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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

A major merger supports big plans in Fairmount Park

Big news keeps coming out of Fairmount Park: On April 21, the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust, the two nonprofits that support the city's park system, formally announced their merger.

The Conservancy, founded as the Fairmount Park Foundation in 1997, began primarily as a fundraising agent for the park, but in the last few years, the organization has partnered with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation to branch into many aspects of planning, project management and outreach. It’s now also helming the recently-announced Reimagining the Civic Commons initiative.

The Trust, a public/private venture launched in 1992, focuses on professional preservation services to nonprofits and City agencies, managing historic buildings, public art and "cultural landscapes."

The new combined organization -- boasting the name Fairmount Park Conservancy -- isn’t shedding any jobs on either side; it will employ a combined staff of 16 and have an annual operating budget of about $2 million. Former Conservancy Executive Director Kathryn Ott Lovell will continue in that role while former Trust Executive Director Lucy Strackhouse has transitioned into the title of senior director of preservation and project management. 

Bringing the two groups together was a long process.

"We started talking about merging in 2007," recalls Strackhouse. A lot of meetings took place, but "then 2008 happened," and city-wide financial pressures caused by the recession led the organizations to table the talks until 2010.

But once the discussion was back on track -- with the help of pro bono legal services from Pepper Hamilton -- the boards reached a memorandum of understanding in mid-2014, with official notice of the merger reaching both offices at the end of the year.

While the January merger was no secret, the delay of a formal public announcement until late April had to do with getting the new organization’s branding and website up to speed.

"What we’re really going to be looking at is not just preserving these resources for history’s sake, but really thinking about how the historic properties are activated in new ways," says Lovell. "What you’ll see from our combined entities are some really exciting announcements about historic properties reimagined."

Between PennPraxis' plan The New Fairmount Park, the Civic Commons, and other initiatives, "City government can’t manage on their own," says Lovell of the Conservancy’s increasingly important role in Fairmount Park stewardship.

These plans encompass the natural, historical and cultural assets of the park, she adds, "reinforcing the fact that the merger is a really positive thing for both organizations, but ultimately for the park."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Kathryn Ott Lovell and Lucy Strackhouse, the Fairmount Park Conservancy

A North Philly grant leaves no excuse for litter

Earlier this year, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) announced a new micro-grant program to help local community organizations boost safety, walkability and commerce through resident-led clean-up programs. The first round of grantees included the North 5th Street Revitalization Project, which received $1000. The dollars are already going a long way on a range of initiatives.

The North 5th Street Revitalization Project has been operating since 2008 with funding from the Commerce Department. While their umbrella organization is the Korean Community Development Services Center, they have their own branding and offices.

The initiative's service area covers about a mile and a half of the Olney neighborhood: It runs from Roosevelt Boulevard to Spencer Street, and then a block on each side of N. 5th Street. The organization runs a sidewalk cleaning program (including two staffers who work five days a week to keep litter off the streets), removes "bandit signs," logs and repairs dozens of 311 issues each month and leads neighborhood cleanups, like April 11's city-wide Philly Spring Cleanup Day, which drew about sixty neighbors to volunteer.

The Project also focuses on public safety, holding twice-yearly meetings with police representatives and local merchants to discuss issues of crime and security, and helping participating businesses install security cameras through a dedicated city program. And it provides a wide range of business assistance, from helping locals get business permits or apply for eligible grant programs, to facilitating a business association and offering financing help.

"We have 340 active businesses on North 5th Street," says Program Director Philip Green. Most of them are small "mom and pop" stores, and many are "immigrant-owned and operated, so it’s really hard for them to obtain traditional bank loans."

Finally, the Project promotes the corridor in general through events such as open mic nights, community clean-ups and seasonal programming.

The KPB dollars funded a fun DIY photo-shoot for Philly Spring Cleanup Day volunteers, which the organization will share throughout the coming year, keeping the spirit of the clean-up alive and reminding people that maintaining the neighborhood is a year-round activity.

