South Philadelphia recycling program Feed the Barrel transforms used cooking oil into compost and biofuel

Cut Zahara, program director with Feed the Barrel, poses with her daughter, Geubrina Jalil. photos by Sahar Coston HardyWarm, welcoming and barefoot. That is Cut Zahara, owner of Barizkhy Daycare. (It’s still fairly new, come on in and make yourself at home.) Although she’s a petite woman among a sea of children vying for attention, you can’t miss her—she’s the one with the hot pink scarf wrapped around her head.

Zahara (whose first name is pronounced “choot”) is one of the program directors of Feed the Barrel, Philadelphia’s first residential cooking oil recycling program. Members of the Indonesian Diaspora Network of Greater Philadelphia, a local chapter of the national organization, created the pilot in early 2013 with the help of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Asian Pacific American Council, which serves communities that are typically under-represented. In Indonesia, families have more space—big backyards and gardens—and so dumping used cooking oil outside was never an issue. But in Philadelphia, where open space is limited, many Indonesians resort to throwing away their oil after cooking with it; or worse, pouring it down the drain, where it would block their pipes as well as city-owned water mains, making for some very expensive plumbing fixes.

“We as a community … never dealt with this problem in our country before,” Zahara says. She moved from Aceh, Indonesia, in 2000 and has lived in the U.S. since then. “We [Indonesians] use a lot of cooking oil, we fry everything, so that’s why … after we use it, we just pour it down the sink; that’s how we dealt with it before. [But] now we know how to do it better.”

At a meeting in early 2013, members of the Indonesian Diaspora Network of Greater Philadelphia decided that Zahara, who has been an activist and a speaker on environmental and human rights issues for 14 years, was the kind of champion that Feed the Barrel needs. Zahara and Merlin Lamson, project manager, were chosen after the community leaders saw “the scope of the project, and realize we need back-up,” says Hani White, chairwoman for the Indonesian Diaspora Network of Greater Philadelphia.

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Schooled in Sustainability

Amanda Millatt stands tall and speaks confidently on the stage of the Musser Demonstration Theater at the Franklin Institute as she presents to a group of classmates, parents and teachers the water pump she has designed. Millatt is a graduating senior at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA), one of three schools that recently received a share of $6 million in grants from Philadelphia School Partnership (PSP). She hopes the pump will one day be implemented in developing countries such as Malawi. It was a trip to Malawi that inspired Millatt to redesign the UNICEF water pumps used there, which she says are fragile and inefficient. Her original idea was a pump powered by kids playing soccer, with gears that would be activated whenever a goal was scored. The finished design is more practical than that early concept and, she believes, more practical than the UNICEF pumps as well.


Millatt describes each component of the design in a way her peers can understand. The handle is an “egg-shaped piece of metal that is used to push down the piston.” The piston “is basically a bike pump in reverse so you know how you push out air, it basically sucks up water.” Describing the process with ease, Millatt says, “The gear that is on a 45-degree angle is rotating and pushing down the piston, which is basically sucking up the water into the reservoir, and then when you turn it, it comes out the faucet.” This is not the high school experience shared by most Philadelphia public school students.

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No Kids Allowed: Our region's local cheese scene is not without controversy

Alongside Pete Demchur’s driveway in suburban West Chester, Pa. is a paddock of big-eared Nubian goats. They chew alfalfa hay, browse for plants, and walk their front legs up the fence to investigate visitors. Beyond the paddock is a stand of lush bamboo. Just beyond that is a group of townhomes.

Demchur owns and operates Shellbark Hollow Farm, producing small-batch goat cheeses. He never planned for his home on a 3.5-acre lot in West Chester to become a farm; the slow transition into farming began when his family gave him a pair of goats as a Father’s Day gift. A framed photo of those original goats sits on top of the living room television, alongside photos of the children who gave them to him. Demchur bred the pair, then started milking and making cheese. “Over the years,” he says, “the goats just took over the whole place.”

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Judy Wicks on Livin’ La Vida Local

story by Alex Mulcahy

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

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

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Exploring the Seedy Side of Philadelphia: Heirloom seed-savers are preserving our area’s rich horticultural heritage

story by Brian Rademaekers | photos by Rob Cardillo. The Fish Pepper was an African-American heirloom plant popular in Philadelphia and Baltimore, dating to before the 1870s.As anyone with the gardening bug knows, the bleakness of midwinter in Philadelphia has a way of making you dream of warmer times, often hatching ambitious plans for your raised beds. I had one of those moments this winter while looking through the glossy pages of a seed catalog. Among the hundreds of pages of colorful fruits, flowers and vegetables, a particular plant caught my attention: the Fish Pepper.

With distinct white-striped leaves and young green fruit, the pepper bush was interesting in on a purely visual level. But what really got my attention was the pepper’s history as an African-American heirloom plant popular in Philadelphia and Baltimore, dating to before the 1870s. Heirlooms are plants whose seeds have been saved over generations, replanted year after year, consistently reproducing similar traits. Many vegetables offered at nurseries and big-box stores are hybrids that can produce sterile seeds or offspring with erratic traits.

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Proud Mary

Mary Seton Corboy and Greensgrow continue to set an example

story by Lee Stabert/photos by Jessica Kourkounis

Greensgrow, an urban farm and nursery in kensington, is a superstar of Philadelphia’s sustainability community. Having earned an abundance of recent national and local press, the pioneering farm’s name is always at the ready when conversation turns to the rising tide of urban ag. But Greensgrow is important because it’s not new. It’s not trendy. The farm has been around almost 15 years, long enough for legitimacy

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Cover Story: Back to the Future

West Philly’s Hybrid X Team builds green cars, and the case for vocational education  
by Lee Stabert

OK, disney movie pitch: A group of high school kids (almost all African-American) from West Philadelphia build cars for an international competition, striving for a $10 million dollar prize. There’s a handsome, ambitious teacher, highly-funded, flashy competitors with big names (and budgets) and an environmental angle—these vehicles are designed to get over 100 miles per gallon.
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