Ice, Ice Baby: Winterfest Returns With Ice Skating, More Holiday Activities

The Penn's Landing event will run Nov. 24 through March 4

By Walter Foley

Hmmm... What to do on the day after Thanksgiving: Scramble through long lines and chaos to buy more junk on Black Friday, or go ice skating with friends among a forest of twinkling lights next to the Delaware River? 

Blue Cross RiverRink Winterfest will return Nov. 24 through March 4 with a regulation-sized outdoor ice skating rink, a chalet-inspired lodge with treats and beverages, and a kids’ lodge featuring small rides, pinball, air hockey and other arcade games.

Thousands of shimmering lights will be strung across the site, illuminating the rink and holiday tree, and a new canopy of lights at the north end will be outfitted with heaters and a seating area. More fire pits have been added this year, and there will be plenty of food, including pizza, pretzels, funnel cake, fried oreos and other bites from Chickie’s & Pete’s, Garces Group and Franklin Fountain. During peak hours, guests 21 and older can enjoy craft beers and hot cocktails such as spiked hot chocolate, as well as apple cider from Linvilla Orchards.

“The additional Winterfest activities bring an extra element of excitement to the experience, creating a new tradition for everyone who visits,” said Yvette Bright, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Independence Blue Cross, which is sponsoring the 24th installment of this seasonal event at 101 S. Christopher Columbus Blvd.

Admission to Winterfest is free; skate sessions cost $3, but are free for Independence Blue Cross cardholders and employees. Skate rentals are available for $10, but visitors are allowed to bring their own, and skate-sharpening services are offered on-site.

Opening weekend activities include LEGO building, facepainting, claymation, circus arts and photo-ops with a life-sized snow globe. Normal operating hours are Mondays through Thursdays from 1 to 11 p.m.; Fridays from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. 

The full schedule of events at includes extended opening-weekend and holiday hours, as well as transportation options.

Santa Claus will be skating from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in December through the 17th. Twelve days of Christmas movies—screened inside the cozy lodge—will include “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” “Elf,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and other family favorites. 

Scheduled events also include: storytime sessions hosted by the Free Library on Saturdays; a New Year’s Eve fireworks display on the waterfront; Winterfest Brewfest on Jan. 20 and 21; Snowie Bowie on Jan. 13 (featuring tributes to the late artist with concert footage, facepainting, themed cocktails and a screening of the film “Labyrinth”); and Sweetheart Skate on Valentine’s Day.

From Nov. 30 through Dec. 31, the festival will also participate in Philadelphia’s Historic District HoliDays & Nights, a newly formed seasonal collaboration among the city’s museums, restaurants and shops between the Delaware River and 7th Street and Vine and Lombard Streets. Shuttle services will offer free rides throughout the district Thursdays through Saturdays from 6 to 9 p.m.

The entire skating rink, lodge and warming cabins (outfitted with seasonal décor and electric fireplaces) can also be privately rented during off-peak hours.

NextFab Seeks to Invest $100k in Four Hardware Startups

Application process now open to innovative start-ups with a prototype

By Walter Foley

NextFab’s RAPID Hardware Accelerator is accepting applications now through Jan. 18. for its spring 2018 cohort, in which four hardware startups will each receive up to $25,000 in funding, along with access to equipment, software and training to help propel their ideas into the real world.

“We are looking for startups that have a physical prototype and are working in a sector where we have strong expertise, like medical devices, new sensors and systems for monitoring and detection, consumer electronics, and devices that improve the STEM experience for kids and students,” said NextFab CFO Ken Tomlinson in a press release. “Of course, we are going to consider good applications from other sectors as well.”

RAPID—Revenue through Advanced manufacturing, Product development, Innovation and Design thinking—will match the selected teams with mentors, provide technical and business consulting, and offer resources for prototyping. At the end of the program, teams can pitch their startup strategies to a panel of judges made up of entrepreneurs, advisers and NextFab staff. 

The 12-week program runs from March 1 through May 24, primarily through NextFab’s 2025 Washington Ave. location—although this isn’t strictly a Philly affair.

“Our previous cohort greatly expanded our reach, because we managed to attract startups coming all the way from Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.,” said Todor Raykov, NextFab’s venture services manager. “For our next cohort, we will keep the geographical scope the same, but we are going to double our efforts to bring even more value to the selected entrepreneurs. Connecting them to our network of local manufacturers, investors, advisers, successful entrepreneurs, and the great talent pool available in Philly is what we think will keep these startups in our region.”

Recent members of the program include Blue Dragon Bioimaging, which produces research-grade microscopes with souped-up technology; Circalux, a developer of portable lighting designed to be less invasive to sleep patterns; Strados Labs, which is working on smart technology for people with chronic asthma; and Vibrating Therapeutic Apparel, a developer of technology to alleviate phantom-limb pain among people who have had limbs amputated.

Read more about NextFab here.

Tibetan Buddhist Center Opens in Fishtown

Sand mandala by Tibetan-born artist and TBC founder being created in open house


By Walter Foley

After a long search and major building renovations, the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia opened the doors to its new location Nov. 5 at 954 N. Marshall St. in Fishtown.

Venerable Lama Losang Samten led traditional chants and readings, and guests were invited to pour the first grains of a Medicine Buddha mandala—a painting made with colored sand—which will be dismantled in a ceremony Nov. 12 at noon. This event is open to the public, along with a jazz concert Nov. 8 and a meditation class Nov. 11 ($15 donation).

Samten is glad to have a permanent home for the center’s classes, meditation and charity work—although, of course, he offers a quick reminder: “There’s no such thing as permanent.”

The dismantling of the mandala—in which a group of people push the sand toward the center of the table, thus destroying the delicate design—represents ephemerality. Sand mandalas can sometimes take more than a month to complete, with one person carefully pouring thin streams of colored grains into complex patterns that could disappear with a sneeze.

All Buddhist mandalas have a core message of wisdom and compassion, Samten said, and each design represents a theme within that message. The Medicine Buddha is depicted holding herbs to represent healing; the prevalence of the color blue in this design is significant in that it evokes a sort of serenity. Samten said a neurosurgeon approached him after the Nov. 5 ceremony, explaining that staff at his workplace wear blue scrubs in the operating rooms, as it is thought to have a calming effect.

Samten has been painting mandalas for almost three decades, which is an unusually long time within the tradition, he said. The craft is typically practiced and mastered by a young apprentice who eventually moves on to other projects, but Samten still has frequent requests for mandalas from schools and museums, so he continues to paint.

Although his exercises in patience help him stay engaged with this arduous process (Samten paints these intricate designs from memory), physical aches and pains have worsened a bit over the years. But Buddhist monks don’t complain very much.

“The aches and pains are special to me. Aches and pains are part of our lives,” says Samten, who walks a lot and does yoga to keep his body loose when he is not painting.

Samten still uses sand from the original batch he brought to the U.S. from India in a suitcase in 1988. He periodically adds more sand as his mandalas come and go, and as observers are given small handfuls as souvenirs. Included in his palette are sand grains he’s collected from the Grand Canyon and a Catholic holy site in Chimayó, New Mexico.

Samten’s first sand mandala in the U.S. was at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. In 1989, he was invited to paint one at the University of Pennsylvania, and he quickly made an impression on a group of students, teachers and seekers, said Ken Klein, former president of the Tibetan Buddhist Center of Philadelphia and an original member of this core group. Local Buddhists wrote to Samten’s boss—whom you may have heard of—to ask for a favor.

“During that time period, we had asked Losang to stay in Philadelphia to be our teacher, and he said it wasn’t his decision to make. We had to ask the Dalai Lama, because Losang was from the Dalai Lama’s monastery… kind of like the Harvard of monasteries,” Klein said. “The Dalai Lama gave [donations] to Losang, and we used that money to build our first center.”