Leftover dollars will go to projects such as revamping the Project’s existing brochure on responsible homeownership and neighborhood maintenance, and translating it into multiple languages for Olney’s diverse community. Green also hopes the money will help buy more "Keep 5th Clean" tee-shirts -- like the ones teen clean-up crew captains wore on April 11 -- as well as decals for neighborhood recycling bins.

"Community clean-ups aren’t really about the trash ending up in a trash bag and going away to the dump," explains Green. "It’s really about the message that community residents cleaning up sends to other people."

Teenagers working in festive matching shirts are particularly motivating, he hopes.

"People will see that and realize that they have absolutely no excuse to litter, and no excuse not to take pride in their neighborhood."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Philip Green, North 5th Street Revitalization Project

 

New GSK dollars at the Food Trust will boost youth health and wellness citywide

A $5 million GSK IMPACT Grant to a Philadelphia collective led by The Food Trust will allow the local food and health access leader to significantly expand its existing HYPE (Healthy You, Positive Energy) program to reach 50,000 kids over the next three years.

The dollars, administered through the Philadelphia Foundation, are going to boost programs at nine partner organizations citywide, with a special focus on North Philadelphia. The new collective’s work will be known as Get HYPE Philly!
HYPE has already been working with local kids in about 100 different schools over the last several years, explains Food Trust executive director Yael Lehmann.

"It’s going to build on this existing program," she says. "And at the same time we’re going to be working with all these other groups," who will also be expanding their own work. 

The Get HYPE collective includes Guild House West’s Greener Partners, East Park Revitalization Alliance’s Common Market, The Village of Arts and Humanities, and the Garden Education Program of Norris Square Neighborhood Project. Also partnering under the Food Trust umbrella are the Free Library’s Culinary Literacy Center (and branch-based teen mentoring program), The Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA, The Philadelphia Youth Network, The Enterprise Center Community Development Corporation and Equal Measure, which will help evaluate the Get HYPE programming’s impact throughout the grant’s three-year span.

Some of these organizations will focus on urban farming, nutrition, literacy through food-based activities, and exercise; others will build on different aspects of overall health such as workforce development and entrepreneurship.

"This is really going to strengthen the networking between all of our agencies," insists Lehmann. "It’s going to have this awesome ripple effect throughout the city."

Lehmann is particularly excited about the new youth advisory board the grant will create, which will consist of about fifteen to twenty teens from around the city. They will be able to direct mini-grants of up to $2,000 (or a total of $70,000 per year for the life of the program) to student-led initiatives focused on things such as exercise, urban agriculture and healthy food donations.

"It’s not just window-dressing. They’re going to have some work to do," Lehmann says of the students who will be involved (their selection process is still TBD).

The grant’s allowance for evaluating the programs is also important, she insists, "to be able to tell the story, and look at how this is impacting kids in Philly, and help us adjust as needed."

And she hopes Get HYPE Philly! will continue far beyond the initial three-year roll-out.

“From day one, all the collective partners and the Food Trust will be thinking about how to sustain this beyond the grant," she says. "We see this as a long-term project."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Yael Lehmann, The Food Trust

 

Students from Philadelphia and Mongolia come together on climate change

The Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program at Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences has been going strong for 32 years, and now a special grant from the U.S. Department of State’s Museums Connect program is allowing a team of 15 Philly public high school girls to collaborate with 15 girls from Mongolia on a globe-spanning project.

For the last several months, the teens have been using online courses, Facebook and Skype to study climate change and its cultural impact. Then last week, four girls from the Mongolian side of the project, administered through the National Museum of Mongolia’s ROOTS program, had a whirlwind visit to Philadelphia. This July, five public high school girls from Philadelphia will reciprocate with their own two-week trip to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.

The climate change focus of the youth program is three-pronged, explains WINS manager Betsy Payne: "One is water, one is food, one is the cultural repercussions."

