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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Camden Children’s Garden – Political Battleground in a Food Desert

A political dispute with the State of New Jersey is threatening to dismantle the Camden Children’s Garden, a green safe haven and community hub amidst what the USDA calls one of the worst food deserts in the country. The Camden City Garden Club, a nonprofit, runs the 4.5-acre Camden Children’s Garden and also supports 120 community gardens in Camden, creating $2.3 million in fresh produce each year. The Children’s Garden is the main hub of CCGC’s business, where they provide trainings, educational programs, and attractions such as the year-round Butterfly House (built with the Philadelphia Eagles), Benjamin Franklin’s Workshop, and a carousel. Fourteen years after its creation, and after consistent support from the City Council and recent Governors, the State of New Jersey has laid claim to the waterfront property and attempted to evict the Camden Children’s Garden on March 31.

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Success! Zoning bill will be amended to protect urban gardens and farms


Last Friday, we wrote about Bill 120917 and the threat it poses to urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Good news! Yesterday, Councilman Brian O’Neill announced that on January 24 he will amend Bill 120917 to restore community gardens and market- or community-supported farms as a matter of right, as was originally allowed in the new zoning code. All are invited to attend City Council Chambers at 10 a.m. on January 24 to support this amendment. For more information, visit the Campaign for Healthier Foods and Green Spaces.

Zoning Amendment Threatens Urban Farms in Philly

Grumblethorpe Historic House and Garden is one of the gardens that would be seriously affected by the new zoning changes. The two-acre garden grows fruits and vegetables and employs high school students at a weekly farmstand.

This article was originally published in the January 2013 issue of Weavers Way Co-op's Shuttle newspaper.

On December 13, 2012, less than four months after the widely anticipated implementation of the city’s brand new zoning code, City Council’s Committee on Rules voted to approve an ordinance that undoes important aspects of the code, including the gains made for urban agriculture in Philadelphia. Introduced by Councilman Brian O’Neill, Bill 120917 creates restrictions on a range of uses in commercial mixed uses areas. Among these restrictions, the bill would only allow community gardening and market farming by “special exception” on over one third of the city’s commercially zoned lands, meaning the gardeners would have to.

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Water Whirled: Local teens ride stationary bike to power irrigation

story by Missy Steinberg

At the Teens 4 Good farm on Eighth and Poplar Streets, growing produce relies on a surprising technology: a stationary bike. The bike-powered watering system is a recent addition to the urban youth farm, which previously used a nearby fire hydrant for irrigation.

The new watering system uses a 500-gallon tank that collects runoff from the farm’s high tunnel and distributes it through two valves: one for drip irrigation and another for a hose. The hose is powered by a stationary bike that must be pedaled at a minimum of five miles per hour.

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Tunnel Vision: A network of farmers is using a new tool to extend the growing season

story by Liz Pacheco | photos by Emily WrenEntering the high tunnel at Mort Brooks Memorial Farm in Mount Airy is a little like stepping into a time machine. In early March, there are dense rows of rainbow chard and arugula, and a few beds have green stems poking through the soil. Farm manager Rick Rigutto reaches down and pulls out some chard, munching on a pink-hued stalk as he walks through the tunnel. While it’s been unseasonably warm, these greens shouldn’t be ready for eating for weeks. Most farms shut down by December, but Mort Brooks keeps on growing – and not in greenhouses. Instead they use sturdy, metal pipe frames covered in plastic sheeting known as high tunnels.
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Gardening the Skyline: Philly urban agriculture expands to rooftops

story by Lauren Mandel Scanning the puddled, coal tar roof of the SHARE Food Program’s distribution center in North Philadelphia, it’s hard to imagine the expansive space as an active farm. The warehouse sits at the highly trafficked corner of Henry and West Hunting Park Avenues, amidst a tangle of power lines, abandoned buildings and the decommissioned Tastykake factory. But if you were to add a row farm, raised beds and a few greenhouses to the roof, the view might not seem so bad.

Embracing an Ancient Practice

Down on the ground, Philadelphians are enthusiastic about urban agriculture. With a healthy crop of community organizers, food justice advocates and young farming professionals, the city has quickly become a national leader in metropolitan food production. Local trendsetters continue to use diverse urban agricultural techniques, applying them to vacant lots, community garden plots, backyards and balconies. But what about rooftops?

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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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Farm Films: Urban farming documentary double feature at Drexel tomorrow

For all those guilty of drooling over the fresh produce sprouting up in Philly’s many urban farms, it’s time to stop staring and learn about the roots of this growing movement. The Westphal College at Drexel University is hosting a special screening of two farm-focused films tomorrow, Feb. 7 at 6:30 p.m. First, watch "West Philly Grown," the story of West Philly’s own Mill Creek Farm, a community provider of organic produce and educational programs. Then, stick around to learn about Detroit's urban farming scene in “Urban Roots,” which screens at 7:30 p.m. Once you’re thoroughly motivated to get digging, discover how to turn your farming dreams into reality with a panel discussion featuring leaders of the movement. Admission is $5 or free with a Drexel I.D. The screening is at Drexel’s Bossone Research Center (3140 Market St.).

Change is Coming: Philadelphia zoning code finally revised


Image via phila.govIn August, we wrote about signing a petition for new zoning codes. And looks like you must’ve stepped up to the plate! On December 15, city council unanimously passed new codes. This was shortly followed by Mayor Nutter, who on December 22 signed the legislation, enacting new laws to officially take effect in August 2012.

So what, exactly, has changed? Considering the last major revision of Philadelphia’s zoning code happened in 1962, a lot, including a special focus on sustainability. Here are some examples:

  • Reducing vehicular traffic and promoting walking with regulations for mixed use districts (so people can live closer to work), creating Transit Oriented Development (for an example), and allowing retail buildings to be located closer to each other in more walkable patterns.
  • Encouraging renewable energy and energy conservation by allowing small wind energy systems and solar collectors.
  • Promoting water conservation through required compliance with the Philadelphia Water Department’s storm water regulations.
  • Adjusting zoning to be friendlier to urban farmers for community gardens, animal husbandry and greenhouses, among others.

To learn more about zoning in Philadelphia and the new codes process, visit