10 Things to Do Before November Is Over

Make compost from fallen leaves. It’s not hard to gather and shred leaves from the neighborhood to make killer compost that will give your garden a boost this spring.

Plant your spring bulbs. It’s your last chance before winter weather sets in, so early this month, go buy the last of the bulbs that are on sale and get those beauties in the ground. 

Order your free-range turkey. Don’t get caught buying a bird that was raised on a factory farm! Get your order in now from any number of local farmers who raise free-range turkeys.

Wrap up your water heater. Spending $30 on wrapping up your water heater can save you as much as 16 percent on your utility bill. If your average monthly cost is $100, that’s $192 in yearly savings!

Break out the board games. Whether you’re a cut-throat scrabble player or can’t stop laughing during a Cards Against Humanity bout, there is no cozier way to spend the evening with friends.

Make mulled cider. There’s no special trick here… just simmer good old-fashioned apple cider and mulling spices such as cinnamon, clove, allspice and orange rind. It works with wine, too!

Get your gift list together. Whether you’re trying to keep your environmental footprint light, protect the impact on your wallet or you’re ready for a little splurge, getting your plan together will make you less dependent on shipments from online retailers. See our picks, Page XX.

Make room in your closet for holiday gifts. After the presents are unwrapped from the holidays, city dwellers in small spaces are left wondering: Where am I going to put this? Take a little time now to donate or rehome items you don’t need so there’s room for grandma’s sweater.

Do a deep clean. There may be one or two more days this month when we get to open the windows, but then we’ll be shut in for the winter. Take the time to do a deep clean on your living space so that you aren’t sealing the dirt and dust that has been collecting under the bed, on top of fans and cabinets, or inside your closets. It will improve your mood and your indoor air quality.

Be thankful. Gratitude is scientifically proven to positively impact your mental and physical health, better your relationships, increase empathy, decrease aggression and even help you sleep better. Take just 15 minutes to make a list about what you’re truly grateful for in your life. You’ll be glad to be well-rested and feeling balanced when it’s time for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Minimalism with Minis

After a move to the suburbs, a reckoning

By Jennifer Ghymn

Before my daughter came along, my husband and I were city folk living in tiny, 500-square-feet apartments. We only had room for the basics, and if something was purchased, then something else had to go. Having less clutter allowed us to make the most of what we had, and we lived in the present, spending time on priorities like traveling, meeting friends and taking walks. Cleaning up only took 15 minutes. We were happy living with less.

Today, we live in a 2,500-square-foot home in the suburbs. 

We moved for a job, but we bought the house because we wanted to raise a family. Somehow, we interpreted having a child as needing to acquire more stuff, needing more space to fill with stuff, and buying enough stuff to accommodate what we perceived would be our child’s needs. 

What I’ve come to understand is that an extra bouncy seat, an electric swing and a surplus of swaddle blankets just weren’t necessary for survival in my child’s first year of life. Going overboard was a coping mechanism for my insecurities as a new parent. Having the stuff meant being prepared for the crying or uncertainty that often comes with babies. Occupying her immediate needs with an object or motorized distraction helped settle my nerves when I felt like my own parenting reservoir was not enough. 

But now, my living room is a landscape of stuffed animals and board books. I’m not proud. The chaotic clutter stresses me out. 

So as her fourth birthday approaches, I take pause in evaluating this surplus of plastic, paper and battery-operated toys that fills our home. I know what it feels like to live with less. And I want that for her. She can learn from my mistakes. 

Even as I approach this project, I know it will be easier to tempt or—ahem—bribe my daughter with a Hatchimal or tutu. (I didn’t realize that her first advertising campaign was me trying to sell her on the benefits of strawberry-flavored Mickey Mouse toothpaste. “Of course you want to brush with Mickey! He gets your teeth nice and clean.”) But I won’t. I’m betting on her maturing behavior to follow my lead.

She is now at an age where we can talk about behaviors instead of redirecting emotions. “Before we can play outside, we must put away our things.” For the most part she listens and tidies up. I will cheerfully help and show her how proud I am of our small but satisfying accomplishment. Sometimes enthusiasm and a positive attitude are enough motivation to reward behavior. However, when push comes to shove, I find that a song and dance routine turns chore into fun.

We are going to go through the exercise of purging the excess together. We can experience as a family the joy of giving away toys, clothes or books to those who may need it. For kids—for my daughter—having less will mean using creativity and imagination to explore, play and be resourceful. I want to teach her that the world is full of endless possibilities. 

And I want her to know that minimalism is more than just a donation of used possessions. It’s prioritizing what’s essential in life, like time together to just laugh and be and to make room for new discoveries together.

Parenting has evolved from just managing the physical needs of a baby and toddler to raising a child into a proper human being. The only thing I want to collect with her is memories.

Jennifer Ghymn is a writer, digital marketer and intentional tourist living in Reading, Pa. Learn more at

Holiday Gift Guide: Kids & Pets - Don't Forget the Little Ones!

No holiday goes by without having at least one child or four-legged companion whom you just can’t help finding something special for. Whether it’s a favorite niece or your neighbor’s adorable pit bull, here are some treats that will keep them smiling all year.

Toys from Tadpole Creations

Toys are among the worst offenders when it comes to useless plastic junk. Find organic cotton dolls and rattles, carefully constructed by hand and filled with eco-friendly, corn-based Ingeo fibers from this local line of toys.

Art by Martha Rich at Minnow Lane

Art for a kid’s room or playspace is a timeless gift, which makes the pressure to find something cool even greater. Look no further than the happy, colorful collage art featuring menageries of animals, flowers and botanicals by local artist Martha Rich, appropriate for kids of all ages.

Pet Food Subscription from Ponzmo

For a friend or family member who treats their dog like royalty, sign them up for a pet-food subscription from Ponzmo. This Philly-based startup crafts human-grade, vet-developed “farm-to-bowl” cuisine, with humanely raised, ethically sourced hormone- and steroid-free chicken and USDA Grade A beef. The slow-cooked meals are delivered preportioned and frozen. Cat people, take note: A formula for kitties is in the works.

Average prices: small dog, $1.80/meal; medium dog, $3.07/meal; large dog, $4.20/meal

Prepaid Trips to Bark Park

This indoor dog playspace is coming to South Philly in January 2018 and will offer day care, recreational play, training services and grooming services to dog owners. In a show of modern workstyle solidarity, they’ll also offer a dog-friendly co-working center.
Dog park drop-in, $10/day; doggy day care, $32/day
Grooming services: various prices

Holiday Gift Guide: Deep Green Giving: Gifts That Go Easy on the Planet

You recycle everything. On Buy Nothing Day (Nov. 24), you actually buy nothing. Compost, vermiculture, charcoal water filters and a home efficiency audit are your everyday mode. You’re not just green, you’re deep green (many props to you!). So, how do you give in a way that doesn’t contribute to the holiday-industrial complex? How do you give the people in your life something special (or chip in to the annual white elephant at the office) without loading the planet down with more stuff? Here are Grid’s suggestions for thoughtful, creative gifts with minimal environmental impact.

Upcycled Cashmere Gloves from Sardine Clothing

This is guilt-free luxury: Maryanne Petrus Gilbert takes vintage cashmere sweaters and gives them new life as cute-but-practical fingerless gloves. Each pair is individually made, often with quirky stitching or appliqués. Pick up a pair at her boutique in Manayunk or swing by Sardine Clothing’s Etsy store to find the perfect pair.

Teas & Tinctures from Hunter Moon Herbs

Make a gift basket of a bottle of Fire Cider (an apple-cider-vinegar-based tonic meant to ward off colds), a bag of Relaxing Tea and one of the other carefully blended products from Philly-based Harvest Moon Herbs. Owner Lindsay Duggan, a trained herbalist, harvests all of the ingredients from her garden in South Philly, or forages them locally.