Currently, there are 60 girls in the WINS program citywide, but the Museums Connect dollars (administered by the American Alliance of Museums) allowed for just fifteen Mongolian girls and fifteen Philly girls. WINS sophomores and juniors were invited to apply for the program, and were selected based on a range of criteria.

"Even though it’s a one-year program, we’re hoping it has repercussions where they might be able to do more in the near future," says Payne of the age group she decided to target and applicants' dedication to the program’s offerings. The Academy was also "looking for the girls who hadn’t had other opportunities of major travel." 

The lucky travelers are George Washington Carver High School of Engineering and Science sophomore Faatimat Sylla; junior Geré Johnson from the Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School of Philadelphia; Harleen Gonzalez, a sophomore at Central High School; Academy at Palumbo sophomore Linda Gutierrez, and Philadelphia High School for Girls junior Ti’anna Cooper.

The project’s capstone, for both teams of girls, will be a final display based on what they’ve learned in their year of cross-continental collaboration. The form it will take will be up to the students, as long as it deals with climate change and cultural exchange: a short play, a museum activity, a presentation of specimens or something else the young women devise.  

The Mongolian students' U.S. trip was packed with classroom visits and science as well as some historic sight-seeing in Old City, cheesesteaks on South Street, a Lancaster farm visit, a tour of Washington, D.C. that included the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, and even some good old-fashioned retail therapy at the King of Prussia Mall.

By early fall, the two intercontinental teams will develop lessons and presentations about climate change that will be incorporated into the public programming at the Academy of Natural Sciences and the National Museum of Mongolia.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Betsy Payne, The Academy of Natural Sciences

 

Rad Dish is Temple's new sustainable student food co-op

Temple University junior Lauren Troop started out as an environmental studies major, but when she became part of a bold new food co-op business plan with her fellow students, she found the perfect convergence of her interests, and switched to studying entrepreneurship.

The concept for Rad Dish, which opened on February 5 in a former Sodexo café space in Ritter Hall, grew out of a student research project completed a few years ago. The idea failed to move forward once the original thinkers graduated.

But then founding Rad Dish co-op members got hold of the idea, and began working in fall 2013 to make the space a reality. The group met under the auspices and mentorship of Temple’s Office of Sustainability, with participation from campus organizations such as Students for Environmental Action, Temple Community Garden and Net Impact, the university’s sustainable business club.

The team started meeting once a week with help from a three-credit independent study course that allowed them to devote the necessary number of hours to getting the co-op café off the ground. Meetings with West Philly’s Mariposa food co-op, as well as other student groups, including one from the University of Maryland, helped them clarify their vision.

"Our mission was really to provide affordable locally and ethically sourced fresh food to our Temple community," explains Troop, a Lancaster native. "We do that by sourcing everything within 150 miles."

Items like tea and coffee and certain spices, which the co-op can’t get locally, are sourced through a major organic and fair-trade supplier. 

Rad Dish opened its doors with the help of one year of free rent from Temple and $30,000 in seed money from the Office of Sustainability to help cover the first round of inventory and salaries for workers.

The space is a café now, but Rad Dish organizers hope to expand into more of a grocery model as they gain experience and more local, seasonal produce becomes available. In the meantime, the space already has its own appealing vibe, with floor-to-ceiling windows and art on the walls.

The community has already started to embrace the idea. Someone donated a bike-powered blender, and then a record-payer.

"People have just started to bring in random stuff that made it a unique space to hang out in," says Troop.

Prospects for the co-op’s future are good, she adds: a large crop of sophomores are just now stepping into leadership roles, replacing graduating founders.

"My favorite part about the project is how we’ve incorporated so many fields of study and so many people with different majors," insists Troops. "There are people from our business school, arts school, communications, engineering, and people who just love food."

