| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Regionalism : Innovation + Job News

199 Regionalism Articles | Page: | Show All

Engaging Philly business owners on the issue of litter

Last week, we took a look at the ways the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation and other members of the new Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) city-wide anti-litter coalition are tackling illegal dumping in Philly. Another important conversation revolved around encouraging business owners to be more active in combatting litter.

Beth McConnell, policy director of the Philadelphia Association of CDCs, Michelle Kim, a program officer at LISC Philadelphia, Director Alex Balloon of the Taucony CDC, Akeem Dixon of the People's Emergency Center and the Enterprise Center, and Mayor’s Office of Sustainability Deputy Director of Policy Andrew Sharp participated in this discussion.

Participants noted possible best practices as well as existing challenges.

"There’s no cross-city litter program in the city," explained Sharp. "It’s incredibly siloed."

"We should not be afraid to say the City should be paying more money for these things," McConnell suggested.

Another theme was encouraging SEPTA to take a greater role in combatting litter by ensuring properly maintained receptacles at transit stops. Dixon expressed concern about plans for new surface transit shelters that don’t also include a nearby place to put refuse. Trashcans should be better aligned with transit routes, the group agreed.

"It’s not about cleaning. It’s about engagement," Kim said of reaching out to business owners who can help combat problems of trash block by block.

Or as Dixon put it, "The best app in the world is called talking to each other."

Participants pointed to the success of ensuring SWEEPs officers aren’t just enforcers, but a friendly face and resource in the streets.

Suggestions for helping businesses included amnesty from fines for any owner who calls 311 to report excess trash outside their building. Currently, many owners and managers may not make the call for fear they’ll be punished for the mess. Sometimes, participants pointed out, trash outside one business may not have come from that business at all, but been illegally dumped there or blown by the wind.

Attendees also said that Streets Department staffers could come to more neighborhood meetings, and that there could be higher-profile awards or incentives for business owners who consistently maintain a tidy street and sidewalk.

Balloon also pointed to an existing City ordinance that needs better enforcement: Take-out restaurants are required to have an external trashcan onsite, but many don’t follow the rule, resulting in piles of Styrofoam cast-offs nearby.

KPB leader Michelle Feldman, chatting with Flying Kite after the meeting, said January’s gathering drew just as many participants as the initial one in October 2015, though this time -- based on surveys following the previous meeting -- the discussion was more targeted and specific. She hopes a unified city plan will emerge from the coalition; the next litter convening will be held sometime in April.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Keep Philadelphia Beautiful Litter Convening members 

Your chance to join Philly's biggest anti-littering coalition

Anti-litter efforts are nothing new, but Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) Executive Director Michelle Feldman is hoping to take them to the next level in 2016 by convening the city’s most comprehensive forum on littering to date.
 
KPB is involved in the community outreach and educational aspects of neighborhood greening, sustainability and beautification, working with motivated local groups through micro-grants, workshops and classes.
 
Last October, Feldman helped organize the initial session of a new consortium: KPB is partnering with the Commerce Department, the Streets Department, the Philadelphia Association of CDCs and the Philly chapter of the Local Initiative Support Coalition (LISC). 
 
"Heads of neighborhood-based organizations have meetings together all the time," explains Feldman, but they’ve never focused specifically on issues of litter. The long-term coalition aims to share resources, challenges and best practices while also looking to the future for a concrete joint project spearheaded by KPB.
 
"I want to form an advisory committee of folks who are on the ground in different neighborhoods around the city," she says. "I want to hear, what are the challenges in [for example] West Philly versus North Philly…and what are the ways that Keep Philadelphia Beautiful at a city-wide level can help to address those challenges."
 
The first meetings -- they aren’t branded yet, but Feldman is calling them "litter convenings" -- are already getting a big response. The October session at the Municipal Services Building (MSB) drew about thirty people. An invitation to the next meeting on Wednesday, January 20 (10 a.m. - 12 p.m. in MSB’s 16th floor Innovation Lab) quickly garnered a raft of RSVPs.
 
The January 20 agenda includes small group work on best practices in youth and business owner engagement, preventing illegal dumping, and examining existing data/metrics on the issue. All attendees will have the chance to see and comment on the top concepts from each breakout group.
 
"It’s going to dovetail nicely with a new administration and their focus on littering," enthuses Feldman.
 
