Homestead Acts

Illustration by Kirsten Harper

When I got serious about growing our own food four years ago, I had no idea how much it would affect how my wife and I lived and managed our lives and our home. We had already made a conscious decision to shop, cook, and eat as locally and seasonally as possible. So, it made sense that one of the ways to accomplish this would be growing at least some of our own food, and to work on becoming urban homesteaders.

The principles of urban homesteading, a term coined in 2001 by California urban farmer Jules Dervaes, are fairly straightforward, although they represent considerable challenges. The first principle is to grow your own food on your own city lot, with many urban homesteaders setting a goal to produce about 50 percent of what is eaten, frozen and canned.

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Fruits of Her Labor

At Spruce Hill Preserves, Molly Haendler concocts
delectable jams and jellies

Photo by CJ Dawson Photography

For a while, Spruce Hill Preserves carried itself like some sort of jam and jelly speakeasy, selling jams, jellies, fruit butters and preserves without any licenses, from Molly Haendler’s small kitchen in West Philadelphia. There, she sold her flavorful fruit concoctions under-the-table to family and friends, and then subsequently, to the friends and family of her family and friends, and so on, and so forth. Soon, word of mouth had built her a serious following.

“People were telling me they had to go out and get another loaf of bread because it was so good they couldn’t stop eating it,” Haendler says. “People were approaching me.”

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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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Gray Sells Green: Specialty market Green Aisle Grocery expands westward


Liz peruses a products case at the Green Aisle Grocery on Grays Ferry Avenue. | Photos by Megan Matuzak

The electric-green storefront of local food market Green Aisle Grocery on Grays Ferry Avenue is a sign of change. Five years ago, the acupuncture clinic across the street or frozen Greek yogurt shop on the corner would have seemed out of place. But the new addition fits right into the flourishing neighborhood South of South.

Green Aisle first saw success on East Passyunk, where brothers Andrew and Adam Erace opened their 260-square-foot store in 2009. Their uncommon offerings—Zahav’s hummus tahini, Market Day Canelé, high-quality local meats and dairy—made Green Aisle a local favorite, but the brothers wanted more space. So, when 2241 Grays Ferry Avenue became available this February, Andrew says, “We moved quickly.”

Green Aisle’s Grays Ferry location opened May 3. The store is more than four times the size of its Passyunk sister, with a full basement and outdoor storage area. In the back kitchen, the Green Aisle team prepares its in-house line of preserves and pickles, healthy salads and quick snacks, which the brothers plan to expand over time.

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New Kid on the Block


It looks like the wait for Kensington Quarters (1310 Frankford Ave.), an ambitious combination of butcher shop, restaurant and classroom, is about to end. The restaurant is a partnership of Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello (the owners of Cafe Lift, Prohibition Tap Room and Bufad), and a newcomer to Philadelphia, butcher Bryan Mayer.


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City Learning: New fellowship in Philly provides environmental research experience


Image via you a graduate or undergraduate student studying urban and environmental studies? Are you interested in topics like landscape architecture, engineering, conservation and urban natural resources? The new Sustainability Science Fellowship is an ideal opportunity to put those interests to practice right here in Philadelphia.

The fellowship, a new program of the U.S. Forest Service, City of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Horticultural society, will provide students with research experience aimed at promoting environmental literacy and increasing the number of young scientists within the field.

Projects proposed should foster collaboration, science delivery, and communication to help sustain the environmental well-being of Philadelphia’s urban areas. Students will be paired with Forest Service scientists who will serve as mentors and help oversee the completion of each project. For more information visit the Philadelphia Field Station website.

Applications are due to the Philadelphia Field Station by February 20.

The Local Tweet: Philly birds in the news

Image via allaboutbirds.orgHere's something worth tweeting about: The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education is doing a bird census this Saturday, January 7, and they're looking for volunteers. Don't worry, budding ornithologists, no experience is required. You can join their birding team to help collect important data about wintering bird populations. My phone is predicting a beautiful day, sunny and 51 degrees, and to sweeten the deal, the SCEE will provide coffee, tea and light breakfast foods.

In other bird news, the Spruce Hill Bird Sanctuary, who we'll be covering in our next issue, is looking for some help, too. Located at Spruce & Locust, 45th & Melville Streets, this unique urban green space is a neighborhood spot, but open to the public as well (the entrance is next to 233 S. Melville). They're looking for bird food, plant material and cold, hard cash

All About Philly: TEDx bringing conference on “The City” to Philadelphia

TEDxPhilly Promo from Free Film Collective on Vimeo.

Last year’s sold out success, TEDxPhilly, will be making its second appearance next Tuesday, November 8. This year’s theme is “The City” and features speakers, performers, and exhibitors who will share their experiences and perspectives of being part of Philadelphia. The all-day “idea” conference is multidisciplinary and will include architects, educators, urban planners, journalists, filmmakers, business people and more. 

Some featured speakers will be Glen J. Abrams, Philadelphia Water Department’s manager of Policy and Strategic Initiative; Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, founder of the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers; Haas&Hahn, Dutch street artists; and even GRID’s own Marisa McClellan, a food writer, canning enthusiast, and soon-to-be cookbook author. 

TED is a nonprofit organization formed in the early 1980s to unite the worlds of technology, entertainment, and design. TEDxPhilly is spin-off in the independently organized event series, designed to foster the forming, sharing and spreading of ideas. This year’s Philly conference will provide interactive opportunities for both attendees and speakers to share “the lived experience of city life through high-energy exchange of ideas.” The event will also host local community exhibitors and vendors. 

Tickets are still available. Admission is $100 and includes the day’s TEDxTalks, a catered lunch, refreshments and the post-event reception. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit

November 8, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., Temple Performing Arts Center (1837 N. Broad St.)

- Anna Louise Neiger

Intersections: Money Matters

If Philadelphia hopes to become one of the greenest cities in America, now is the time. Thanks to two multi-million dollar grants from the federal government (distributed as part of President Obama’s Recovery Act), Philly is embarking on initiatives that will create green jobs, address energy concerns and offer sustainable solutions to some of the city’s longtime problems.
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