Rad Dish is now open from 10 a.m. - 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in Ritter Hall, on the corner of Montgomery Avenue and 13th Street.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source, Lauren Troop, Rad Dish

Wash Cycle Laundry forges a new path for socially conscious investing

A few weeks ago, Philadelphia startup Wash Cycle Laundry (WCL) closed on a major new loan from the Distinguished Social Ventures Foundation (DSVF) which may help the company create hundreds of new jobs and nab new contracts on the way to major expansion.

According to founder and CEO Gabriel Mandujano, the $450,000 loan isn’t just important for what it will help WCL achieve, but also in the new model it will help forge for foundations who want to invest in mission-based businesses.

WCL, now operating in Austin and Washington, D.C., as well as Philly, was founded here in 2010. The company provides laundry and linen rental services for institutions, businesses and residents, with environmentally-friendly high-efficiency machines and powerful bike trailers for hauling. The company also focuses on hiring its employees from vulnerable populations such as formerly incarcerated people and longtime welfare recipients. The company currently employs almost 50 people, with a retention rate topping 80 percent in workers' first six months.

"What [this] capital allows us to do is come to the table as a ready partner," explains Mandujano. When WCL negotiates with potential clients like a hospital system or university, whether or not the company has the capacity to handle the contract in terms of staffing and inventory has always been a big question. "What this investment has allowed us to do is…go out and close more of these institutional contracts."

The terms of the loan are unique, and give WCL a powerful incentive to expand its socially conscious mission. The current interest rate on the loan is 5 percent, but WCL has five years to reduce that interest rate drastically.

"We’re talking about the net number of jobs that we create," says Mandujano of the loan’s "five-year time clock" from its January 21 closing date. If WCL can create 200 jobs with the help of the new capital, interest on the loan will drop to three percent, and if it can create 500 new jobs within five years, the interest rate will go down to just one percent.

"I’m really excited that this financing aligns our financial interests with our mission interests," he enthuses. "If we’re better at achieving our mission, we’re also financially rewarded for that."

And for both WCL and DSVF, a bigger goal is creating a model that will work for other "purpose-driven businesses" and the foundations who might be interested in similar "impact investing," but do not know how to select the right company, set the right goals, and hammer out the paperwork.

According to Mandujano, "we wanted to create an instrument that that we thought could be copied both by other foundations that want to invest in Wash Cycle, but also just by foundations interested in this type of investing in general."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Gabriel Mandujano, Wash Cycle Laundry

 

An award-winning team at Penn works to make fracking safer

Last week, we took a look at how the graphene technology developed at the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the global marketplace, and now, a pair of Penn students has won the annual Y-Prize contest for applying this rapidly-growing field to the problems of fracking.

Winners Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin are both fourth-year students of dual-degree programs at Penn Engineering and the Wharton School. Guenin, a Lancaster native, is doing his undergrad work in bioengineering, marketing and management, with a master’s in mechanical engineering on deck after that, and Amurthur, from Princeton Junction, N.J., is majoring in bioengineering and finance.

This year, the Y-Prize contest invited students to develop a new application for existing Penn nanotechnology, and drew a record 19 entries. Four finalists presented their concepts to a panel of judges on January 28, and Guenin and Amurthur nabbed the $5,000 first prize. The funds aren't the only reward: they also receive the framework for a non-exclusive license to the Penn technology, an important first step in commercializing their proposal.

Guenin says the controversy of natural gas drilling's environmental effects loomed large as he grew up in central Pennsylvania. Together, the young men have applied Penn’s graphene field-effect transistor (GFET) technology to the detection of benzene in groundwater.

Currently, drilling companies who suspect leaks in the underground casings of their equipment -- and local governments and consumers worried about water contamination -- don’t have a reliable way to confirm and pinpoint those leaks. Groundwater can be tested for levels of various chemical ions and compounds like chlorides, but since these can occur naturally in some water samples regardless of the side-effects of fracking, the tests don’t offer conclusive answers.

"The oil companies want to know for sure, do we have a leak or not?" Amurthur explains.

The Y-Prize team’s answer is GFETs for detecting benzene, a carcinogenic compound used in fracking fluid that usually does not occur in groundwater naturally.

