. District Court for Eastern Pennsylvania in Allentown.
A March 18 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked the farm to listeriosis illnesses of individuals in California and Florida, one of whom died after being hospitalized for a Listeria monocytogenes infection.
$105K Awarded to Local Library Projects
The Knight Foundation’s News Challenge on Libraries included three Philadelphia library partnerships as winning prototypes for “re-imagining libraries in the 21st century.”
Launched in February, the Knight News Challenge asked for ideas that serve modern information needs, recognizing libraries as vital institutions that can play a role in engaging communities.
The winning Philly projects—each of which has been awarded $35,000—include a monthly service that uses agricultural CSAs as a model for introducing subscribers to librarian-curated digital content; a program in which media specialists take up residence in libraries and offer hands-on media training to community members; and a collaboration among libraries and the broader open-data community to support long-term access to open civic data through community information portals such as OpenDataPhilly.
Yards Founder Readies for a New Brewery Location
Yards Brewing Co. presented in July its plans for an 85,000-square-foot brewery at 5th and Spring Garden streets that would serve as a space for manufacturing, storage and distribution and include a larger brewpub with a kitchen. Yards President Tom Kehoe told Philadelphia Magazine that it was “hugely important” to stay near his workforce, a tight-knit group, many of whom often bike to work; the Clean Air Council named Yards the 2016 Clean Air Employer of the Year for encouraging and accommodating clean commuting practices.
Greensgrow West Moves to Bigger Location
Greensgrow Farms’ West Philly branch is moving this month to a larger and more permanent home two blocks away at 5123 Baltimore Ave. The new space will feature a high tunnel for growing an expanded selection of garden plants and gear, seasonal CSA, a farmstand, a chicken coop and a community house.
Organic Pioneer Awards to Honor Leaders in Sustainability
The nonprofit Rodale Institute in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, will host its sixth annual Organic Pioneer Awards (OPA) ceremony Sept. 10 to recognize three innovators in the fields of science, farming and business.
Environmental toxicologist Warren Porter will receive the Research Science Award for conducting studies on low level pesticide exposures in food and water with his team at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
David Vetter, owner of Grain Place Foods in Nebraska, will be given the organization’s Farm Award for his family business’ adoption of organic farming practices and for helping steward other local farms as they move toward organic production.
The CEO of Dr. Bronner’s natural soap company, David Bronner, won the Business Award for partnering with farmers to help them practice regenerative agriculture in Ghana, Kenya, India and Sri Lanka.
Ann Bartram Carr Garden Officially Opens
Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia has concluded a $2.7 million restoration of the city’s only 19th-century flower garden. The Ann Bartram Carr Garden is the first major garden restoration project at the site in nearly a century, and is now open to the public. Ann Carr was the granddaughter of pioneering botanist John Bartram.
Bike and Pedestrian Victory
The city’s streets will be closed to automobiles Sept. 24, from Front to South Street, through the Schuylkill River Trail, and along MLK Drive to Fairmount Park. The concept, Philly Free Streets, is a response to the relief many residents felt during the pope’s 2015 visit, when major Center City streets were free of cars and trucks.
by Alex Jones
These businesses double as kitchen and dining room: They provide a clean, certified and inspected space for food entrepreneurs at the production side of the supply chain, and then serve up a delicious final product to excited eaters in a beautiful space.
Location: Center City
Year founded: 2014
This cheery space along the eastern wall of Reading Terminal Market hosts programs such as a culinary camp for kids, tastings by market vendors and high-end dinners. It also serves as a production kitchen and staging area for Reading Terminal’s catering company, which hosts private parties, fundraisers and weddings after hours.
Greensgrow Community Kitchen
Year founded: 2009
In partnership with St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, five blocks west of their urban farm, Greensgrow uses their commercial space to host cooking classes, produce a line of Greensgrow-made value-added products, and provide hourly kitchen rental space to food trucks, caterers and other food entrepreneurs. (Since the church doesn’t allow alcohol, parties, weddings and more can be booked for the farm space.)
“Greensgrow was the first real pioneer in the effort to meet the growing demand for commissary kitchen facilities and was absolutely instrumental to our first year’s success.” —Alex Buckner, chef/owner, Local 215 food truck