Love Letter Mural Train Tour From the Mural Arts Program

Almost every weekend, Mural Arts offers a train tour on the El of Steve Powers’ “A Love Letter for You,” a series of 50 murals painted on West Philly buildings in 2010. The 90-minute tour departs from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts at 128 N. Broad St. and is led by tour guides who illuminate these tender works at various stops.
$22 per person, includes SEPTA token

Vegan Cork Wallet

The totes and wallets from local artist Tim Eads are beautiful, functional and low impact. They are screenprinted and handsewn right here in Philadelphia and come in cool, abstract prints that will stand out while you’re digging in your bag to pay for your meal at Blackbird Pizzeria. You can also find unbleached canvas totes and other great items in his extensive online shop.

A 'Group Ride' Commitment with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia

All throughout the year, the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia offers a wide variety of group rides, ranging from entry-level to epic, for enthusiastic cyclists all over the region. Search its website to find a ride in 2018 that suits you and a pal, and sign up! It’ll give you something to look forward to after the indulgence of the holidays.
Free; membership is $20–$30 (optional)

Growler Fill from Your Local Brewery

Without packaging or fuel for shipping (and while supporting the micro-economy of your neighborhood), buying straight from the tap at your local brewery is by far the greenest way to procure beer. Glass growlers are reusable and recyclable—and they’re often stamped with the brewery’s logo, so you can rep your neighborhood, too.
Various prices, usually between $15–$25

Foraged Bouquet

Yes, summer gardens have withered, but there’s still plenty of color, texture and fragrance to be found in the flora outside your front door. Take a walk through the neighborhood, or find a trail to hike, and gather interesting leaves, sticks, berries, pine cones and anything else that catches your eye. Arrange these into a bouquet in a mason jar.
Practically free

Holiday Gift Guide: The Big Splurge

If this is the year that you’re ready to go for it with a big-statement gift, we have you covered. But please, don’t spend your hard-earned money at the mall or a giant box store. There are so many talented artists and makers in your own backyard creating amazing things. Keep your cash working locally, and enjoy the double thrill of a socially responsible splurge.

A Succulent in a Brian Giniewski Planter

There is something about an ice-cream-drippy planter from local ceramicist Brian Giniewski that is begging for a Haworthia fasciata (or another houseplant of your choosing). His colorful, oddly appealing creations cost quite a bit more than terra cotta, but will provide the giftee with a little jolt of happiness every day.

Framed Woodcut/Papercut from Philly Love Notes

For an almost definite future heirloom, check out the astounding woodcuts from Emma Fried-Cassorla. These delicately cut maps, handmade from Baltic birch, really are love notes, showing off the whole city grid, specific neighborhoods or, for an extra splurge, custom maps, with special locations highlighted with the symbol of your choosing. Bonus points for custom framing at your local frame shop.
$50–$350 for the woodcuts, framing prices vary

Glassblowing Classes at East Falls Glass

Introduce someone to an enchanting new craft, or delight a glassblowing pro with a chance to further explore the art. East Falls Glass, a well-appointed, community-driven studio, offers a range of workshops and classes for glassblowers at any skill level, taught by experienced artisans. Classes are open to ages 13 and up.

ReAnimator Coffee Subscription

For a coffee lover (read: addict), there is a specific joy in knowing that a fresh bag of locally roasted beans will show up every few weeks. ReAnimator’s simple, user-friendly subscription interface makes it easy to send single-origin beans every three, six or 12 months. Gift recipients can edit their subscription anytime, or even skip a week if they’ll be out of town.

Dinner at Vedge

There’s a very good reason that Vedge is considered one of the best vegan restaurants in the country. Blow a vegetarian friend’s mind with a no-holds-barred dinner at this fantastic Gayborhood spot—drinks, dessert, the whole nine. Even better, bring an omnivorous friend for an eye-opening and unforgettable walk on the vegan side.
Various prices

Kole Butcher Block

Every home cook understands the importance of a good cutting board. Then why do so many of us still use flimsy plastic ones? The endgrain wooden butcher blocks from design and build company Kole show off the growth rings and natural gradients in color in the reclaimed white oak and responsibly harvested walnut that make up these gorgeous kitchen tools.

A Signed Copy of the FedNuts Cookbook and a Dozen Doughnuts

In between conquering the city with delicious hummus, falafel, soup and doughnuts, the team at Cook N Solo has written “Federal Donuts: The (Partially) True Spectacular Story,” a cookbook and business memoir in one. Score a signed (and personalized!) copy for a Fednuts-obsessed friend, and add a dozen fancies for inspiration.
$16.99 for the book, $18–$30 for the doughnuts

Handmade Leather Shoes from Mason Dixon Made

These supple leather desert boots are every bit as stylish as ones you’d find at a high-end boutique, but instead of being mass produced overseas, they’re shaped and stitched together by hand in a small workspace in Kensington. Different color leathers and laces make for a unique, sweet pair of kicks that will be just as appropriate at the office as at the dive bar for happy hour.

Sweater From Steel Pony

This clothing studio on Fabric Row has been creating bohemian-fabulous garments since 1992, when it was founded by couple Joanne Litz and Dennis Wolk. Their casual-but-chic pullover, poncho and cardigan sweaters are American made: California-grown cotton is pigmented with Massachusetts-sourced dyes, knitted in North Carolina and upstate New York, and then finished here in Philadelphia.

Botanist Watch from Analog Watch Co.

This successful accessory startup based in South Philly uses natural resources for design inspiration. Previous Analog collections have included wristwear made from sustainable wood and marble, and its newest venture, the Botanist Collection, returns to the earth, as well. Each unisex watch features natural plant material—color-stabilized flowers and moss—artfully suspended in clear resin.
$70–$84 on Kickstarter

Holiday Gift Guide: The Budget Holiday

The holidays can be extra tough for anyone living on a budget. Even if you usually get by month-to-month, the cultural compulsion to consume extra in December is hard to avoid. While it’s easy to say that the value of a gift has nothing to do with its price tag, resisting the urge to spend can be trickier than many of us would like to admit. Whether you just need to pick up a few extra things for acquaintances or need to keep your whole shopping list under control, we’ve got some suggestions for budget gifts that don’t sacrifice style or sentiment.

DIY Wreath with Christmas Tree Clippings

Unwind a few metal clothes hangers and reshape them into circles. Then, gather some trimmings from a Christmas tree (or forage around for some evergreen boughs), and, following any of the thousands of online tutorials, use floral twine or green twist ties to fashion a lovely wreath. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect; irregularities and asymmetry lend that cozy, handmade aesthetic.
Practically free

Kombucha SCOBY with Brewing Instructions

That kombucha mother you’ve been cultivating is a little gift factory waiting to happen. You can gently peel layers off of a healthy SCOBY and put them in small jars with sweetened tea and a half cup of starter. A kombucha baby in a jar, tied with a pretty ribbon and accompanied by simple brewing instructions, makes a great gift for your booch-addicted friends.
Practically free

Send a card from Groundswell Greetings

Does your BFF or favorite cousin really need another scented candle? Instead, send a card from Groundswell Greetings, a woman-owned and -operated company that features work from independent Philly artists. Printed on recycled paper, they sport charming designs celebrating all kinds of holidays, not just Christmas. Find them online or in a handful of shops, including Vix Emporium, Nice Things Handmade and Vault + Vine.
$5 or less, plus free shipping

'100 Things to Do in Philadelphia Before You Die' Book

Give your favorite Philly diehard a ready-made bucket list and a valuable resource to explore the city even more fully. This book’s author, Irene Levy Baker, knows the ins and outs of our fair city; she worked for nearly a decade for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, and she guides readers toward all the secret Philly gems.