Community stakeholders interesting in attending should RSVP to michelle@keepphiladelphiabeautiful.org.
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful 

 

Yards, La Colombe and Shake Shack team up for a limited edition Coffee Stout

A new collaboration between Shake Shack, Yards Brewing Company and La Colombe Coffee Roasters is giving Philly a rich and tasty new brew for the cold-weather season, available on draft at select locations while supplies last.
 
On January 8, Shake Shack Culinary Director Mark Rosati, La Colombe co-founder Todd Carmichael, and Yards founder and brewmaster Tom Kehoe officially launched their limited-edition Coffee Stout at Center City’s Sansom Street Shake Shack location.
 
Kehoe chatted with Flying Kite while taking full advantage of an impromptu Shake Shack combo -- making a vanilla custard float with his stout. The collaboration has been in the works for about two months. The strong, dark, and smooth ale gets bright notes of lavender, orange and caramel from ethically sourced beans that come to Philly via the Haitian village of Fatima (as part of La Colombe’s three-year investment in the Haiti Coffee Academy). 
 
The base stout is very similar to Yards' Chocolate Love Stout, brewed with the same chocolate malt. It gets its mellow coffee flavor directly from the beans in a secondary fermenter.

"Coffee really works so well with the beer," said Kehoe. "It’s definitely a beer for winter because of the robustness of it."
 
Sales will benefit the City of Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program (MAP), Center City Shake Shack’s official charitable partner. $2 from each pint purchased will go to MAP.
  
So where can you get your hands on some of this buzzy brew? Pints are on sale for $5.75 at Yards’ Northern Liberties tasting room, La Colombe’s Fishtown café (1335 Frankford Avenue) and all three Philadelphia-area Shake Shack locations (Center City, University City, and King of Prussia).
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tom Kehoe, Yards Brewing Company

Federal dollars from ScaleUp America come to West Philly

In December, the Enterprise Center (TEC) in West Philly announced a special program to augment their 25-year mission: giving local women- and minority-owned businesses the tools they need to grow. TEC is one of only seven organizations nationwide -- and the only one in Philly -- chosen to receive over $1 million in federal funds through the U.S. Small Business Administration's ScaleUp America Initiative.

According to TEC, ScaleUp provides "growth-oriented" small businesses with a targeted twelve-week curriculum and six months of one-on-one mentoring from experts aimed at developing a three-year strategy. TEC narrowed the field of applicants down to 25 businesses featuring minority owners or executive managers.

Iola Harper, TEC's executive vice president of business programs, says that the companies served by TEC and ScaleUp America are often "sandwiched" between early startups "in the idea phase" and large firms that can attract venture capital. To qualify for participation in the ScaleUp program, businesses had to have local impact and have proven themselves in the market via $150,000 to $700,000 in annual revenue.

"We call them scalers," says Harper, and they are often neglected in the venture capital world.

One marker of companies like this is a relative lack of managerial experience, in addition to inadequate access to capital and technical assistance.

"I find that these businesses tend to work in their business and not on their business," explains Harper. "So this program forces the participants to step out of their businesses," encouraging management to look at the big picture: business goals, scalability and understanding the numbers.

The ScaleUp initiative is a mentoring curriculum, but another component of working with TEC is the access to capital. The organization can make in-house loans of up to $200,000 to qualified participants, and if a business’s capital needs exceed that, there are banking partners on hand.

Harper is excited about "the fact that these are all local or minority-owned firms, and they’re typically the pool that has the hardest time accessing these services that we’re offering."

That difficulty is two-fold: Not only does TEC focus on women and minority entrepreneurs who get a smaller percentage of America’s venture capital in general, but it also targets companies outside of the tech and pharmaceutical realms. Current ScaleUp participants include food, manufacturing, personal service and construction businesses.

TEC is focused on ventures that "bring a lot of social capital to our community," enthuses Harper. "They bring a lot of intellectual capital to our community, and most of all they bring jobs to our community."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Iola Harper, The Enterprise Center

 

New analysis of projected rail line to King of Prussia is big news for the whole region

Imagine shaving over thirty minutes off of the commute between Center City and King of Prussia (KOP), the region’s greatest economic center outside the city limits.

That dream will take a while to become a reality, but a new "Connecting KOP" study released in early December -- through a partnership between the non-profit Economy League of Greater Philadelphia and Econsult Solutions, Inc. -- has some noteworthy numbers. The analysis has been in the works for about a year, with the help of SEPTA and the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission. 

Economy League Managing Director of Strategy and Operations Nick Frontino calls King of Prussia an "edge city," meaning that people who work or shop there outnumber the people who live there. About 20,000 people call the area home, while about 50,000 work there and 25 million visit the KOP Mall annually. It’s a natural hub of economic activity at the convergence of four major highways: the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Schuylkill Expressway, Route 202 and Route 422.