If the team can develop their benzene GFETs and bring them to market, "you could more conclusively say that you do have a leak," Amurthur continues. It’s vital information for municipalities, drilling companies and consumers alike, and could ensure more rapid and accurate repair of leaking casings, enhanced safety, increased profits and a protected environment.

Though there’s a lot of work yet to be done to bring this concept to market, Guenin is excited about the opportunities for networking and the support the Y-Prize win will bring.

"It’s awesome that we were able to get this," he says. "And we’re really really excited to move forward with it."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Ashwin Amurthur and Teddy Guenin, GFET-Frack Technologies

 

A KIZ tax credit helps Philly's Graphene Frontiers pioneer 21st-century diagnostics

Imagine conducting an instantly accurate test for Lyme disease or Syphilis -- or potentially hundreds of other illnesses -- right in your doctor’s office with a single drop of blood. Mike Patterson, a Wharton MBA alum and CEO of the University City Science Center-based Graphene Frontiers, says it’ll happen within a few years.

The company was founded by Dr. Charlie Johnson, Dr. Zhengtang Luo and Patterson in 2010 out of the University of Pennsylvania’s UPstart program. Recently recognized as one of 18 Pennsylvania Companies to Watch in 2015, Graphene Frontiers just landed their first Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) state tax credit.

But what is graphene, and why do we need it?

Put on your science hats.

Researchers at the University of Manchester first isolated this material in 2004, winning the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

"Graphene is simply a single atomic layer of carbon," explains Patterson.

If you’re feeling fancy, call it an allotrope of carbon, like graphite or a diamond. It’s incredibly strong: proportionally 100 times stronger than steel, yet flexible, transparent, and the best conductor of heat and electricity mankind has ever discovered. It has myriad applications, from solar cells to touch screens to desalinization. 

Take your pencil’s core. Imagine cutting it so thin you have a slice of graphite only one atom thick. Bingo: graphene.
But it’s not so easy.

Graphene manufacturers don’t shave carbon down. Instead, they use a carbon-containing gas like methane and a process called chemical vapor deposition to build the graphene literally atom by atom.

What Dr. Luo discovered and patented in a physics lab at Penn was a way to do this at normal atmospheric pressure, instead of in an expensive, unwieldy vacuum chamber, like everyone else has been doing until now.

With the help of a two-step National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research grant totaling almost $900,000, Graphene Frontiers entered the global market.

Forget little strips of graphene. The company is pioneering a way to grow it in massive rolls on copper foil, and then remove it from that copper with hydrolysis (an electric current that separates the hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyte/water solution) rather than using what Patterson calls "a really nasty bath of chemicals" to dissolve the copper and collect the graphene.  

"We can just bubble off the graphene and re-use the copper," he says. "[It's] very important for cost and environmental concerns."

Right now the company is focused on graphene in biosensor applications, and hopes to partner with a major diagnostics firm. Patterson says the future of point-of-care diagnostics will be the graphene field-effect transistor (GFET). In short, a strip of graphene ten microns wide (one-tenth the width of a human hair, for us mortals). A specific antibody attached to it will, with the help of an electric current, be able to instantly detect bacteria or proteins in a tiny blood sample (instead of testing multiple vials of blood for an immune response).  

In other words, no lab technicians with pipettes and goggles.

So what will Graphene Frontiers do with the new tax credit? It’s not just about physics and chemistry. The money will help the company hire a new production engineer and lab technician to produce more GFET applications and tests.

"It’s all about the people," insists Patterson.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source. Mike Patterson, Graphene Frontiers

 

Microgrants will launch community anti-litter initiatives in 2015

Last week, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful (KPB) released a new RFP for community nonprofits looking to nab seed funds for their anti-litter initiatives.

"You can have all the ideas in the world but not secure the funds to do it," explains Michelle Feldman, the organization's director. "At Keep Philadelphia Beautiful, we're not the only ones with good ideas."