Reusable Linens and Filters From the Kitchen Garden Series

These beautiful napkins step up your entertainment game, and the coffee and tea filters will help any coffee or tea fanatic brew clean and green. Between uses, the single-serve tea bags and size 4 coffee cone filters can be rinsed out or even run through the dishwasher and then reused hundreds of times. The handmade, heirloom-quality linens are designed by local artist Heidi Barr and made in Philly, and 25 percent of the proceeds are donated to Henry Got Crops and the East Park Revitalization Alliance, two organizations growing food inside the city limits.

Tinsel Town

The holiday gift-giving season is upon us- make a star of your local makers

It’s become something of a sport to call out how much earlier each year stores begin to put up tinsel and displays announcing the holiday gift-buying season. I started seeing Facebook posts as early as mid-October from unsettled friends who went to buy Halloween candy and instead were haunted by Christmas carols emanating from store-aisle speakers. 

Part of the problem, according to Peter Cappelli, a business expert at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is that as income inequality continues to worsen, fewer and fewer people have money to buy the things they need, much less the extra electronics, new clothing and high-end personal-care items that are the hallmark of the giving season. 

“Corporations are awash in money right now,” Cappelli says. “The problem is they don’t have enough demand from consumers to increase their production and hire more people.” He explains that the poor spend every dollar they have, but the rich don’t; they invest, save and pass on some as inheritance. As fewer and fewer people hold on to more and more of the wealth, it depresses the economy as a whole.  

Perhaps, then, the early holiday displays are a sign of desperation. The retail industry’s woes are compounded by the fact that online retailers such as Amazon have disrupted the brick-and-mortar business model, including in the publishing industry. That’s why, for the past several years, I’ve made it a point to buy most of my family’s Christmas gifts from local, independent bookshops. 

I’m as guilty as anyone of falling prey to the ease of one-click shopping when I’m in a time crunch, but for those of us lucky enough to have extra money to buy holiday gifts, it’s increasingly important to slow down, plan early and resist both the glow of a computer screen and the convenience of a big-box store. 

The benefits of keeping our dollars in the local economy are many, and in Philadelphia, a vibrant city awash with makers and artisans, it’s also easy. It’s possible to find amazing, locally crafted clothing, durable goods and world-class food and spirits on every corner. If you’re a community-minded person in general, you already know how satisfying it is to shake hands with your farmer, to know your barista by name and to get a warm hello when you walk into your favorite shop—it’s a feeling you can’t put a price tag on, but you’re also contributing to their bottom line.

And, whether it’s because you’re living a minimalist life or you just believe that the best gift of all is time together—Philadelphia has you covered. From the promise of group bike rides with friends to treating your family to dinner at a favorite restaurant, the options are endless, and the memories are forever. 

Finally, if you’re part of a family that has forgone gift-giving altogether, this holiday season you could consider donating more than you usually do to charity: So many of our fellow Americans lost everything during the hurricane season, and they need for us to remember them, because the 24-hour news cycle won’t. Electricity, food and water are at the top of their wish lists right now, so if you have the means, dig deep.

No matter the time of year, giving feels good, and kindness matters—so does supporting our local economy. Now go make this season count.

Heather Shayne Blakeslee


Comings & Goings

Fairmount Park Conservancy Hires New Director, Financial Officer

Jamie Gauthier was hired as executive director of Fairmount Park Conservancy on Sept. 13. Gauthier began working at the conservancy as senior director of public partnerships in January, and she has served as acting executive director since July, upon the departure of Rick Magder. 

Gauthier has a master’s degree in city planning from the University of Pennsylvania and has served as executive director of the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Philadelphia. 

On Sept. 1, Gauthier hired the conservancy’s first chief financial officer, Cynthia E. Roberts, who previously worked as director of finance for the Children’s Literacy Initiative.

Organizers Host Statewide Actions Against Trump’s DACA Repeal

A statewide coalition of membership organizations called #paresist demonstrated at various cities in Pennsylvania to support the passage of a Clean Dream Act in response to the Trump administration’s rescission of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—the immigration policy that had until recently enrolled almost
1 million “Dreamers.” 

Statewide participating organizations included Keystone Progress, Planned Parenthood, Women's March PA, PA Voice, Lycoming County Progressives and Rise Up Doylestown.

Council Member Introduces Green-Roof Legislation, Joins Sierra Club to Push for Clean Energy

City Council Member Blondell Reynolds Brown, chair of the Council Committee on the Environment, introduced an ordinance on Sept. 28 that will make utilizing the current Green Roof Density Bonus more uniform across development types.

This amendment provides clarity to two concurrent bills introduced in spring 2017, and ensures that the “Commercial Mixed-Use” designation gets the same bonus as residential developments that incorporate approved green roofs into the building design. Under the code, if a green roof is to be installed and meets certain conditions, then the total number of allowable units in the development increases by 25 percent.

“This measure establishes uniformity across districts,” said Reynolds Brown. 

In addition, Reynolds Brown introduced a resolution urging President Trump to affirm the Clean Water Rule, a 2015 regulation that clarifies water resource management under a provision of the Clean Water Act.

Reynolds Brown also joined the Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter—along with clean air and clean energy advocates—to launch Ready for 100 Philadelphia, “a campaign to transition the city to 100 percent clean, renewable energy through equitable, community collaboration.”

So far, 45 U.S. cities have committed to the Sierra Club’s national campaign, including Phoenixville and West Chester in the Philly suburbs. 

The Sept. 28 campaign launch at the Philadelphia Ethical Society included representatives from the Mayor’s Office and the Office of Sustainability, as well as local leaders in sustainability.

Nonprofits and Businesses Team Up to Plant Near Parks, Schools

The Philadelphia Orchard Project and its partners planted trees and expanded community orchards Oct. 7 at Bartram’s Garden, Bartram High School and Tilden Middle School as a part of Boise Paper’s Project UP. The initiative was funded through sales of select office papers, and POP was joined by the Alliance for Community Trees (a program of the Arbor Day Foundation), employees from Office Depot and community volunteers.

“Community orchards are a powerful means to engage urban residents with spaces producing healthy food right in their own neighborhoods,” explained Phil Forsyth, executive director of the nonprofit POP. “We’re creating functioning ecologies that produce fruit and create opportunities for communities to reconnect with nature and the food system.”

Participants planted more than 50 fruit trees, 80 berry bushes and fruiting vines, and hundreds of perennial flowers and herbs. Philadelphia was the ninth planting sponsored by Project UP, which has helped to revitalize distressed parks and neighborhoods in Indianapolis, Baltimore, Miami, Toronto, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Cleveland.

Local Study Abroad Program Wins International Award

The GREEN Program, a Philly-based study abroad program, was among four organizations to share the #1 Education Abroad Provider award from the World Youth Student and Travel Confederation, held at the annual Global Youth Travel Awards on Sept. 28 in Montreal. 

The GREEN Program is in its seventh year and operating in multiple countries in three continents. Its educational trips take place during winter, spring and summer breaks and they last eight to
10 days.

Proposed King of Prussia Rail Seeks Support through alliance

The King of Prussia Rail Coalition—a group of business, civic and academic leaders—formed in October to support SEPTA’s proposed Norristown High Speed Line extension to King of Prussia, which would link the suburb to Philly. 

“When we look at King of Prussia and the wonders it provides in terms of economic growth... it becomes incredibly important to make sure we do not pass King of Prussia by, that King of Prussia becomes just as accessible as other parts of our region,” said Jerry Sweeney, president and chief executive of developer Brandywine Realty Trust. 

In October, Sweeney was named chairman of the King of Prussia Rail Coalition, which includes officials with the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, the King of Prussia District business association, and officials with Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University, reported. The project anticipates completion in 2023 at a cost of $1.1 billion.

The Fix

America’s workplaces, and the policies that serve workers, are in need of renovation. Do we have the political will for an overhaul?

Interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

We’re awash in news accounts of workplace sexual harassment, the “fight for $15,” cities vying for the Amazon HQ2 bid, and Congress debating which public policies they claim will help “regular” Americans. Grid asked Peter Cappelli, management professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, his thoughts about what we can do to fix some of our broken systems.

You’ve written a lot about workplace culture. Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes are out. Uber’s Travis Kalanick, out. Harvey Weinstein, out. It seems as though every day there’s another report of sexual harassment. Do you think there will be a sea change?
PC: I think so. There already was, I think, a pretty big change in the big corporations. I don’t think there is a lot of explicit sexual harassment going on now in the big corporations. They’re really sensitive to it in the HR side, the complaint side. They know it’s bad for PR, they know the government has been watching them—the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission and the Department of Labor—and they don’t tolerate it.

You think about all of these revelations that you’ve just mentioned, every one of them is in organizations where individuals can be like personal dictators—the founder, right—at these small companies which suddenly get rich, like Silicon Valley, or even Amazon. I think it will be a big change in those companies. You’re not going to see any difference at GE or IBM or Procter & Gamble or any of those folks, but you’re going to start seeing it in these smaller companies where the boss, the founder, sets these quirky, dysfunctional cultures.

Philadelphia is among the cities bidding for the new Amazon headquarters, which the company says could bring in 50,000 jobs. Two years ago, The New York Times did an exposé on what was characterized as a brutal and cutthroat culture. Is that picture accurate, and, if so, what has been done to correct it?

PC: I don’t know much, independently, from Amazon—although I do know that they haven’t done an awful lot, other than [CEO] Jeff Bezos saying, “No, it’s not [like that].” I haven’t seen much of anybody say it’s not true. I guess, for Philadelphia, there’s kind of a “so what?” issue. For one thing, it’s not clear what a headquarters away from the real headquarters is. Duplicate headquarters would just be crazy expensive and complicated. So I suspect that they’ll have an administrative center, and I don’t think that has to operate the way things do at an actual headquarters, where the boss is there and everybody’s competing for the boss’ attention and it still feels kind of like a startup. They do have that reputation—but it is a reputation at the headquarters.

Some workers aren’t getting by even while juggling multiple jobs. Will Pennsylvania or Philadelphia move toward a $15 minimum wage?
PC: We know across the country, cities tend to be Democratic; states are much more likely to be Republican. So you see the cities moving much more aggressively in this direction than the states. The thing you worry about is: If you raise the minimum wage, are you going to eliminate a lot of jobs at that level? The [research] is that small movements in the minimum wage don’t seem to have much effect on jobs. But there are recent studies out of Seattle, where they jumped the minimum wage a lot very quickly, and that did seem to reduce jobs at the low end. But part of that is this territorial problem: If you’re raising the minimum wage in a country, employers can’t do very much to get around it; if you raise it in a city, all they have to do is step over the border to the county—go over City Line Avenue or its equivalent. So you might see some of that going on, which would hurt jobs. I think what we know is: Gradual doesn’t seem to have much effect on jobs; rapid and big has an effect, especially if one jurisdiction is trying to do it and the ones around it are not.

Do you have a sense of what incremental would be? Pennsylvania’s (and Philadelphia’s) minimum wage is $7.25. What if we wanted to bring it up to $15?
PC: If it doubled in a period of tight labor markets, where wages were going up anyway, and it doubled over 10 years or something, it might not matter that much. If you’re trying to do a doubling in five years, that’s a pretty big move. I’m pretty sure there will be jobs lost in a move that big.

Is there one issue, program or approach at the federal level that you think would make things better for the average American?
PC: I don’t see anything being done that’s going to help the average worker.

[Tax policy reforms at the federal level] look like they’re going to be quite regressive, so that more of the cuts disproportionately go to rich people. The problem with that is that the states and local governments end up picking up the slack, and so they’ve got to raise taxes, and it ends up being worse for people who don’t have as much money, because the tax burden shifts away from the richer folks to everybody else. So there’s nothing on the policy agenda that is going to be any better
for workers. 

Even the immigration thing—illegal immigration, which is hard for anybody to support—it’s been declining sharply anyway, even before President Trump came in, because Mexico’s been doing better. A lot of them have gone home, because opportunities there are better and the U.S. economy has been in lousy shape for jobs for the last eight years or so.

Is there anything Congress could consider that you think would be good for workers?
PC: Policies that make it easier on families would be a good thing, for sure. Some of that is college costs, college loans, all that kind of stuff. Regulation of colleges could be better, particularly those that are predatory.

Keeping the minimum wage from eroding helps, because if you don’t raise it with inflation it starts to go down. Enforcing employment laws that exist, which tends to go down when Republicans are in office, goes up when Democrats are in office. That would be helpful. 

And if they had actually done this infrastructure investment—that was the one thing everybody on both sides thought made sense—that would be really important, I think, for everybody in the country, but especially for poorer people... Richer people don’t really need the infrastructure so much, especially the billionaire class. They fly in their own planes, they don’t drive very much, they don’t send their kids to public schools, any of that stuff. They don’t really need government very much, but everybody else does. Public services and public buildings and infrastructure—that would make everybody’s life better.

What's in a Name?

Don’t be fooled by stores with a global supply chain that claim to be ‘farmers markets’

By Danie Greenwell

Walk into a supermarket and you will find yourself caught up in a whirl of “local,” “organic” and “farm fresh” merchandising. These words are intended to make us feel better about our purchases, but it is clear they have lost meaning.

Shifts in meaning, grammar and syntax are to be expected, but words are also intentionally misused by marketers to sell products. There was a point when the term “local food” had a clear(ish) definition: It was food grown on small, family owned farms and transported short distances by the farmers or by small distributors who kept the growers’ best interests in mind. 

Bypassing large corporations meant farmers saw a greater share of the proceeds, which allowed for the preservation of family farmland and a system that strengthened the local economy.

But once “local food” became popular, marketers from huge frozen-food companies with global supply chains wanted in, and the market was flooded with false advertising. Suddenly, those of us who spent years promoting “local” found ourselves on the defensive—we had to explain why our food is different, because the phrase that started the movement had been devalued.

Another phrase being devalued is “farmers market.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a farmers market is “two or more farmer-producers that sell their own agricultural products directly to the general public at a fixed location, which includes fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products and grains.” According to state law in Maine, “‘farmers market’ means a building, structure or place used by two or more farmers for the direct sale of farm and food products to consumers.” The statute includes a list of agricultural categories. Sadly, we have no such legal protection for farmers in Pennsylvania, Delaware or New Jersey.

In Philadelphia, a farmers market could be a weekly outdoor market that fits the current USDA definition, the 9th Street Italian Market, the Reading Terminal Market, an organic grocery store or even a truck parked on the side of the road filled with boxes of produce grown in South America.

You may ask why it is important that farmers markets remain producer-only markets. 

Not doing so means that customers have no idea where their food was grown, the farmers have not been paid a fair value for their products and the products are of lower quality. To travel thousands of miles, products are picked unripe and ripened artificially. They pass through multiple hands and risk contamination at each handling point. Nutrients and vitamins are lost during shipment and storage. 

These foods are more healthful than heavily processed ones, but companies should promote their produce without devaluing the term “farmers market.”

There will soon be a new chain grocery store in South Philadelphia. The store’s title inaccurately uses the term “farmers market.” There are no farmers at the store, and the people selling food were not involved in its production. And this store is not the only one appropriating the term for its own benefit. In my research, I found several regional markets and bazaars with the name “farmers market” in their title that had few or no farmers.

Informed consumers realize stores that use “farmers market” in their branding misrepresent their commitment to farmers. But there are plenty of shoppers who do not. Farm to City’s efforts to promote farmers markets as lucrative venues for growers have been devalued to create more profits for companies that do not give farmers ethical prices for their products. In turn, farmers currently making income to support their families and maintain their farmland may lose that ability if real farmers markets go under.

There are actions you can take to make changes. Start by contacting companies that inaccurately label themselves farmers markets and have them explain why they are engaging in false advertising. You can also contact local and state representatives and ask for a statute to protect the term. Educating yourself is also key: Learn phrases related to the local food movement and insist on their accurate use. Finally, shop at a real farmers market and meet the people who grow the food you feed to your family.

The more you shop at the farmers market, the easier it is to pick out who is honestly selling you locally grown food from small family farms, and who is simply trying to cash in on the local food movement.

Danie Greenwell works with Farm to City, a business whose mission is to “unite communities, families and farmers year-round through good, locally grown food.”

Specialty Grocers for the Inspired Cook

When your recipe requires some serious shopping, Philadelphia has you covered

Ey Emily Kovach

If you’re doing a deep dive into an unfamiliar cuisine, sometimes the hardest part is finding the right ingredients. But all over the Philadelphia region, you’ll not only find specialty shops where you can get what you need to create a from-scratch gourmand masterpiece, you can also pick up store-made specialties. 

Here are a few of our favorites.

Shop the ’Burbs


Founded in 2003 by Seiko Dailey, Maido! is the only Japanese-owned grocery store in the Philadelphia area. Maido! occupies a storefront on East Lancaster Avenue in Ardmore and offers a wide selection of Japanese groceries, including an amazing array of candy and frozen treats that you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else locally. 

Home cooks looking to create authentic Japanese cuisine will be thrilled to find traditional ingredients, including shimeji mushrooms, komatsuna leaves, kabu radishes and mizuna from Suzuki Farm in Delmar, Delaware. The shop also sells Japanese stationery, cosmetics and toys, some that may be recognizable (Hello Kitty and Pokémon characters), and others that are more obscure.

Maido! is also an eat-in lunch counter, serving up okonomiyaki, yakisoba, oyakodon (rice bowls), curries and more traditional bites. 

Maido translates to “every time,” but is used regionally as a friendly greeting similar to “nice to see you again!” This benevolent spirit is apparent from the friendly, open customer service in the shop—they even offer a shuttle service to those without access to cars! The market’s Saturday shuttle runs between the Japanese Language School of Philadelphia (1101 City Line Ave.) starting at 9:30 a.m., returning about every 30 minutes until 2 p.m. Groups of six or more shoppers in Center City or University City can call to request the shuttle on Saturday or Sunday afternoons.

5 E. Lancaster Ave. in Ardmore

Armenian Delight

Tucked into an unassuming shopping center on West Chester Pike in Broomall is Armenian Delight, a family owned market selling Armenian, Greek, Lebanese and other Mediterranean products. For immigrant families in the western ’burbs, this store is a mainstay for all kinds of ingredients, from jarred goods (imported honey, walnut preserves, tahini, pomegranate juice) to cheeses (feta and halloumi), as well as spices, nuts, dried fruits and olives with authentic origins that provide a taste of home. 

An in-store, carry-out café also offers a bevy of traditional foods. Containers of hummus, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, stuffed grape leaves, labneh and other Middle Eastern salads and dips are available, perfect to pair with rounds of lavash. Lahmajoun, a thin piece of dough topped with veggies and herbs and your choice of beef, chicken or tofu, is a customer favorite, as are the boreg, savory pastries filled with spinach, beef and cheese. Don’t leave without a sampling of sweet pastries, such as baklava, cashew fingers and khoorabia (Armenian butter cookies).

2591 West Chester Pike in Broomall


Shop the City

Tortilleria San Roman

Before you visit Tortilleria San Roman, you must heed this very real disclaimer: Once you try the handmade corn tortillas and impossibly crunchy tortilla chips, you may never be able to go back to the prepackaged stuff from the grocery store. 

Situated in the heart of the 9th Street Italian Market in a small corner spot, this walk-up counter has a limited and unbelievably inexpensive menu. Blue and white corn tortillas, which are made every day (you can see the process right behind the counter), come in a pack of 30 for just $2.25 (half-packs are available upon request). Those life-changing tortilla chips are available in small, medium and large bags, priced at $1.50, $3.50 and $6, respectively. There is simply no reason to buy tortillas or chips anywhere else.

Tortilleria San Roman also makes its own salsa, cactus salad, tlacoyos (tortillas filled with fried beans) and sopes to complete a Mexican feast. Brave the market crowds on the weekends to be handsomely rewarded with fresh guacamole and pico de gallo, which are only available on Saturdays and Sundays.

951 S. 9th St.; 267.507.9161


This Lebanese market and café at 9th and Federal streets is a South Philly institution that you can’t miss if there’s a Middle Eastern recipe you want to try. On one side of the space, find a well-stocked shop with dried beans, breads, olives, a refrigerator full of hummus, tzatziki and other assorted dips, sauces, drinks, cheeses and olives; don’t miss the pastry case with heaps of honey-kissed phyllo dough treats (oh, those pistachio rings). 

The other side of the space is a casual café, where plentiful vegetarian and meaty options are on offer. While the standard falafel, gyro and kabob sandwiches are well-crafted and tasty, veer a bit off road and try some kitchen specialties. The “Bittzas” are clever fusions of Middle Eastern cuisine and pizza: za’atar-flecked flatbreads with a variety of toppings such as grilled chicken, tomatoes, feta, olives and roasted peppers.

947 Federal St.; (215) 755-1121

Bacchus Market & Catering

This is the kind of gourmet market that every neighborhood deserves: quality without pretension, everyday staples alongside specialty splurges, and a large case of prepared comfort foods for those evenings when a home-cooked dinner just isn’t going to happen. Oh, and a coffee bar, too!

Bacchus was founded in Fitler Square in 1999, when the city’s food landscape hardly resembled what it looks like today. For nearly 20 years, it’s been serving neighborhood residents, tourists and those just passing through on the way to work or a walk the park with easy breakfast and lunch options, to-go salads and sides, ice cream, fresh produce and pantry items. The prepared food is made with local ingredients when possible, with bountiful vegetarian and gluten-free items. The market’s fun snacks, gourmet chocolates, artisan beef jerky and hot sauces also make stellar gifts for foodie friends.

A robust catering menu rounds out Bacchus’ offerings, providing extensive choices for Philly residents celebrating occasions large and small. (Word has it that Judy Wicks ordered food from Bacchus for her holiday party last year!) Stop by for a snack or to peruse the shelves of groceries; just take note: Bacchus is closed on Mondays.

2300 Spruce St., 215.545.6656

International Foods & Spices

Looking to build up your pantry with Indian ingredients? Head over to 42nd and Walnut streets to International Foods & Spices, one of the most extensive Indian markets in the city. Rows upon rows of lentils, beans, breads, sauces, chutneys, snack mixes, infusions such as rose water and tamarind water—and so much more—await. Whether you’re an accomplished cook or just want to see what all the recent fuss over ghee butter is about, this store has you covered. 

Sacks of rice in many sizes and varieties offer some of the best prices around (you’ll never buy overpriced coconut milk again from a conventional grocery store once you see how much you can get for so little). When it comes to spices, there is a veritable rainbow of both ground and whole seeds and spices, mostly sold in bulk (in plastic bags, not from self-serve containers). This is by far the most economic (and green!) way to buy spices, so start rinsing and saving your empty spice jars in preparation.

The market also has a small produce section. While this might not be the most practical place to buy some ingredients, like tomatoes or cucumbers, you can sometimes find galangal, kaffir limes, curry leaves and other traditional ingredients that you rarely ever see at a supermarket. Staple aromatics, such as onions, garlic and ginger are also super cheap and worth stocking up on. 

Behind the front counter, there is a small selection of hot, prepared Indian dishes. While you’ll have better luck with hot meals at some of the nearby Indian buffets and restaurants, we recommend making it a tradition to grab a crispy samosa or two for the walk home.