"I think you’re beginning to see the evolution of a lot of these types of automobile-centric, very suburban business and commercial centers into more mixed-use, denser, more accessible communities," says Frontino.

SEPTA’s proposed extension of its existing Norristown High Speed Line to KOP is probably at least eight years away due to rigorous federal processes for new transit initiatives, but the fresh analysis nevertheless offers some exciting news for the region.

Simplifying and expediting the commute to KOP from areas like Center City, Upper Darby and Norristown – both in terms of easier transit access and less congested roadways – will have significant outcomes for the whole region. According to the Economy League, direct rail transit could result in 17,000 to 29,0000 new jobs in KOP over the next 20 years, alongside up to eight million square feet of new development. The trip from Upper Darby could be reduced by at least ten minutes, while the commuting distance from Norristown could be cut by over 20 minutes. Add in that extra half hour taken off the commute from Center City, and that could mean up to 2.1 million hours per year saved by local drivers due to the reduced roadway congestion alone.

The study also projects that improved KOP access by rail could generate up to $1.3 billion in economic activity in the greater five-county region of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

Ultimately, Frontino hopes this analysis of the project -- which is still in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement phase -- will alter the conversation about transit in the region which often "focuses on the price tag, and not as much on what the associated benefits might be…On a national level, money allocated towards transit is talked about as spending, while money allocated towards highways is talked about as investment."

He wants a new perspective on how improved non-automotive transit can benefit a state and city’s bottom line. And what about the projected effect of the rail line on Norristown just across the river? Stay tuned for a look in our next issue.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nick Frontino, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia

Philly tableware mavens Felt + Fat earn fans far and wide

Port Richmond ceramics company Felt + Fat was founded in 2013 by Nate Mell and Wynn Bauer. In May, over 200 Kickstarter donors raised $26,256 for the young Philly business, which provides custom-made tableware to restaurants such as Fork, High Street on Market, South Philly’s Laurel and other fine dining spots in Brooklyn and beyond. They also offer direct sales to individual consumers through their website and wholesale distribution through shops across the country.

According to Mell, Felt + Fat would have continued without the Kickstarter infusion, but it helped them grow much faster than they could have on their own, adding a new kiln to their studio, acquiring other smaller pieces of equipment and bringing on board a paid employee.

"It’s been full-time since day one," says Mell of the hours he and his partner have put into the business; that said, they also worked part-time elsewhere while the company grew. Mell spent about seven years in local restaurants, which helped him connect with chefs who were looking to showcase their locally sourced ingredients on custom Philly-made tableware.

This past summer the founders were able to quit their part-time jobs and focus exclusively on Felt + Fat.

The name is a homage to mid-20th century German sculptor Joseph Beuys -- they liked his artistry and use of materials, most notably soap and animal fat.

"We were just trying to make a name that could exist in a few different realms of craft and art and design," explains Mell.

The founders have perfected a slip casting method for their unique wares, which feature different textures, finishes and colors, including a distinctive swirl. They also make their own porcelain.

"To a degree, it’s kind of like cooking or baking something. It’s a recipe," says Mell of the specially "tweaked" clay and mineral combo they use. Initially, they were mixing the ingredients themselves, but now a distributor does this for them; they then add water and the necessary materials to cast their plates and cups.

In slip casting, the liquid clay -- or "slip" -- is poured into a plaster mold. Wherever the slip meets the moisture-wicking plaster, a hard edge forms. When that layer is thick enough, the excess slip is poured out of the mold. What’s left forms the body of the cup or plate. When dry, it's removed from the mold and fired in the kiln.

All that takes time and space, which Philadelphia has in spades.

"Philadelphia is a particularly good place right now to be an artist and a creative person, because of the rapid growth of the moment," argues Mell. He appreciates the large client base a Philly location offers, without the living and studio costs of New York City.

Next up, the duo are hoping to expand into lighting fixtures and furniture accessories; they eventually aim to open a local showroom for their wares. They’ll certainly have more space to experiment: In January, Felt + Fat (currently at 3237 Amber Street) will expand to a second location in a Kensington studio building at the corner of I and Venango Streets.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nate Mell, Felt + Fat 

Sixth annual State of University City celebrates 75,000 new jobs

On November 18, University City District (UCD) hosted its sixth annual State of University City event at World Café Live. The headline of the night was the 75,000 jobs created within this 2.4-square-mile neighborhood, home to some of Philly’s premier education, healthcare and science institutions. According to UCD, the area is on track to add an additional 1,000 jobs in 2016.