The new program consists of three microgrants: two of $1,000 and one of $500. A former CDC employee herself, Feldman knows how far even a small amount of money can go for a community group trying to get a new idea off the ground.

Keep Philadelphia Beautiful "believes that communities know their challenges and opportunities best," says the RFP of working through grantees on litter abatement. "We want to provide community-based organizations with the resources to help solve neighborhood beautification concerns, and the space to experiment and test new ideas."

Successful applicants will need to demonstrate measurable, collaborative, sustainable and scalable impact, says Feldman (she expects at least ten to 15 applicants for the inaugural round). The organization will consider brand-new proposals or expansions of existing programs that meet the criteria.

Empirical data proves that tackling litter can have a direct impact on factors like the growth of small businesses, property values, crime, and perception of the neighborhood both inside and outside the community. According to Feldman, a good example of community innovation on the issue is the Philadelphia Chinatown Development Corporation's $1-A-Day program -- participating businesses each contribute $365 a year toward daily litter clean-up.

It turned into "a great way to help fund the daily cleaning and involve the community, and give them ownership over the cleaning effort," she explains.

The hope is that this year’s participants will be help model best practices, inspiring and informing other groups in the future.

Proposals are due on March 1; the winners will be selected by March 15. The project cycle will run through December 15, 2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Feldman, Keep Philadelphia Beautiful

Could city-wide composting become a reality in Philadelphia?

According to a report from the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Philadelphia spends over $6 million per year transporting and dumping our wasted or uneaten food into landfills. Why can't we be more like Austin or New York City, which already have food waste recycling programs? Councilwoman Cindy Bass, of Philadelphia’s 8th District, wants to get the ball rolling.

"It’s probably easier to refer to it as composting. The ‘food waste’ thing hasn’t really caught on," says Elliot Griffin, a spokesperson for the Councilwoman, referring to a recent City Council hearing on the feasibility of a city-wide food waste recycling program.

Participants in the November 12 hearing included representatives from the City’s Committee on Streets and Services and Committee on the Environment, alongside composting experts from groups including the U.S. Composting Council's Institute for Local Self Reliance and RecycleNow Philadelphia.

The administration testified that the estimated cost of launching a city-wide composting program, including street pick-up of compostable materials -- and a composting center to handle a city-sized mound of nature’s recycling -- could cost $37 million.

"We’re not exactly in a position to start that today," explains Griffin, but the point of the hearing, which she says was well-attended especially by supporters from Philly’s Northwest neighborhoods, was to help people realize that such a program could be feasible.

According to Griffin, Councilwoman Bass first got inspired on Philly’s composting potential when she read a spring 2014 article in the New York Times about comparable American cities that have already started these initiatives. At the hearing, the biggest surprise was how many locals, from restaurant owners to ordinary citizens to organizations like Weavers Way Co-Op, are already composting on their own.

“We recognize that we have to start the conversation now,” says Griffin, so the next generation can keep the momentum going and make wide-spread composting a reality, benefiting the environment, saving energy and creating jobs.

The construction of an organic recycling center and the jobs created for those who would manage it is "something that could benefit the whole Delaware Valley," adds Griffin.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elliot Griffin, office of Councilwoman Cindy Bass

 

Philly's foodie community gives a local dairy farm its own cheese cave

For Sue Miller, making cheese on her family's Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester County is more than a way to make a living.

"It’s a beautiful process," she says. "We really have touched everything from the very beginning."

They breed the calves on the farm, grow the grass their Holsteins (over 80 of them) graze on, and do all of the daily milking. Up until now, they made and aged the cheese at a rented space nearby, before bringing it to market at Philadelphia-area stores and restaurants. Now, thanks to a successful Kickstart campaign -- more than fully funded with $33,507 raised as of the drive’s close on December 13 -- that is about to change.

After seven of cheesemaking, Birchrun Hills had outgrown that rented space. The funds will allow the Millers (which also includes Sue’s husband Ken and their adult sons Randy, a recent Cornell University graduate, and Jesse, who will receive his degree from Cornell next year) to build their own fully outfitted cheese caves. 

