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 

Farmer’s Delight: Nic Esposito, co-founder of Philly Rooted and developer of the Walnut Hill Community Farm, explains how the Collaborative helped make his farm a masterpiece

In my experience creating urban farms, the conflict I have most often faced is between the desire for high-end craftsmanship and the need to just get the project going. I’ll be the first to admit that the community organizer in me usually errs on the side of the latter. But with the Walnut Hill Community Farm, the Collaborative’s consulting helped Philly Rooted attain this elusive equilibrium.
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Book Review: Seeds of Discent

Seeds of Discent
by Nic Esposito
(Bobcat Coveside Books, 300 pp., $20, March 2011)

The descent of plant roots into Philadelphia’s trashed soils is the most essential dissent against America’s failing economy, especially when these roots grow food, says author Nic Esposito. A 28-year-old West Philly farmer, Esposito’s first novel, Seeds of Discent, appears inspired by, if not a reflection of, his personal experiences. The fictional story features West Philadelphia Millennials serving the planet by rebuilding cities greenward. They fill vacant lots, roofs and walls with food. They live simply, for this future. Philadelphia’s urban farmers exhibit daily heroism, by defying social pressures to succeed as consumers. Yet instead of becoming competitive, they courageously love one another for their shared vision.

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Growing Pains

A fight erupts over an urban farm project in Roxborough 
by Nic Esposito

Is a local Philadelphia food system just a curiosity—something that looks good on grant applications—or can it sustain our city? Does it work by revitalizing a portion of the city’s vacant lots or do we rely on the surrounding rural counties to support our agricultural needs?
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Cover Story: Growth Industry

Nic Esposito and a new generation of urban activists are starting in the garden

Answering a question about his favorite things to grow is a challenge for Nic Esposito. After a few nods to his Italian heritage—eggplants, tomatoes—he settles on a response that speaks volumes about the work he is doing in his West Philadelphia community: “I love planting perennials,” he says with a smile. “It might make me sound lazy, but I love the idea of putting something in the ground—like rosemary or berry bushes—and seeing them grow back. It gives you a stake in where you are.”

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