Craig Carnaroli, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania and UCD’s board chair, noted that this density of jobs is among the highest of any neighborhood in the country. Speaking at World Café Live, he cited the impact of startup hubs like the Enterprise Center and Drexel’s ic@3401, which now hosts 50 technology entrepreneurs from 30 member companies.

Carnaroli also noted the groundbreaking work of companies like Spark Therapeutics, which will soon seek FDA approval for its gene therapy; studies indicate they can achieve restored vision in people blinded by certain retinal diseases. Another University City breakthrough made national news this year when eight-year-old Zion Harvey received the world’s first pediatric double hand transplant from Penn Medicine.

Carnaroli touted "the power of community and institutions coming together in partnerships to produce results."

UCD Executive Director Matt Bergheiser spoke about why 75,000 jobs is a "magic number" for the area. Businesses and institutions are "feeling the growth of the regional economy" with a substantial spike in well-paid jobs, he insisted. According to UCD, between 2008 and 2013, the neighborhood saw a 79 percent increase in middle to high-wage jobs -- wage growth far above the city’s overall average. It’s exciting news, especially paired with a ten percent jump in University City’s population since 2013 and expansions in the restaurant, hospitality, retail and real estate sectors.

Another way to look at the job density in University City, Bergheiser pointed out, is to count 30,000 jobs per square mile. He also emphasized some essential ingredients in the neighborhood's success: entrepreneurial, civic and "opportunity" infrastructure. 

Because innovation needs places for people to come together, entrepreneurial infrastructure flourishes at cutting-edge hubs like the Science Center and Wexford Science + Technology.

Civic infrastructure -- which Bergheiser called "splendor at the ground level" -- includes elements such as new parklets, the Porch at 30th Street, a revamped Market Street Bridge and the upcoming $2.1 million transformation of the 40th Street SEPTA portal, slated to open in 2017.

"Opportunity infrastructure" is paying attention to an equity of opportunities, or "how we connect the talent in our West Philadelphia neighborhood" to meaningful jobs, he explained.

That led naturally to talk of UCD's West Philadelphia Skills Initiative -- many participants are low-income residents who struggle with longterm unemployment or a criminal record that prevents them from getting a foot in the door with job applications. Bergheiser said that 91 percent of Skills Initiative graduates succeed in landing a job, with an average starting wage of $13.60 per hour.

It all adds up to "a new first and lasting impression" for our metropolis, he concluded.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: University City District

From Startup to High Impact: The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast talks nonprofit innovation

On December 2, wake up with more than just coffee at the latest installment of the Exchange PHL Breakfast Series. At Wednesday's event, regional leaders in innovative social good will tackle "the Path from Startup To High Impact." 

"I think there is something that’s profoundly shifting among nonprofits and their openness to look at these possible changes in how they do business," explains Nadya K. Shmavonian, director of the newly formed Nonprofit Repositioning Fund, who will be speaking at the breakfast.

Hosted by nonprofit-centric co-working space The Exchange, located in Center City’s Friends Center, the event will shift the conversation from entrepreneurship to operations, and discuss how great programs become part of the fabric of the city, touching on sustainable revenue models, evaluation and adaptation.

"We just launched on October 7, so it’s a very new effort," Shmavonian says of the Fund. "We have been pleasantly surprised at how much interest there’s been."

The seven founding members include North Penn Community Health Foundation, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Scattergood Foundation, the Barra Foundation, the Philadelphia Foundation, United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, William Penn Foundation and Arizona’s Lodestar Foundation.

The Fund targets nonprofits in transition in the greater Philadelphia area, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia and Montgomery counties. Hosted and administered by the Philanthropy Network of Greater Philadelphia, seed awards and grants will support nonprofits as they explore and formalize new collaborations, joint ventures and consolidations.

In rare instances, the Fund will also help with dissolution planning for individual organizations outside of a merger or acquisition. That, along with the work of "repositioning" nonprofits, can lead to questions about the Fund’s goals.

"How do foundations work with nonprofits in a way that is not threatening?" asks Shmavonian. "Because obviously there’s a power imbalance there. This isn’t about thinning the herd. It really is about finding ways to allow a nonprofit to…deliver on their mission in a sustainable high-performance way."

That can include tweaks like merging back office realms or making an informal partnership an integral piece of an organizations’ structure, allowing the pooling of resources and best practices.

