Farmhand Handyman

Volunteer and grant writer brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

Bryan Thompsonowak says volunteering at the Emerald Street Urban Farm has made him more invested in the neighborhood. | Photos by Jared Gruenwald

When Bryan Thompsonowak, 37, was young, his father, a bricklayer and “all-around handyman-type of a guy,” taught him to not be afraid of trying new things. He applied that lesson when he tackled the construction of a three-bin compost system and a rainwater catchment system at Emerald Street Urban Farm in East Kensington.

The farm's managers Nic and Elisa Esposito needed to expand their volunteer base because they were expecting their first child. That's when Thompsonowak stepped up, volunteering on Mondays from May to October.

“It’s nice to have a project close to home, and it’s not just the work; it’s the people that you’re there volunteering with,” says Thompsonowak, whose last name is a result of combining his and his wife Sharon Nowak’s last name.

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Philadelphia Author Nic Esposito to Read from His Newest Book

The Head & the Hand Press founder and Seeds of Discent author Nic Esposito has turned his tales about living on a small urban homestead in Kensington into his first work of nonfiction—Kensington Homestead, a collection of essays that center around growing food in a city.

After finishing Seeds of Discent in 2011, which chronicles urban farming in Philadelphia, Esposito promised himself that he'd written his first and last book about farming in a city. Then he moved from West Philadelphia to the working class neighborhood of Kensington. There, along with his wife Elisa, they manage the Emerald Street Urban Farm (and a dog, two cats, four chickens and some bees.) He's dealt with rogue bee swarms and chicken kills that have gone awry, but his essays hone in on his rapidly gentrifying neighborhood. It was these experiences that led to his newest venture. 

The Head & The Hand Press, a craft publishing company, is teaming up with Johnny Brenda's to debut the essay collection on Wednesday, Nov. 19. Doors open at 8 p.m. and Esposito's reading begins at 8:30 p.m. After the reading, there will be a Head & The Hand house band lineup led by band leader Rob Berliner of Hoots and Hellmouth. Brave the cold to support a local author and urban farmer. Tickets are $10 at the door and books will be sold for $10 during the show. For more information, visit Head & The Hand Press


"Is Nic Esposito a farmer who writes, or a writer who farms?
Either way, he's a first-rate storyteller,
and you can expect to see his passion for words
and farming on full display
Kensington Homestead." - Alex Mulcahy, publisher of Grid 

Celebrate near completion of the Big Green Block by volunteering this weekend

Over the past four years, Sustainable 19125 has scored a series of eco-forward victories for the Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond communities. Founded in 2009 by the New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC), Sustainable 19125 is a coalition of residents, businesses, and institutional partners with the collective goal to create a more sustainable, safe and friendly neighborhood.

When NKCDC held a kick-off party for the group in January 2009, they discovered two things: one, that community members and local businesses were passionate about greening their neighborhood, and two, that vacant land could be an asset, not an eyesore. The result was the Big Green Block, a $44 million project with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Philadelphia Water Department to create a green infrastructure master plan for 20 acres between Frankford Avenue and Front, Norris and Palmer Streets. The blocks include the new LEED Platinum certified Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School (the first public school in the U.S. to have this certification).

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Making The Grade: Kensington CAPA one of AIA’s Top Ten Green Projects in the U.S.

Image via | photo credit: Barry Halkin, Halkin PhotographyThe list of prestigious awards Kensington High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) has received since construction wrapped up in September 2010 is growing. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently named Kensington CAPA one of its Top Ten Green Projects. The annual award is given to architectural projects that exemplify the integration of environment and community. Kensington CAPA made the list for the positive impact its green features have had on Philadelphia youth.

Built on a brownfield at 1901 North Front Street, the high school’s sleek design (SMP Architects and SRK Architects) is framed by greenery and features large windows that virtually eliminate the need for daytime lighting. Rooftop gardens, a ground level organic vegetable garden and a lush playing field provide stormwater management, giving the nation’s first LEED Platinum-certified public high school a rainwater runoff  rate of zero. Besides providing students with a brand new school—Kensington CAPA was previously located in the old Kensington High School building—the project cut the truancy rate from 35 percent to zero percent and boosted graduation rates from 29 percent to 69 percent. The high school has previously been recognized by the Delaware Valley Green Building Council and in Grid's November 2010 issue.

Growing Their Own: North Philly neighbors pick their own produce from a new urban farm

written by Dana HenryThis past April, Kevin Musselman, coordinator for the Kensington Area Neighborhood Advisory Committee (KANAC), approached neighbors at Frankford and Cambria Streets in West Kensington. “We’re going to start a farm in that lot over there,” he told them. The lot he was referring to, like many derelict parcels inthe area, was frequently the site of drug activity and prostitution.

“A farm? In the hood?” the neighbors questioned.

“Yeah, a farm, right in your neighborhood,” responded Musselman.

This neighborhood, where KANAC currently facilitates grassroots community projects, is part of the first congressional district in Pennsylvania which in 2010, ranked fourth highest in the nation for food hardship—meaning households don’t have enough money to buy all the food they need. In 2009, the district had ranked second. Recently, the Food Trust’s Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which helps stock fresh produce in underserved areas, has aggressively targeted Kensington, but for decades residents have had trouble finding much to eat besides chips, Honey Buns, hot dogs and other highly processed meats and starches. In 2010, after a group of neighbors—including members of neighborhood organizations such as Philly Tree People, Harrogate Tree Tenders and Kensington Food Co-Op—attended an annual Community Leadership Institute conference in Louisville, Ky. held by NeighborWorks America, they decided it was time for Kensington to get a farm.

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Philadelphia, The Once and Future Workshop of the World?

Once known as the Workshop of the World, Philadelphia lost 400,000 manufacturing jobs over the last four decades. But according to the Emerging Industries Project (a report presented by the Sustainable Business Network of Philadelphia’s Green Economy Task Force), there is potential to redevelop local manufacturing in a more sustainable way.
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Feature: Food Desert

North Philly still lacks fresh food access
by Tenaya Darlington

Kensington, one of Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods, has undergone significant revitalization over the last few years, especially along the southern corridor that borders Northern Liberties. You’ll now find a coffee shop, a Spanish imports store and even a sustainable fish merchant amid the tattoo parlors and check cashing stores that dot Girard Avenue between Front Street and 5th, the loosely defined borders of what neighbors call “South Kensington.” Keep moving north, though, toward Cecil B. Moore Avenue, and you’ll find yourself in something of a nutritional wasteland.
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