Because dairy farming is so capital-intensive and involves many complicated disciplines, from horticulture to nutritional and veterinary science to milk production, "it’s a challenging thing in the dairy industry to be a first generation [farm]…and unusual in cheese-making," Miller explains. "A lot of people come into cheesemaking after another career."

"You have to be committed to it not as a career, but as lifestyle," she adds.

Their first cheese customer, Di Bruno Bros., is a testament to the quality of their handmade raw-milk cheeses. Now, you can buy favorites like Birchrun Blue, Red Cat, Fat Cat and Equinox at venues such as the Fair Food Farmstand and Salumeria in Reading Terminal Market. Local restaurants, including White Dog Café, Fork and Nectar, also serve Birchrun cheeses.

A loan is allowing the family to build the new structure and the crowdfunded cash will go towards equipment, including a curd vat, specialized shelving and a cooling system.

Miller is proud that her two sons have chosen to return to the family business post-college, and she loves the chance to make a living based on the humane and healthy treatment of farm animals.

"I just love everything about [dairy cows]," she enthuses. "Their personalities can really come through…They are calm and lovely and accepting of human beings. It’s nice that they’re kind of unflappable."

She says the family has been overwhelmed by fans' support -- the crowdfunding campaign easily surpassed its initial $25,000 goal.

"We’re excited that people in our community have so strongly supported this project," adds Miller. "It’s tremendously humbling.”

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sue Miller, Birchrun Hills Farm

Kensington Quarters, Philly's only restaurant/butcher shop, opens in Fishtown

We're all used to picking up everything -- from steak to veggies to detergent to wrapping paper -- in one stop at the grocery store, and it’s hard to remember that we used to shop very differently.
 
Philly restaurateurs Michael and Jeniphur Pasquarello, who together own Bufad, Prohibition Taproom and Café Lift, want to revive the specialized shop tradition with their new restaurant/butcher shop Kensington Quarters (KQ).
 
Opening KQ, housed in a former welding facility on Frankford Avenue, was a journey that took two years. According to Michael, the 25-foot ceilings and sheer size of the spot -- 35 feet wide and 100 feet long -- was initially "very daunting."
 
But that surfeit of space is part of what inspired them to create something unique for Philadelphia: a restaurant that butchers humanely-raised, locally-sourced animals in its own kitchen (instead of ordering cuts of meat) and a butcher shop within the space where folks can purchase their own high-quality cuts.
 
In service of that goal, Michael teamed up with expert butcher Bryan Mayer, who he first connected with over a beer in 2012.
 
"Originally, the concept was a restaurant centered on whole-animal butchery," recalls Michael. "We’re buying animals from farms and not bringing them in in boxes…We believe this is the most efficient way to run a restaurant."
 
While the space was still in its design phase, the two men were touring it and stopped to look at an area that had originally been designated as a lounge and coat closet.
 
"Why don’t you put a butcher shop over here?" Michael remembers asking Mayer, who had been looking to launch his own small-scale, locally-sourced butcher shop.
 
"Come here, get your meat, make it an adventure, talk to the butcher," he explains, insisting on the appeal of getting people out of the grocery-store habit.
 
Michael now says it’s a good thing that the space took so long to develop.

"The more time it took to get that place built, the more the concept evolved and became better understood and well-rooted," he insists.
 
Today, along with the butcher shop, that means wood-fired meals (with herbs from the garden out back) from pastured animals that spent their entire lives on local farms dedicated to humane husbandry, no antibiotics or GMOs (even on the drinks menu), and a simple cooking philosophy.
 
And, starting n 2015, the KQ team hopes to offer classes for those who want to learn more about cooking, butchering, using the whole animal and where food comes from.
 