"There’s a whole array of arrangements that people are looking at that stop far short of a formal merger or acquisition," she adds.

Shmavonian is looking forward to the December 2 conversation, which will also feature Lauren Fine of the Youth Sentencing and Re-entry Project. She thinks the next several years will bring very interesting deals for regional nonprofits, and that the Fund will grow a portfolio of creative models for participating organizations.

"It’s a fast-changing environment out there," she argues. "I’m as much about shifting the culture and dynamics around this as I am the actual individual deals that we’re going to engage in." 

The latest Exchange PHL Breakfast Series is happening Wednesday, December 2 from 8:30 - 10 a.m. at 1501 Cherry Street. Attendance is free; click here to register.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nadya K. Shmavonian, the Nonprofit Repositioning Fund
 
 

Philadelphia is America's first World Heritage City

While the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance was fighting to maintain the city's Cultural Fund budget -- which faced steep cuts for the next fiscal year -- Philly was on track to become the United States’ first World Heritage City. The designation, announced last week after a vote from the World Congress of the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC) in Arequipa, Peru, went up like a firework in local news feeds.

Philly is the 267th World Heritage City, having logged one major qualification back in 1979, when Independence Hall became a World Heritage Site.

"Philadelphia is the largest and most complete fulfillment of the kind of model city envisioned by Enlightenment architects," OWHC notes on our city’s new page.

It’s an exciting first for a city already spreading its wings on the national and global stage, hosting Pope Francis in September and the Democratic National Convention in summer 2016.

Cultural Alliance president Maud Lyon is excited about the possibilities of Philly’s new distinction, but notes that our identity as a city with strong ties to the rest of the world is not a new one.

"It’s really important for us to focus on being a global city," she argues. "We have been from the very beginning, and I think it’s important for us to have that perspective. 

"I think culture is always the first ambassador that goes out for a city,” she continues, noting the success of a world tour for the Philadelphia Orchestra in the past year. "Those concert halls were packed everywhere the Orchestra went."

It’s a good time to be getting our world-class cultural offerings out there because according to a Global Philadelphia study cited in the Inquirer, the city could be looking at a significant tourism boost: a one to two percent increase in domestic visitors (generating an economic impact of up to $200 million), and a rise in foreign visitors that could reach 15 percent, or the addition of up to 100,000 tourists annually.

Lyon is excited by the possibilities of more visitors from overseas, particularly a growing population of middle class travelers from throughout Asia, especially China and India.

"I think that we will in the next ten years be seeing more people coming from that part of the world who want to tour Philadelphia, and we absolutely want to be a destination for them," she adds.

The next ten years will be important ones for America, too, as the 250th anniversary of the country's independence approaches.

Culture is "the most approachable and welcoming and inclusive way of being an ambassador [for a] city," says Lyon, and the influx of international visitors -- and hopefully more collaborations between foreign artists and Philly institutions -- will be "the kind of cross-fertilization that you need between cultures.”

From Philly’s history as the United States’ birthplace to our musical tradition to our scientific and educational institutions, our city has plenty to offer. In considering the World Heritage designation, Lyon says we need to take pride not only in the international visitors we attract, but in the longtime diversity of our home. It’s not just about honoring the framers of the Constitution.

"Certainly the diversity of ethnic heritage that’s part of this city and this region is very rich and very important to who we are," she explains. "It’s important for us to remember that and to really own being a global city."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Maud Lyon, the Cultural Alliance of Greater Philadelphia

New manager at Germantown United CDC has all the neighborhood news

Emaleigh Doley, a longtime community activist, has a new hat: she's one of two full-time employees at Germantown United CDC (along with executive director Andy Trackman). Thanks to support from the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, she started in late August as the nonprofit’s corridor manager, and is now nurturing and managing a slew of projects at the upstart community development corporation.

These include the latest round of GUDCD's Fund for Germantown grantees, who receive micro-grants for "community-driven beautification projects" in the neighborhood; those winners were announced October 1. The dollars come via local real estate developers Ken Weinstein and Howard Treatman, and have supported 17 initiatives (with amounts ranging from $100 to $1,000) since the program’s inception.

The latest grantees include photographer Tieshka Smith for her "Peaceful Places" public signage project, Maplewood Mall’s iMPeRFeCT Gallery, which will be installing an interactive sidewalk mural, and Susan Guggenheim’s Freedom Gardens, which connects local gardeners eager to share crops with those looking for homegrown produce. Other grantees include the Germantown elementary school Fitler Academics Plus, the West Central Germantown Neighbors, Men Who Care of Germantown and the East Germantown's Chew-Belfield Neighbors Club.