4203 Walnut St., 215.222.4480

Market Watch: Now Open/ Coming Soon

Philadelphia is in the midst of a natural-food market boom, with a slew of openings and two neighborhood co-ops coming soon. South Philly Food Co-op has been striving toward the goal of opening a member-owned market for years now. While the core group of organizers is still fundraising toward their $1 million goal to open, a major milestone has been achieved: A lease has been signed at 2301 S. Juniper St. (on Wolf Street between 13th and Broad). Across town, a similar endeavor is underway: Kensington Community Food Co-op has secured a space on Coral Street, which will be home to a market and a café (with a liquor license!). The members are still raising funds, but they hope to begin construction soon.

Fishtown recently welcomed Riverwards Produce, a community-centric food market featuring many local products, in Fishtown at 2200 E. Norris St. Owner and founder Vincent Finazzo says he is committed to affordability and accessibility for the market’s shoppers.

Rowhouse Grocery, in the Newbold neighborhood of South Philly, is pursuing a similar model. Occupying a two-story row home at 17th and McKean streets. Prepared foods and coffee round out produce, meat, dairy and pantry items. Check out fall market hours on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For a bigger market experience, the new Market East location of MOM’s Organic Market is finally open and offers a wide selection for grocery shopping and prepared foods to serve the Center City lunch crowd.

Outside of the city, keep an eye out for the new Weavers Way location in Ambler, and another outpost of Kimberton Whole Foods in Collegeville (its largest location yet). Both are coming soon.

The Post-Landfill Action Network starts a chapter in Philadelphia

Are Zero Waste College Campuses in Our Future?

by Jamie Bogert

Trash. Recycle. Laundry. These are the three options offered at CityCoHo, the largest and only green co-working space in Center City—and the new home to PLAN, the Post-Landfill Action Network.

The laundry bin, located in the common space next to an old red-leather couch you might remember from your friend’s basement growing up, is for towels and other washable items used in the facility in lieu of paper products.

“That’s one of the reasons we opted for this space. It’s got a focus on sustainable practices that we value,” says Faye Christoforo, co-director of PLAN; she also  directs campus coordination for the program. And now, just over six weeks into making the City of Brotherly Love the nonprofit’s second major hub, Christoforo and her team are settling into their green office space and are ready to get to work.

What started at the University of New Hampshire by founder Alex Freid as a program to cultivate, educate and inspire students to lead a zero-waste lifestyle has since spread across the U.S. and Canada with PLAN groups working on 80 campuses, focusing on programs such as move-in/move-out initiatives, waste audits, free and thrift stores, and expanded recycling.

“Any person who has gone to college or lived near a college knows what it looks like during a move-out season,” Christoforo says. Sprawled out on campus streets are heaps of trash, beer-soaked folding tables, reading lamps and stacks of books students weren’t able to sell in time for move-out day.

That’s where PLAN comes in. The staff provides step-by-step advising to set students up with the necessary skills and information to implement zero-waste initiatives on campuses and help divert their waste. 

“We act as kind of a liaison between students and their community who might not know where to find the resources,” says Chris Kane, director of research and resource development. “We want to connect those dots and show them the tangible results of their efforts.”

When Christoforo visited Philly a year ago as a trial run to see if the city would be a good fit, she met with leaders from colleges including Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania, Temple University and others. Now, a year later and with the local chapter’s feet firmly on the city streets, PLAN is connecting with others in the region and laying the foundation for future partnerships and individualized plans.

“We want Philly universities and colleges to know that we’re a resource that is physically here,” Christoforo says. And, right now, PLAN is working to help Drexel get a move-out program off the ground this year.

And while some projects on campuses will take more time than others, PLAN is wasting no time getting its fourth annual Students for Zero Waste conference off and running Nov. 4 at Temple University. More than 500 students, environmental justice activists, business innovators and other leaders in sustainability have attended past conferences.

The conference is, naturally, zero-waste and offers a packed schedule of panel discussions, skills-building workshops and case-study sessions for a deep dive into what students can do on a global scale—as well as right on their own campuses.

While many campuses are working toward a zero-waste goal, there has yet to be a college in the U.S. that can claim a fully zero-waste campus. But many schools are moving ahead with initiatives and action plans, and there are plenty of schools in the region that may gain inspiration from Philadelphia’s new action plan to be a zero-waste city by 2035.

Still, Christoforo, who went to Earlham College in Indiana and has a background in activism—she was involved in her college’s divestment movement—knows that this is no small feat. 

“The problems aren’t addressed as often as they should be,” she says. “So we try to make sure our mission is action-based.”

Some of the action happens in unlikely places. Kane recalls his first dumpster dive after he joined PLAN. They were in New Hampshire, preparing for a staff camping trip. “I remember saying, ‘We should try to make it as zero-waste as possible,’” Kane says. And with a little digging they were able to secure enough food for the entire trip—and then some. 

Dumpster diving 101 might not be part of the extensive panel discussions and manuals offered by PLAN, but organizers will be digging into their work to create a zero-waste future.

The Conscious Closet

Creating a capsule wardrobe can help support everything from reduced waste to women’s rights

By Brittany Barbato

After years of budget-shopping for work clothes at Salvation Army and Goodwill, I looked into the mix-and-match jungle in my closet one morning and thought: I have nothing to wear.

I decided I needed to purge. Clothes flew left and right as I tugged them off the hangers and tossed them into a designated “giveaway” pile. But soon my decisive actions were derailed by other thoughts: Cousin Liz gave this to me for Christmas, and I’d hurt her feelings if I donated it... I never wear this skirt, but it finally fits me so shouldn’t I keep it just in case?... I can’t get rid of this; it was an amazing thrift shop find three years ago! 

If I wanted to move toward a more minimalist wardrobe, I was going to need some help.

A simple Google search yielded hundreds of guides for decluttering a closet gone awry, but the most recommended step was a “capsule wardrobe.” The concept is simple: Create a compact set of color-coordinated staple pieces for regular wear. The number to hit, including shoes, seemed to be 30 pieces, and—at the extremes—some fashionistas suggest as few as 12 or as many as 100 items. 

According to Donna Karan, to whom we can trace the origin of the American capsule, the lucky number is seven: In 1985, Karan unveiled her radical collection “Seven Easy Pieces.” She believed women could effortlessly assemble whatever outfit they needed with just a bodysuit, tights, a versatile skirt, a pair of trousers, a tailored jacket, a cashmere sweater and a white shirt. A few years later, she would follow her breakout capsule with a menswear-inspired pinstripe suit. Advertised through a campaign called In Women We Trust, the suit was featured in an eight-page spread that led with a photo of the first woman president in America being sworn into office. Disappointingly, the designer’s efforts to empower women were contradicted in October, when she spoke out in support of Harvey Weinstein after a deluge of sexual assault and harassment accusations against him. Complicitness in the context of capitalism is how the fashion industry got itself in trouble in the first place. 

In the early 2000s, new online shopping channels drove demand for clothes to an all-time high. We saw the dawn of fast fashion: low-cost clothing that mimics current, high-cost luxury trends. In 2003, the first ever “high-low” collaboration was created as high-end designer Isaac Mizrahi signed a deal with Target for a small collection of core garments made accessible to the “everyday shopper.” Partnerships like Vera Wang for Kohl’s and the Kardashian sisters for Sears followed suit.

The spike in demand and expansion of access, paired with a rapid growth in technology, propelled retailers to design, manufacture and ship products much faster. “At one time, the fashion industry worked around a two-season calendar that unfolded at a predictable pace,” said Jim Zarroli on a 2013 episode of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” “A relentless drive for speed now characterizes the industry.” 

But the issue is beyond speed: It’s money and greed at the expense of others and the environment. In order to keep costs low, brands moved their manufacturing abroad to take advantage of lower product development and labor costs. Lower sticker prices for consumers resulted in a higher volume of purchases and, in turn, meant consumers were turning over clothes much faster. 

It’s no wonder so many of us have closets filled with clothes that aren’t meant to last. As I discovered the ramifications of fast fashion—waste, pollution and dangerous working conditions—I waged a second war on my wardrobe.

Fifty pieces, and peace of mind

When I got serious about creating a capsule wardrobe, I set an ambitious goal to cut my 103 items in half, and I again sorted everything into “keep” and “donate” bins. Afterward, I made a short list of a few staple pieces to purchase as replacements and developed my own multifaceted criteria for quality.

What exactly does “quality” mean? Could I afford it? The more I thought about it, the more it became clear the world can’t afford anything less. I committed to only buying well-made items—timeless pieces that would survive both wear and tear as well as the next big trend—and only items whose provenance and impact I could trace.

Criterion No. 1: My clothes must be timeless and wearable for multiple years. Fashion waste—or, clothes tossed into the trash—is directly contributing to the environmental crisis. According to Newsweek, in less than 20 years, the volume of clothing Americans throw away each year has doubled from 7 million to 14 million tons, or 80 pounds per person. We’re buying more clothes, wearing them less and disposing of them faster than ever. If we diverted these textiles into a recycling program instead, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it would be the equivalent of taking 7.3 million cars and their carbon dioxide emissions off the road. Donate or consign your clothes? Guess what: Supply far exceeds the need. According to Newsweek, charities are struggling to keep up with the sheer amount of donations and, because clothing quality is lower, other countries don’t want them either.

Criterion No. 2: My clothes need to be made of sustainable materials causing as little environmental harm as possible. With an estimated annual world production of more than 80 billion pieces of clothing, the fashion industry consumes a massive amount of natural resources. According to Greenpeace, clothing contributes about 3 percent of global production CO2 emissions, or more than 850 million tons of CO2 a year due to the immense amount of manufacturing, logistics and usage such as washing, drying and ironing. To make one T-shirt, it takes approximately 700 gallons of water—or, the average amount of water a person could drink for nearly two and a half years. Water contamination is another byproduct of the increase in clothing consumption. The dyeing process, in particular, uses more than 1.7 million tons of chemicals. These include perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which are toxic compounds widely used to make everyday products more resistant to stains as well as repellant to water.

Criterion No. 3: My clothes need to support the safety and economic mobility of others. An astonishing number of companies don’t know what goes on during each step of their production process, or, even worse, they know and don’t care. One of the most alarming developments in the clothing industry is related to women’s rights. According to Remake, a nonprofit that shares fashion workers’ stories to promote change, 75 million people work to make our clothes and 80 percent of them are women between the ages of 18 and 24. Approximately 100 pairs of hands touch our clothes before we see them in the store, and yet many of these individuals earn less than $3 per day. Factory environments are equally cheap, exposing workers to dangerous machinery, hazardous fumes and predatory management.

A runway to a better world

As my personal philosophy coalesced, I discovered fashion brands whose principles didn’t align with mine and some that did. 

While brands such as H&M and Zara make headlines for offering opportunities to recycle old clothes, these efforts aren’t even close to enough, as they perpetuate a culture of throwaway clothing that benefits their bottom line. But Patagonia, for example, is a longtime leader in sustainable business practices. There are many local companies, such as United By Blue, that are working hard to align themselves in the same effort. Until more businesses evolve, the power for change is in our hands as consumers. 

When we purchase less overall, then we can afford to save up and spend our money on higher-quality pieces. This type of quality means so much more than the fabric we wear: It means we reject the idea that money is more important than each other and our planet. It means we can change the life of a 15-year-old girl living in Bangladesh. It means there doesn’t need to be conflict of interest between fashion and life. They can coexist.

Today, my capsule wardrobe and I are still a work in progress. I met my goal and currently own 52 pieces of clothing, including several new purchases selected through my criteria. 

Although it may not be so visible on the outside, I know that what I’m wearing is making a statement—and a difference.

The Minimalist Kitchen

Forget the doodads. This is all you need to create beautiful meals.

By Christina Pirello

I hate gadgets. I’m glad that’s off my chest. From garlic presses to citrus juicers, I have little use for any of it. Give me a chef knife and a cutting board and I’m all set. Every time I see a cute new doodad (that’s all I can think to call them), what comes to mind is that it’s another thing to clean.

If you love gadgets and simply must have the latest, greatest tool to make life easier, go for it. But if you’re like me, you want to streamline, reduce consumption and control how much stuff clutters your life and kitchen. To that end, I recommend the following items. I won’t say I can’t live without them, but I would miss them terribly.  

All this posturing about gadgets and consumption aside, I must be truthful. As an avid baker, I am in the midst of a long, passionate affair with my stand-up mixer that shows no signs of abating. I couldn’t live without her—she is my one weakness.

Essential tools to cook anything


A kitchen without a great chef knife is nonfunctioning. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but head to a kitchen shop where you can hold the knife and see if you like the heft and balance of the blade. I advise between 7 to 8 inches for the blade length. While I am a ceramic knife fangirl, for most of us, a solid stainless steel blade that costs under $50 will serve you just fine. 

Cutting Board

The second most important tool in the kitchen, a thick wooden board, will change how you cook. Thick boards won’t crack or warp and will last a long time. Get a board that suits your space—but only as big as your space allows—so you still have room to work. Bamboo is also a great choice as it’s lighter and naturally antibacterial. Don’t even think about those flimsy roll-up plastic ones—just don’t do it.

10-inch cast iron or stainless steel skillet

I want to say you need both of these in your kitchen, and I might even add a “green” nonstick skillet as well. Most people struggle with seasoning a cast iron pan, so stainless steel is a good choice for everyday cooking. They distribute heat evenly and clean easily.

Sieve or colander

A sieve or colander comes in handy for rinsing grains and beans, draining pasta and lifting boiled or blanched vegetables from boiling water. I use mine every day and prefer a fine sieve over a colander because I use it the way most people use a slotted spoon.

Saucepans (2 to 3 quart)

The number of people you’re regularly cooking for will determine the size of this pan, but every kitchen needs a small saucepan for steaming, boiling, blanching, sauces and small pots of soup. I have several smaller pans, as I cook for two people most nights. 

Dutch oven

There’s no chili, stews, pasta or boiled vegetables without a large Dutch oven. Five to six quarts is the average size and will serve you in cooking for one or for a crowd. There are many varieties, so consider what you might be preparing most often. If you’re boiling pasta, stainless steel will serve you fine. If you stew, make big pots of soup or chili, or make casseroles, consider a porcelain-coated cast iron.


A good set of long-handled tongs do a lot of jobs, from mixing salads to lifting foods from boiling water to turning foods on the grill. I like tongs with silicone tips, since they can stand the heat of whatever I am doing.

Wooden spoons

Wooden spoons add a beauty and grace to cooking that I love. They’re easy on your hands; they don’t scrape the pans’ surfaces; they clean easily. I have many, but a few will get you started. Go with a set of 10-inch, 12-inch and 14-inch spoons. They will serve you best in just about any task. I’m not a fan of silicone spatulas, brushes or metal spoons. I just don’t consider them essential.

Measuring spoons and cups

I have to confess; I don’t measure and never use measuring spoons or cups unless I’m testing a recipe for a new cookie or cake. But for most of us, measuring is key to the success of recipes, so get a set of cups and spoons. I like stainless steel for both of these as they last and last and clean easily.

Microplane or box grater

I use my microplane so often, I feel like it’s an extension on my arm! From citrus zest to cheese (if you eat it), a microplane is easy to handle and clean and gives you a fine-grated texture. A box grater is good as well, but I feel like it’s not as versatile as a microplane.