The kitchen at Kensington Quarters (1310 Frankford Avenue) is open Sunday through Thursday, 5 - 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, 5 - 11 p.m. The butcher shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. - 6 p.m.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michael Pasquarello, Kensington Quarters 

 

A wet and wild happy hour with The Academy of Natural Sciences

Like a little water science with that happy hour beverage? The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is re-launching a "science café" program, previously held at the Cherry Street Tavern, at Old City’s National Mechanics.

The new monthly program is called Tapping Our Watershed. The first presenter (6 p.m. Monday, November 17) is Carol Collier, the Academy's senior advisor for watershed management and policy and director of Drexel's Environmental Studies and Sustainability program. These "happy-hour-style lectures" on the science of local rivers will happen on the third Monday of each month and be similar to the existing Science on Tap events run through the Academy and other local partners on the second Monday of the month.

Collier’s presentation is called "The Future of the Delaware River Basin: Why We Need to Think Holistically." It’ll be a chance to learn about what’s stressing our modern waterways, and what we can do to help.

"What I’m hoping for mostly is for people who are experts to talk about these issues in a supportive environment…and for those who are less experienced to realize there is so much work being done," says Meghan O’Donnell, a staff scientist at the Academy who manages the Tapping Our Watershed seminars. "I think that a lot of this goes under the radar for people." 

O’Donnell coordinates field research for the Delaware River Watershed Initiative, funded by a $35 million commitment from the William Penn Foundation. It’s a "really expansive" project, she explains, monitoring the waters and ecosystems flowing from the headwaters of the Delaware River, up in the Poconos, all the way to Philadelphia. Partnerships with about 40 other organizations help to monitor 35 different sites four times a year.

"We’re pretty much on the go all the time," she adds. "We just finished our algae and fish surveys, and now we’re moving on to fall chemistry."

O’Donnell appreciated the original Cherry Street venue but is looking forward to the facilities at National Mechanics, with its larger space and A.V. accoutrements. She hopes the expert commentary in the informal setting will help "people to feel relaxed and grab a beer after work, and still keep themselves informed on what’s going on in the watershed."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meghan O’Donnell, The Academy of Natural Sciences

 

For three young entrepreneurs in Malvern, 'Maholla' means eco-centric products

Three young entrepreneurs, committed, they say, "to getting back to the basics of good business: high-quality innovative products, unparalleled customer satisfaction, social responsibility and having the smallest environmental impact possible," have launched Maholla Products, an eco-centric lifestyle products company in Malvern.

The company name comes from a mixture of the Hawaiian word "mahalo," meaning thanks or gratitude, and the slang greeting "holla."

"'Mahalo' is a really powerful word that encompasses how we approach people, life and our company," says co-founder Evan Hajas. "We chose 'holla'… to mean 'keep in touch' or 'see you soon.' The combination of the words, to us, is a respectful and friendly greeting. It sums up our company in one word. We respect our customers and our products, and want them to keep in touch. When we sell a product, that is just the beginning of our relationship with the customer -- we don't want it to be a cold 'see-you-never' sale."

Hajas, along with co-founders Andrew Lees and Jim McHugh, recently launched Grassracks, a line of easy-to-hang, bamboo racks that can be used to hang skateboards, bikes, skis, etc. Grassracks make a stylish statement and are made of 100 percent bamboo, a highly sustainable material.

Grassracks are manufactured in Malvern and Ohio, and sold online in a few brick-and-mortar locations around Philadelphia.

"Our product is unique in that brick-and-mortar stores buy them for use as in-store displays, but also to sell to end consumers,” explains Hajas. "That has allowed us to develop some creative referral programs that have worked out great for us and the retailers."

Maholla is currently developing some new home decor lines. "Even some that dip into the audio and accessory industries, but those are still a little hush hush," adds Hajas. "We started this company to live the American dream. We're three young guys that are committed to making high-quality products, being good to our customers, and doing what we can to protect the environment and raise the bar in terms of environmental awareness for companies."

Source: Evan Hajas, Maholla Products
Writer: Elise Vider
 
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