According to Doley, the Germantown Artists Roundtable, a previous grantee, stands out as a successful example of what the funds can do. The group recently mounted a display of information on current arts and culture events outside the Chelten Avenue train station, and plans to keep it updated as a community resource for happenings around town.

"We’re starting to see how that could be a really attractive feature in other areas of Germantown," she explains. "We’re learning from the project ideas that are coming through, and thinking about how we might like to build initiatives around some of them."

Applications for the next round of Fund for Germantown grants are due December 31, 2015.

Also looming large on GUCDC’s horizon is a new website for the neighborhood featuring a business directory. Doley notes that while Historic Germantown does a good job of providing online information about the area’s historic sites, residents and visitors alike often aren’t aware of other amenities, from parks and public spaces to hardware stores and restaurants. She hopes the new website will remedy that.

GUCDC is working with P’unk Avenue to develop the site. Input is being gathered via interviews and workshops with community leaders, residents and business owners. The site is on track to launch in early 2016.

Other projects for the commercial corridor in Germantown include the installation of new security cameras and a storefront activation initiative in partnership with local artists. Check back with Flying Kite as we keep up with the latest in our former On the Ground home.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Emaleigh Doley, Germantown United Community Development Corporation

 

On the Ground: One city block yields almost 6,000 pounds of produce

When Flying Kite moved into our new On the Ground digs in Parkside, we didn’t know how close we were to Neighborhood Foods Farm, one of the city’s most productive urban farms.
 
Operating under the umbrella of Philly’s Urban Tree Connection (UTC) and its Neighborhood Foods program, the site at 53rd and Wyalusing is the size of one city block, or about three-quarters of an acre.
 
Rachel deVitry, agricultural director at UTC, has overseen the farm since spring 2014, but it got started around 2010, when local block captains approached UTC founder and executive director Skip Wiener about the space.
 
"It used to be a parking lot with a factory across the street," recalls deVitry. "Ownership of the lot just lapsed and it became a chop shop," and a hub for drugs and prostitution. The block captains invited Wiener to take a look, and plans for the farm got underway, beginning with a major clean-out of the accumulated garbage. Then came the break-up of the cement that covered most of the site, and the application of thick layers of leaf mulch and mushroom soil.
 
These days, the farm yields rotation crops such as lettuces, arugula, kale, collards and chard, along with radishes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, squash and heirloom tomatoes.

Neighborhood Foods also operates three other urban farms in the neighborhood -- one adjacent to the First African Presbyterian Church at 4159 West Girard, another next to Ward AME Church at 43rd and Aspen, and a new four-acre site on Merion Avenue near Girard.
 
Though not the largest, the 53rd Street farm is the most productive site -- so far this season they've harvested 5,850 pounds of produce.
 
Some of that goes to neighbors who volunteer a few hours per week in exchange for fresh vegetables, and some goes to the Saturday Neighborhood Foods Farm farmers' market, which runs on the site from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. May through November. (The market also features produce like fruit and potatoes purchased from other local growers.)
 
The farm operates with the help of two full-time and two part-time staffers, as well as neighborhood volunteers and young apprentices hired after successful runs in after-school programs.
 
The farm stays open in the winter months thanks to "high tunnels," unheated structures that keep plants such as cold-friendly kale, collards and lettuce from freezing.

"We did grow through most of the winter last year," says deVitry. "And [we] hope to grow through the whole of the winter this year."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rachel DeVitry, Urban Tree Connection 



Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.
 

Making great food products while combating poverty in southeastern Pennsylvania

Lancaster entrepreneur Charlie Crystle, whose food products are finding an enthusiastic audience in Greater Philadelphia, has a specific philosophy on the trouble with America’s economy.

According to the Lancaster Food Company CEO, what we need is "an effort to make jobs that meet people where they are, rather than where we want them to be." Politicians and civic leaders talk a lot about job training, but especially in a city like Lancaster -- which has a 30 percent poverty rate -- this falls short. Focusing on job training programs rather than immediately accessible jobs "continues to push the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed…if we don’t do something to meet them halfway, or all the way, [they] will never have decent employment," he argues.

Hiring people in poverty with a good living wage is a part of his company's mission. Crystle founded the company alongside his childhood friend Craig Lauer, who serves as chief product officer, in 2014. After launching and then exiting two software startups, living coast-to-coast and working in Central America with a program for street kids, Crystle felt a strong desire to create a company at home with a social as well as an economic impact.

Lancaster Food Company specializes in organic and sustainably sourced breads, spreads, salsas and jams, including sandwich rye and cinnamon raisin swirl bread, sunflower seed spreads, and limited-edition small-batch toppings from locally grown ingredients such as golden orange tomato salsa and organic strawberry jam. A Lancaster Heritage Grain bread is also on the way this fall.

While their products are handmade, Crystle insists Lancaster Food Company is already a scalable business -- their target market ranges from Washington, D.C., to the New York metro area, with a large presence in Philly. Currently, you can find their products at Mariposa and Weavers Way food co-ops, Reading Terminal Market, area Shop-Rites and the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. They just closed an exciting deal with five Wegman’s stores in Southeastern PA, and have their sights set on Whole Foods; look for their products on the shelves of a location in Wayne soon.

That increased reach means more room to advance the company’s social philosophy: hiring people in poverty struggling to find jobs. The company was launched with "a demand for jobs that require relatively low skills, and could meet people where they are in terms of their education, work history or legal background," explains Crystle, something that was difficult to achieve with his prior work in tech startups. "We’re trying to scale so that we can hire hundreds of people, not dozens."

He’s also adamant about the value of supporting local businesses and enjoys being able to tap into the vibrant agriculture of the Lancaster area.

"Every dollar that we spend locally has…three times the impact on our local economy" as money spent on goods from corporations in faraway states, he explains. That adds up to a business as committed to combating poverty as it is to pleasing customers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Charlie Crystle, Lancaster Food Company

 

Community funding propels G-Town Radio from the internet to the airwaves

G-Town Radio station manager Jim Bear says that though it might not yet be visible to the public, big changes are underway for Germantown’s Internet radio station, which at its highest listenership has over 15,000 people tuning in worldwide.

The major news broke in January, when the station got its permit from the FCC to become a Low Power FM radio station -- new federal legislation gave non-commercial neighborhood groups access to low-power airwaves previously denied them in favor of major broadcasting frequencies.

"To serve the community as best we can, being on the radio allows us to do that much better than we can online,” explains Bear who is still "a big believer" in Internet radio. "I love the medium. I love what you can do with it, but at the same time, there are real limitations to who you can expect to reach. I think that would be true anywhere, but I think it’s even more evident in a community like Germantown."

In many neighborhoods, the digital divide is still very real. Unlike Internet access, which can be costly and require certain skills to tune in, radio is still a ubiquitous and easily accessible medium, free for everyone with a car or a radio in the home. (The station will continue to broadcast online as well.)

With an existing studio and programming, G-town Radio (which will share airtime with Germantown United CDC and Germantown Life Enrichment Center) is ahead of some nascent LPFM stations who must build their presence from the ground up.

Right now, Bear is looking into locations and lease agreements with local property owners who might be able to host a radio antenna on the roof. The studio space itself won’t require much additional equipment: the primary expense of shifting to LPFM will be that new transmission equipment, including the gear that beams the audio from the studio to the tower.

To that end, G-Town Radio has launched a "Drive for the Sky" crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo, hoping to raise $5,000 by October 3. That will cover the initial costs of equipment and installation, and possibly the first few months of rent for the antenna location.

"We want to make sure we get to the air… [and] demonstrate our worth, and hopefully when we’re doing that, people will recognize the value of community radio, and give us access to a larger pool of donors and supporters and listeners," enthuses Bear.

He hopes the new G-town Radio signal -- available at 92.9 FM -- will hit the airwaves as soon as possible: They’re on an FCC-administered deadline requiring completion of LPFM construction within 18 months of receiving the permit, which means launching by next summer at the latest. The signal is expected to reach what Bear calls "greater Northwest Philadelphia," including Germantown, East Falls, Nicetown, Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane. (Depending on location and the density of area buildings, LPFM signals typically have a three to five mile radius.)

"A lot of it’s behind the scenes so there’s not much to see," says Bear of the LPFM progress so far, "but we’re actively working on it and we’re still moving forward."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jim Bear, G-Town Radio

Meet A Poet Art Gallery, On the Groundís host in Parkside

On August 11, Flying Kite announced the official relaunch of On the Ground, and we’re already enjoying the hospitality of our home for the next three months, Girard Avenue's A Poet Art Gallery.

The gallery, founded in late 2010, was originally located at 4510 Walnut Street before moving to 40th and Girard in Parkside. The three founders, Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles and New York-based Tina Albright recently chatted with Flying Kite about their history and mission.

"We just wanted to create a space for artists to basically have a home," explains Pierre-Louis.

Events at the Girard Avenue space include weekly (every Tuesday night) and monthly ("Sounds in the Gallery" every first Saturday) open mic events for poetry and music, plus art exhibitions, African dance classes and, coming soon, painting classes. The gallery is also available to rent for a variety of events, including weddings.

The three women's artistic backgrounds are about as diverse as they come. The Haitian-born Pierre-Louis came to the U.S. when she was 11, first settling with family in Los Angeles for a year, then relocating to Philly where she completed the rest of her education, including a graphic design degree.

"I’ve been drawing since I was six years old," she says; Pierre-Louis now works in acrylics and oils, as well as tattoo art.

Coles, an alum of University City High School, is a Philadelphia native who grew up in South and West Philly. She loves all kinds of art and describes herself as "an inside poet" because she enjoys putting words together, but doesn’t always share them in public.

Albright is an interior designer and art-decal maker, but she also shares carpentry skills with Coles. Her artistic expertise extends into the culinary realm: She creates custom cakes in a variety of shapes including handbags and shoes.

"We pretty much all had a hand in building the gallery," recalls Albright.

The three put even more work into their Girard Avenue space than the Walnut Street one -- they raised the ceiling, laid down new floors, and designed and created the bathrooms. The location even boasts a backyard.

The women admire the better-known gallery corridors of Old City, but saw no reason not to bring the same caliber of art and community-building to West Philly. According to Pierre-Louis, they have a broad client base across the city, but want to connect more closely with their nearest neighbors. When she got wind of On the Ground, it sounded like the perfect "missing piece" of their mission for the gallery.

"We’ve been trying to get in touch and pool a little bit more of the community and we haven’t had that chance," she continues; the Flying Kite connection was the right thing at the right time. "We want people to come out and appreciate art and see something different…and decide to pick up some paint and write some poetry, and we want to inspire people and be in our home base, which is West Philly."

The address is 4032 Girard Avenue, and Flying Kite will be in residence there every Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. through October.

"We’re always looking for artists," adds Pierre-Louis. "The door is always open."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles, and Tina Albright, APoetArtGallery 

 

An urban farm sprouts in Chinatown thanks to Grow Where You Live

Meei Ling Ng, a Singapore-born, Philly-based artist, designer and urban farmer, has taken on a multifaceted project in Chinatown North. The initiative features a vertical urban farm, a job-skills program for people in recovery from addiction or homelessness, and a new fount of fresh food for the partnering Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

The impetus for Ng's new project grew out of Grow Where You Live, her year-long Social Practice Lab residency at the Asian Arts Initiative. It was supposed to wrap up in June, but the current urban garden project has proven so successful that Ng's Asian Arts residency has been extended at least until the end of this year.

"Ideally I was looking for a vacant lot around the neighborhood," says Ng of a long search for an appropriate urban farm space and partner organization. Such a space -- open to the work of an artist and farmer -- was hard to find, partly because of recent gentrification in the area.

A tour of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission late last year proved extremely propitious: Ng learned that the organization, which provides a range of vital services to the city’s homeless, was in the process of a parking lot space swap with their neighbors to the west, Roman Catholic High School.

The switch would leave a large space along Sunday Breakfast’s kitchen wall -- about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long -- empty of cars by law.

"This is amazing. This is exactly what we want," Ng recalls thinking on seeing the space; she envisioned a specially designed and built vertical urban farm. "We can use a whole big empty wall with asphalt under…this could be an awesome, awesome project."

The artist spent a month on a meticulous rendering of her idea, then pitched it to Sunday Breakfast. The project became reality through support and donations from Asian Arts, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, City Harvest and South Philly’s Urban Jungle, a landscape design firm.

Since then, the little farm has provided pounds of produce that go directly into meals served at Sunday Breakfast.

The partnership also has a human component: The farm runs with help from workers at Overcomers, an intensive 16-month program for men in recovery from addiction and homelessness. They reap a wealth of skills -- not only the ability to grow their own healthy food in an urban setting, but practical job training in a rapidly growing industry. The formal part of the Overcomers project is finished, but a few participants have stayed on as official apprentices and volunteers.

"This is very exciting that we have a team now to work on the farm," says Ng, adding that she has high hopes the project will continue in future summers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meei Ling Ng, Asian Arts Initiative
199 Regionalism Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts