feb 2011 / issue 23 gridphilly.com
Philadelphia’s black community redefines sustainability
“Being green is such a broad title. I’m about justice— food justice.” chris bolden-newsome
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Equal Rights and Justice
ast month, we had the joy of discussing the great strides taken by the Philadelphia Water Department to keep our waterways clean and safe. It’s a triumph of good public policy, and we should be proud. It seems fitting then—with a story about race and sustainability on the cover—that we should address the opposite side of the coin: the devastation wrought by bad public policy. In the past, landfills, incinerators and oil refineries were zoned in places where politicians thought they could get away with it, specifically in African-American and low-income neighborhoods. It wasn’t until 1979 that someone actually documented what was happening. Robert Bullard’s wife, a lawyer named Linda McKeever Bullard, was representing African-American residents of Houston, TX in their struggle against a planned municipal landfill in their neighborhood. Bullard, a sociologist, began collecting demographic information on neighborhoods where toxic waste centers were located. The results were staggering: Toxic waste sites were disproportionately located in African-American communities The Van throughout the city. with a Plan A blueprint for In a recent interview with environmental Grist.org, Bullard, who is now justice director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center in Atlanta, describes sustainability as a threelegged stool consisting of the environment, economics and equity. “If the third leg of that stool is an afterthought, that stool won’t stand,” he explains. Van Jones, whose speeches have electrified crowds in Philadelphia several times, tied it to-
gether in his eloquent and moving book The Green Collar Economy. The subtitle says it all: “How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.” The book outlines an intriguing economic plan. The government would create the proper policy framework for a thriving green economy, and special efforts would be made to ensure that workers typically left behind—lowincome and African-American—would have a fair shot to learn the necessary skills. He emphasizes the importance of diversity; the movement will only succeed if people from different races and perspectives work together. Lori Tharps’ cover story paints a hopeful picture of an integrated sustainability movement here in Philadelphia, but it’s clear that there are bridges that still need to be built. A few years ago at a Community Round Table at the White Dog Cafe, Judy Wicks said, “People alone aren’t sustainable—communities are.” For the sustainability movement to succeed, all people must be included, and the sooner we piece this coalition together, the better.
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Modular Living PhilaLAB’s green homes channel a modernist feel by sue spolan
ome with me to a land without McMansions. Imagine modern, energy-efficient, locally-sourced, cost-effective, sustainable housing—clean lines replace faux stone, meticulous details at every turn. Steven Nebel and George Najm’s PhilaLAB, a local design and build firm, makes luxury attainable on a tight budget. Their new LabHAUS division, positioned for an international market, specializes in prefab homes with components manufactured in Pennsylvania, lovingly shaped into a modernist’s dream. Nebel steers clear of what he terms “codpiece architecture”—where a sexy design package results in awkward living. LabHAUS provides sleek, stylish dwellings without the import price. Working directly with manufacturers, Nebel and Najm cut out the typical markups of new construction. The package looks even better on closer in-
spection. Green features come standard: high-efficiency heat pumps, low-flow wall mount toilets and sustainably-harvested white oak flooring. Like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian house, LabHAUS uses Structural Insulated Panels; they now come with a 21st century R40 rating (a conventional exterior wall has a value of R19). R Value is the measure of insulation’s resistance to heat flow—the higher the value, the more effective the insulation. “It’s the highest R value you can find through normal means,” explains Najm. Kitchen cabinets are book-matched. The expanse of wood across cupboards appears to be from one tree. “Typically there’s a huge upcharge
neighborhood. Phase I of the project featured five EnergyStar-qualified homes, and Phase II, which broke ground this November, is seeking LEED Platinum certification. “Sustainability can mean so many different things to so many different people,” says Scott. “For us, it’s energy efficiency, because it’s the single most compelling thing you can do in terms of helping the environment and also helping your wallet.” Standard design elements such as geothermal HVAC, low-emissivity windows and dual-flush toilets contribute to the units’ ef-
Bancroft Green makes progress in Graduate Hospital by ariela rose In 2008, building partners (and brothers) Scott and G.C. Seibert began construction on Bancroft Green, a small colony of modularlymanufactured homes in the Graduate Hospital
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for that,” says Nebel. “It looks like furniture, not an assemblage of parts.” Michael and Stephanie Ziegler of Haddonfield, NJ, are building their dream home with PhilaLAB. “What we love about these guys is that you can be an average person, and have a home that is truly a work of art,” says Michael. “Our clients may have a total budget of $450,000. We can deliver a $2 million house,” says Nebel. “We’re trying to lift the veil a bit.” philalab.com; labhaus.com
ficiency. Construction should be completed this winter, bringing the development to a total of 11 green homes, seven of which have already sold. Visit bancroftgreen.com for weekly updates on the development’s progress.
A sustainable renovation project shines near Temple
The green roof on top of the Friends Center in Philadelphia
With the help of pioneers like Charlie Miller, green roofs go mainstream by lee stabert
ack in the ’90s, Charlie Miller believed he was onto something big: green roofs. Thanks to a friend in Germany, he had seen potential in the technology, especially in urban areas with stormwater issues. “At the time, I thought I could just kind of whisper the idea, and everyone would pile on,” he recalls with a laugh. “I really protected the information carefully for a year, doing background research and traveling to Germany. Then I was ready to start my business—but it took a decade just to convince Americans to build green roofs.” Now his Mt. Airybased business, Roofscapes, is thriving; over the last decade-and-a-half they’ve completed countless projects across the country. And, through Water Department incentives and city policy, Philadelphia has now become one of their best markets. Miller, who has a background in water management and hydrology, believes in the transformative effects of strong, progressive policy. “In Germany, the only thing that makes this industry viable is being regulated or required by municipalities,” he explains. “There will always be people that will do this because it’s the right thing to do—and beautiful and enhances the postgreen photo by N ic Da r ling
structure—but to make it an industry, cities and states have to recognize green roofs as a solution to a particular problem; usually stormwater.” Another set of obstacles were cultural. “In Germany, they had been emphasizing gardening as a national ethos,” says Miller. “Gardening on your terrace or roof was a natural thing to do. While here, it was not. People here simply didn’t have green roofs to go see. It took a certain critical mass of projects in North America for the average person to be able to travel a short distance to see one.” Recent local projects include green roofs on PECO’s headquarters, the North American training center for SAP (an international business managment software company) in Newtown and the Friends Center, the city’s locus for Quaker activities. Roofscapes can do everything from feasibility and engineering analysis to seeing the job through construction and maintenance. Looking back, Miller is still confounded by Americans’ initial resistance to green roofs. “The idea just seemed so simple, intelligent and beautiful—and such an elegant solution to urban stormwater issues,” he says. “It seemed like it would just sell itself.”
Following years of neglect, 22 historic townhouses on North 16th Street near Temple University have been given a sustainable facelift. The project, dubbed Temple I, was completed by 1260 Housing Development Corporation in November. Built to qualify for LEED Gold Certification, the townhouses will provide 58 units of affordable housing for local families. Features include Forest Stewardship Council-certified lumber, non-toxic finishes, high-efficiency plumbing and white roofs. The rehabilitation of a second set of buildings—Temple II—is currently under construction, and will provide 40 more units of sustainable housing for low-income families. With the help of their affiliates at CPM Housing, 1260 has used over $125 million to develop affordable housing units throughout Philadelphia. 1260hdc.org, columbuspm.com
Green Wins Gold
Philadelphia’s Postgreen attended the Greenbuild 2010 International Conference and Expo, and returned home with the United States Green Building Council’s “LEED for Homes Project of the Year” award. The recognition went to the company’s 100K House, a LEED Platinumcertified residence built for less than $100 per square foot. “What we are particularly proud of is that these types of awards usually go to projects that are a bit flashier,” says Postgreen’s Nic Darling. Elements like solar hot water heaters, innovative insulation and impressive energyefficiency certainly make up for the lack of “flash.” The home’s head-turning blue façade also doesn’t hurt. For more on Postgreen’s 100K House see Grid’s May 2010 cover story, or visit 100khouse.com.
7135 Germantown Ave., 2nd Fl., 215-247-8784, roofmeadow.com F eb ruary 20 11
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School Spirit Neighborhood Powerdown used competition and community to save energy by dana henry
Built in 1899 and once used as a schoolhouse, Ruby Jones Hall is one of three WCU buildings to have its heating and cooling converted to geo-thermal.
Thanks to a $4.7 million U.S. Department of Energy Grant, West Chester University will convert three more of its buildings to Geoexchange, a geothermal heating and cooling system. The hefty sum is the largest grant in the university’s history; it will assist the school in its 10-year plan to convert more than 25 buildings to geothermal systems. West Chester’s alternative energy initiative began in 2005, and has already led to the conversion of 15 on-campus buildings. The addition of three more energyefficient buildings will reduce the school’s CO2 emissions by 4.7 million pounds per year. wcupa.edu
In November, the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability received a $140,000 Alternative Fuels Incentive Grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The money will allow the city to purchase and install chargers to power 20 electric vehicles (EVs), 18 of which will be part of PhillyCarShare and Zipcar’s citywide fleets. With the addition of EVs, the car sharing companies could potentially cut 61,000 pounds in CO2 emissions per year. For more information, visit phila.gov/green
Star Performance The Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy have awarded SEPTA headquarters their EnergyStar award. The building received a rating of 90 (out of 100), achieved through, energy-efficient lighting and appliances, installation of a white roof, intelligent control technologies and a switch to daytime cleaning (this allowed building managers to shut down at 6 p.m., decreasing the running time of all non-essential building functions and appliances by 24 percent). SEPTA has reduced annual energy consumption by over two million kWH. septa.org/sustain
Neighborhood Powerdown, the residential energy savings competition hosted by the University of Pennsylvania (profiled in December 2010’s Grid, p.10), finished up just in time. On January 1, 2011, the PECO rate caps expired, but by utilizing the organizing powers of neighborhood groups, student leaders empowered 60 participants to lower their energy usage— and their upcoming bills. Nearly 70 percent of contestants successfully lowered usage during the October/November billing cycle. The North Philly Neighborhood team, organized through the Association of Puerto Ricans on the March (APM) and Women’s Community Revitalization Project, lowered overall usage by 5.8 percent, with an average of 4 percent per household. The West Philly team, organized by University City District with help from the Enterprise Center, lowered their usage by 7.8 percent, for an average of 6.8 percent per household. Project leader Tamara Henry attributes the success to the competitive spirit—a factor that was particularly strong in North Philly—and grassroots communication. While students reached out weekly to help participants maintain their efforts, many in the communities lacked computer access and few were willing to answer regular personal calls. The burden shifted to group meetings, street teams and block-leadership. The project—launched as part of UPENN’s Sustainability in Action course, designed by Philadelphia’s former Director of Sustainability, Mark Alan Hughes—has no definite plans to continue. If the course is offered again next year, suggested improvements include seeking stronger involvement from city government and expanding the program from one to six months. Visit the class blog at design.upenn.edu/ sustainabilityinaction
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Composting toilets are a creative solution to a messy problem by char vandermeer
omposting toilets may not be the first sanitation option to cross the minds of small business owners, but for Kensington’s Greensgrow Farms and Weavers Way Farm at Awbury Arboretum in Germantown, they provide an elegant solution to a downright inelegant problem.
Homespun signage directs customers to Greensgrow’s homemade composting toilet.
Built on top of a capped superfund site lacking drainage or access to traditional plumbing, Greensgrow decided a homemade passive solar greenhouse composting system was the way to go. And for Weavers Way, a pre-fabricated nonelectric composting toilet allowed them to replace their unattractive (and costly) portable toilet with an inexpensive and site-appropriate outhouse. The Weavers Way toilet offers a more conventional look and easy operation. The unit’s rotating drum encourages aerobic breakdown of waste and a vent chimney pulls in air, creating a partial vacuum, evaporating excess liquid
and containing odor. The composted waste is collected a couple times a year and distributed off-site. “It’s sustainable financially and it looks and smells nicer than a rental unit,” explains Weavers Way farm Manager David Zelov. “We just feel better about doing something more environmentally sustainable.” In Greensgrow’s case, the sheer volume of patrons using their facilities precluded a pre-fab system—they’re typically designed for small batches and can handle only a limited number of users. Instead, they used the internet as their guide and modified several plans to fit their needs. The farm rotates several 25-gallon receptacles, using the sun’s energy to speed the decomposition process—heat encourages microbial activity and produces a bacteria- and pathogen-free compost. After each deposit, absorbent material like sawdust or straw is layered into the receptacle, minimizing moisture and odor. After the container has been filled, it’s sealed and left to cure for two to three months before being transferred to a more traditional hotbox composting system. Once the deposits have fully cured, the compost provides excellent fertilizer for nonedible crops. “It’s definitely something else to show on the tour,” says Ryan Kuck, Greensgrow’s farming and sustainable programs manager. “It’s been educational.” But Greensgrow is still working out a few kinks. “Separating the urine has really been a problem for us,” explains Kuck. “We still get too much liquid in our batches and, again, there’s nowhere for it to drain. If we could solve that, it would be a really fantastic system.” weaversway.coop; greensgrow.org
Spin Cycle The laundry industry is notoriously wasteful, but one West Philly-based company is looking to change that. Wash Cycle Laundry does all their wash-and-fold deliveries by bicycle and uses only Sun and Earth detergent, a biodegradable, all-natural product manufactured in King of Prussia. Soon, they’ll be moving operations to a new facility at 16th and South Streets filled with energy-efficient machines;
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clothes come out of the high G-force washers practically dry. Wash Cyle is also committed to fair wages and workforce development— they hope to eventually team with welfare-towork and youth programs. The service offers pickup in West Philly and Center City; prices average about a dollar per pound. washcyclelaundry.com, 888-611-WASH
Photos By Dan Mu rph y
Oiled and Ready The skinny on bioheat
by samantha wittchen
s the economy slowly starts to thaw from the frosty recession, oil prices are creeping back up. You may have noticed this trend at the pump, but it’s also affecting the price of home heating oil. Most experts agree that, as the economy continues to recover, heating oil prices will continue to rise. Back in July 2010, the U.S. Energy Information Administration projected that average residential prices in the Northeast would Bioheat Breakdown increase to $3.13 per gallon by February 2011. So, there’s no time like the petroleumpetroleumorganic based oil based oil materials present to talk about alternatives— including bioheat. b5 5% biodiesel
b20 20% biodiesel
b100 100% biodisel
Benefits of bioheat → → Clean Burning: NORA found that a blend
of 80 percent low-sulfur heating oil and 20 percent biodiesel reduced sulfur oxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions—two major greenhouse gases—by 80 and 20 percent, respectively. → → Bioheat is domestically produced. → → It has the highest BTU content of any alternative fuel—you don’t have to use more of it to get the same heating effects as regular heating oil. → → You don’t have to make any modifications to your existing burner or tank. → → It’s kinder to your heating system because it burns more completely and lubricates the system. → → The biodiesel market is less volatile than the petroleum market; bioheating oil prices are unlikely to experience drastic price fluctuations.
Bioheat is regular heating oil blended with organic materials, such as soybean oil, to create a fuel that burns more completely and cleanly than Number 2 fuel oil, the variety used in residential furnaces. The National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA) argues that if everyone using oil for heat chose a blend with just 5 percent biobased oil (biodiesel), 400 million gallons of petroleum-based oil could be conserved annually. The percentage blend is indicated in the name of bioheating oil. For example, B5 indicates a blend of 95 percent regular oil and 5 percent biodiesel; B20 is a blend of 80 percent regular oil and 20 percent biodeisel. Are you sold yet? If so, there are a few oil companies in the Philadelphia region that offer bioheating oil to customers. The Energy Cooperative (theenergy.coop) maintains a comprehensive list, organized by zip code, on their website. And if you’re looking for some extra savings, you can consider becoming a member of the co-op. As a group, they can negotiate better rates with oil companies for their members. Last heating season, members saved an average of twenty cents per gallon on heating oil.
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Soap Up Reuse your laundry detergent bottles at Sun & Earth’s refill stations, available at Greenable and Big Green Earth Store. Pay by the ounce; once you’ve used up every last drop, bring the same bottle back, fill it up, and prepare to tackle more mounds of dirty laundry.
Big Green Earth Store 934 South St., 267-909-8661, biggreenearthstore.com Greenable 820 N. 4th St., 215-922-6066, greenable.org
*Visit sunandearth.com for information on refill locations in Springfield, Wayne and Kimberton.
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by samantha wittchen
See that new gadget in a fresh light by lee stabert
tereos, CDs, hard drives, TVs, gaming consoles, iPods, laptops, cell phones—our lives are full of stuff. That said, we rarely stop to wonder where it all came from, or where it goes when we’re done with it. Enter Annie Leonard. She spent over a decade visiting 40 countries, investigating hundreds of factories and assessing the dumps where all that stuff ends up. The culmination of her efforts was a short animated film called The Story of Stuff that crisply educated and disturbed with its dystopian vision of the materials economy. Since its release in December 2007, the video has been viewed online over 12 million times. Now, with help from Electronics TakeBack Coalition, Leonard has released The Story of Electronics, a film that takes specific aim at the “design for the dump” mentality of gadget producers. They
Erase My Laptop
eth Brown and Caroline Mills worked in the computer services industry before their shared dislike for the “newer, better, faster” mantra of the tech world led them to create their own business. “We frequently ran
make products that are “hard to upgrade, easy to break and impractical to repair.” Of course, that means dollar signs for corporations reliant on the treadmill of consumer culture. The stick figures are adorable, but the message is a reality check. One of the most illuminating moments c o m e s wh e n Leonard tackles electronics recycling, which often involves shipping e-waste to the Far East where gadgets are gutted for their precious metals and then dumped or burned. Fortunately, she also offers solutions— most of them involving corporate responsibility and government intervention. That might seem like a long shot, but the situation is so dire that change is not just an option, it’s a necessity.
problem into clients who were upgrading,” says Brown. “They could not find anything where [their laptop] wasn’t going to end up on a slow boat to China, or end up in the wrong hands.” Erase My Laptop’s concept is simple: Customers send their defunct devices to the South Street shop using prepaid shipping cartons. From there, the contents are securely erased and the machine is sent to the computer recycling center Elemental Inc., resold, or donated to low-income individuals. Erase My Laptop also has a collection bin at the Big Green Earth Store (934 South Street). —Ariela Rose
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A used Brita filter can’t be put out with the regular recycling.
Brita’s filter housings are made of #5 (polypropylene) plastic and can be recycled into numerous useful products. The actual filter is made of activated carbon, which can be converted into energy. Brita, a subsidiary of the Clorox Company, has teamed up with Preserve (preserveproducts.com), a leading manufacturer of 100 percent-recycled consumer household goods. Preserve is responsible for the highly successful Gimme 5 recycling and reuse program. Consumers can drop off items made of No. 5 plastic at participating locations to be processed here in the United States for use in new products, including toothbrushes, tableware and cutting boards. (The actual filter will be returned to Brita for processing.) As Philadelphians, we are lucky to have a few of these participating organizations right in our backyard. Brita Filters are accepted at area Whole Foods markets, as well as through Weavers Way’s Gimme 5 collection (the next event will be held on January 18 at 542 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy). Can’t make it to one of those places? You can ground ship them to Preserve Gimme 5, 823 NYS Rte 13, Cortland, NY 13045.
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Springside School takes a holistic approach by lee stabert
ver the course of a year at Grid, I’ve visited my fair share of schools, discussing sustainability curricula and touring big, beautiful green buildings. But taking a trip back to my alma mater—and being downright awed by the progressive changes—was a different sort of experience; a strange cocktail of nostalgia, curiosity and jealousy directed at the students who get to learn in such an inspirational space. Springside School (a K-12 private girls’ school in Chestnut Hill) has become a very different place in the 10 years since I graduated. There are new buildings galore, and a host of sustainable initiatives that engage students with essential, simple solutions, including composting, recycling, stormwater management, energy-efficiency, alternative fuels and local, seasonal eating. My tour guide was Frank Aloise, director of finance and operations, and the school’s sustainability pied piper. He came to Springside in 2001, and immediately started looking for ways to make the school work better. The campus’ crowning jewel is a 92 kWh solar system atop Vare Field House (the new athletic facilities were completed in 2005). When it was installed a year ago—with help from a state grant and private donors—the rig was the largest in the city. The school is currently on track to add a second roof top installation; this one at 200 kWh. Stormwater management was also a major element of the renovations. Springside is nestled right up against the Wissahickon Creek, so the issue hit close to home. Huge gravel recharge basins—layers of gravel and dirt that facilitate the absorbtion of stormwater into the ground— were installed under both main parking lots and the primary athletic field. “The city didn’t require this at the time,” explains Aloise. “We went above and beyond. Nothing had been done on the original 1957 campus; we built a system that deals with 14
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all the stormwater from the site.” They also formed a partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and the Water Department to serve as a pilot site for downspout disconnect projects—design solutions that keep stormwater out of the combined sewer system (see last month’s Grid for more on how a CSS works). The school removed a large section of asphalt from a traffic circle and the students helped install a rain garden—in the pouring rain no less. A partnership with environmental artist Stacy Levy (a Mt. Airy native) was another way Springside has blended functionality with education. She created a rain wall and garden installation, using input from students in a physics and engineering class. The maintenance staff did all the pipe work, while students did all the planting. “We normally hide stormwater,” says Aloise. “We bury it in straight pipes and interior drains that you never see. Here, [Levy] said, ‘Let’s show what’s happening.’ The design was inspired by a tributary map; water flows into a rain garden where it’s treated by these plants.” Throughout the campus, landscaping prioritizes native species, and the school has teamed
up with the Audubon Society (the first such partnership) to strategically lure native birds back to the area. In the cafeteria, the chicken-filet-on-buns of my youth have been replaced by local options, sourced through Common Market, a Philadelphia wholesaler specializing in linking local farms to urban consumers. Every day, the head chef receives local produce—the list is displayed on a public black board—and incorporates the fruits and vegetables into the day’s dishes. Fourth and fifth graders are responsible for bringing collected compost out to on-site bins. Energy efficiency has also been a huge part of the puzzle. “That was always the joke: you put solar panels on the big, giant [energy] pig,” Aloise says in reference to Sunny Days the field house. “We The solar rig atop have reduced our enVare Field House ergy consumption by well over 20 percent over the last five years.” These efforts have included new light fixtures and a streamlined heating and cooling system, run through a central control center. In the end, it’s the seamless integration of these initiatives into student life that really wows—Springside’s class of 2011 will have a new “normal.” “Schools are really focused on this,” explains Aloise. “It’s a great opportunity to make the building part of the curriculum. It becomes part of the teaching all the way through. When these students graduate, they’re not trying to write articles about this. [Laughs] It’s sort of a given.” Springside School, 8000 Cherokee St., 215-247-7200, springside.org
PHILADELPHIA UNIVERSITY MASTER OF SCIENCE IN SUSTAINABLE DESIGN NEW FOR SPRING 2011
GRADUATE CERTIFICATE IN SUSTAINABLE PRACTICES A COLLABORATIVE, MULTIDISCIPLINARY LEARNING EXPERIENCE
Live and Learn
Greenfield Elementary lives up to its name by natalie hope mcdonald
or 40 years, the Albert M. Greenfield Elementary School at 22nd and Chestnut Streets has been taking on a progressive educational platform. Now, with help from the Community Design Collaborative and the Philadelphia School District, the school has been transforming its exterior into an ecological expanse. Since 2006, the Greenfield Home and School Association has raised more than $600,000 to
In March, Philly-based jam band the Disco Biscuits played a benefit concert to raise funds for Greening Greenfield. Dubbed the “Bisco Power Mission,” the event was a joint effort between the band, nonprofit voting organization HeadCount and Mercury Solar Systems. Dedicated Biscuits fans raised $15,000, helping Greenfield become Philadelphia’s first public school to install rooftop solar panels. Additional funding for the $35,000 project was provided by the Greenfield Home and School Association. Mercury Solar donated its installation and design services free of charge. On November 17, the band had a chance to visit the school, discussing solar energy with fifth grade students and touring the solar array. —Ariela Rose photo by pau l r ide r
install a stormwater management system, solar panels, rain gardens and agriculture zones that are being used to educate students about going green. In the schoolyard—more than 300 feet long and 100 feet wide—impervious asphalt was replaced with a porous surface, reducing strain on the city’s sewer system and preventing icing in winter. Thanks to the initiative, the school has been selected as the Middle School Winner of the Schuylkill Action Network’s 2010 Drinking Water Scholastic Awards. This year, students also shared a video about the project with the Delaware Valley Earth Force Youth Leadership Summit. “This project is truly a grassroots initiative,” says Lisa Armstrong, co-chair and parent volunteer of the Greening Greenfield Committee. “Greening Greenfield not only offers students a rich opportunity to learn the important lessons of environmental responsibility, but also gives them and the surrounding community a green open recreation space in the heart of the city.” 2200 Chestnut St., 215-299-3566, greeninggreenfield.net
“The principle of sustainability is reshaping the way we think about the world, encouraging us to improve the way we design, build and live in the 21st century” — Rob Fleming, Program Director
Become proficient in Green Building Materials, Energy Efficiency, Construction Systems and Sustainable Design
www.PhilaU.edu/greengrid F eb ruary 20 11
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Fixer Uppers Rebuilding Together taps volunteers to update old homes by ariela rose
n recent years, Philadelphia has enjoyed an impressive array of new buildings. But the construction of these revolutionary structures serves as a stark contrast to the city’s deteriorating past. Rebuilding Together Philadelphia (RTP) is working to repair the crumbling homes of low-income homeowners one block at a time. The organization grew out of a home repair club, Christmas in April, created in 1988 by students from UPenn’s Wharton Business School to assist West Philadelphia residents. As it gained popularity, the group joined with the national network Rebuilding Together, one of the country’s largest home preservation nonprofits. With a focus on assisting older adults, those with disabilities, veterans and multi-generational families, RTP now serves communities throughout the Delaware Valley.
“We concentrate our efforts into these block builds, where we’re leveraging multiple resources in a single community,” says Carrie Rathmann, RTP’s executive director. “We’re doing critical repairs, energy-efficiency upgrades and home modifications for 10 to 15 homeowners in a really small geographic area.” The “block build” process begins with outreach to community organizations in low-income neighborhoods. The organizations assist RTP in identifying the group of homes most in need of repairs, and act as a liaison between homeowners and builders. Representatives from selected homes then complete applications, and, once 10 to 15 are selected, the rejuvenation process begins. Volunteers, 95 percent of RTP’s work force, work side-by-side with homeowners to complete projects ranging from painting and weatherizing to transform-
ing vacant lots into Group Project A block build on gardens. The builds, Garfield Street in which last for three Germantown to four weekends, are free of charge to homeowners. Funds are provided by local and national corporate sponsors, as well as individual donors. In the past year, RTP, with the assistance of 26,060 volunteers, has served 946 homeowners, resulting in $21,102,000 worth of repairs. This spring will bring even more builds and an increased focus on “green” projects, including stormwater management. “We’re recycling homes,” explains Rathmann. “We’re keeping people in the homes that they own. It just blows my mind how much new development is going on in a city with existing, deteriorating housing stock.” rebuildingphilly.org
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The Mt. Airy Art Garage was founded in October 2009 by a group of professional artists. Their vision was to free local crafts people from their secluded studios by giving them a space to col-
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laborate. This past September, the nonprofit secured a 5,000-square foot garage, and, with help from Masters in Sustainability students at Philadelphia University, the artists are transforming it into an environmentally-aware haven. The build-out will happen in two phases. The goal is to complete a gallery and artist studios this spring, and continue the remainder of the design plans as money is raised. Phase one includes recycled insulation, rain barrels and plenty of plants. More intensive elements like a green roof and solar panels will be part of phase two.
In December, the city unveiled its Green2015 action plan. The study was written by Penn Praxis, an offshoot of UPenn’s School of Design focused on educational and community-based design projects. The goal is to create 500 new acres of urban green space by 2015 using creative strategies, including conversion of small vacant lots into pocket parks. Green2015 is an important aspect of Greenworks Philadelphia, the mayor’s sustainability roadmap.
11 W. Mt. Airy Ave., mtairyartgarage.org
To read the plan, visit issuu.com/pennpraxis
GAlA FundrAiser • FebruAry 26, 2011
O N – SAT 8 ~M –6
Join us for an evening of dancing, food & drink, & entertainment. Proceeds benefit the Reading Terminal Market Preservation Trust. For more information and to order tickets, visit www.PartyTicketsOnline.com/valentine
15 -9 22 -231 7~
SH & LO
—franz and josef fruehwald, burholme and west philly, market shoppers since 1976 and 1989
“You never know who you may run into. Like my son Joe!”
TickeTs Are nOw On sAle!
U LT I M O
COFFEE BAR 15th and Mifflin Streets in South Philadelphia Mon-Fri 7-9 • Sat-Sun 8-9 • 215.339.5177 www.ultimocoffee.com
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Have a Cow
Local, sustainable beef from Philly CowShare by sue spolan
here’s a steak with your name on it. Literally. Philly CowShare is bringing high-quality, locally-sourced beef to your doorstep. ¶ The brainchild of software product manager Jessica Moore, the company delivers directly to responsible carnivores in the Delaware Valley. “It grew out of a personal habit,” says Moore. “I’d been buying meat this way for several years. Every time I bought myself a cow, I needed friends to take the other three-quarters.” Philly CowShare offers an eighth, quarter, half or whole steer. The animal is divided so everyone gets an equal number and quality of cuts. “Almost all of our cows come from Lancaster County,” says Moore. “The farmers use sustainable and organic practices. It’s important that my farmers know the cow from start to finish. They’re doing the calving and develop a personal relationship.” Moore also uses a butcher in Lancaster County. He packages the cuts individually, labeling each package with the customer’s name.
Open Season While most of the area’s farmers’ markets have closed up shop for the season, there are still a few spots to pick up your favorite winter greens, storage root crops, cheeses, eggs, baked goods and sustainably-raised meats. Visit thefoodtrust.org or farmtocity.org for details.
Thursdays Suburban Station Farmers’ Market Year-round Hours: 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. Location: 16th Street Concourse between Market and JFK (near the 16th St. elevator)
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Jennifer LeBow, a local realtor, recently prepared CowShare burgers for her family of five. The LeBow family frequents Greensgrow Farms, where founder Mary Seton Corboy introduced Ted LeBow, a management consultant, to Moore. Jennifer points out two benefits of Philly CowShare: reducing your carbon footprint and convenience. “My first concern was the cuts of beef,” she says. “I was worried I wouldn’t know how to prepare them, or that my family wouldn’t like them, but that’s not been a prob-
Saturdays Rittenhouse Farmers’ Market Year-round Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Location: Walnut St., west of 18th St. Clark Park Farmers’ Market Year-round Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Location: 43rd St. and Baltimore Ave. Fitler Square Farmers’ Market Year-round Hours: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Location: 23rd and Pine Sts.
lem.” Daughters Jess, Becca and Belle pronounce the beef really good, with a lot more flavor than supermarket cuts. “The mission of Philly CowShare isn’t to convert vegetarians to eating meat, but to serve people who aren’t happy with the industrial meat supply,” says Moore, who has three children ranging in age from three months to six years. “As a mom, having a freezer full of beef simplifies my meal planning. The amount of money I spend on the quarter is all I spend on beef for the year.” A quarter cow might seem daunting, but it works out to about two pounds per week over the course of a year. “When you buy at the supermarket, you’re not adding up how many pounds you’re eating over the course of time,” explains Moore. “When you buy beef as a share, now you’re having that conversation.” phillycowshare.com
Bryn Mawr Farmers’ Market Jan. 22, Feb. 26, Mar. 26, Apr. 23 Hours: Open 10 a.m. - 12 p.m. Location: Municipal Lot 7 on Lancaster Ave., in front of the Bryn Mawr train station Chestnut Hill Growers’ Market Jan. 22, Feb. 5 and 19, Mar. 5 and 19, Apr. 2, 16 and 30 Hours: 10 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Location: Winston Rd., between Germantown Ave. and Mermaid Ln.
Farm Profile by Char Vandermeer
Flying Fish Chocolate Stout Snow is falling outside Grid HQ—seems like the perfect time to pry open a bottle of winter cheer. Luckily for our chilly staffers, we have this chocolate stout on hand, courtesy of Flying Fish Brewing Company. The sixth in their series of limited releases, the beer is dubbed “Exit 13” (which would put you up in the vicinity of the Newark airport) and brewed with dark Belgian chocolate. Watching the pour, we can’t help but think of Wonka’s cocoa river and expect a cloying sweetness. Not so! It’s a creamy, smooth brew with a nice bitter edge, just enough to rough things up and keep the flavor interesting.
cheese of the month
by tenaya darlington, madamefromage.blogspot.com
arm 51’s story begins with an apartment search and a chicken. Founder Andrew Olson, public landscape manager for the Delaware Center for Horticulture, signed a lease on the former, and then brought the latter to 51st Street and Chester Avenue. In summer 2008, armed with lofty goals and a grant from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s City Harvest Growers Alliance, Olson and his partner, City Paper staff photographer Neal Santos, dug in. After gaining permission from their landlord, the pair spent months clearing the property of debris and, wielding pickaxes, leveled the ground, preparing it for the first of many raised beds. Since those early backbreaking days, Farm 51 has evolved into a thriving community gathering spot. During the growing season, their weekly farmstand—with its abundance of tomatoes, greens, peppers and cucumbers— lures hungry commuters disembarking from the 13 Trolley.
“People expect the greens,” recalls Santos. “They would come back and say, ‘I need more greens!’ Sometimes we’d run into weeks where they didn’t regenerate fast enough. It’s heartwarming for people to come knock on our door. It was the best way to get to know our neighbors—to plant this garden and have people come back on a day-to-day basis.” Whatever happens to be left over from the weekly sale becomes the foundation for an impromptu potluck, a bonfire-fueled community event celebrating the food they grew together. “Sitting around that table, it’s amazing to see the diversity of people,” says Olson. “Planting a garden, it really does amazing things as far as bringing people together.” Olson’s original chicken has now been joined by 20-odd companions, a few beehives, several dogs and a smattering of cats. 51st St. and Chester Ave., farm51philly@gmail. com, farm51.wordpress.com
In Philadelphia, you’d be hard-pressed to find a cheesemonger who doesn’t know Sue Miller. Her Birchrun Blue—made at Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs—might just be the most popular local artisanal cheese. It’s moist and salty-sweet; bold but not spicy, with an earthy quality that calls to mind hay and mushrooms. Miller makes all her cheese by hand, using raw milk from the farm’s herd of pasture-raised cows. This is a rustic cheese with a natural rind, similar to Stilton. Although batches vary depending on the season, this blue is always ambidextrous in terms of pairing. At Southwark, Chef Nick Macri drapes Birchrun Blue cheese sauce over pork belly. At Betty’s Speakeasy, you’ll find Birchrun Blue fudge—oh yes, chocolate and blue dance a mean tango. If you’re blue-curious, this is a great cheese to explore; it’s readily available at local cheese counters (including Di Bruno Bros. and the Fair Food Farmstand) and Miller is a fixture at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market. On a snowy night, try pairing it with a glass of port or barley wine. It’s also a wonderful cheese alongside fruitcake. Birchrun Hills Farm, 2573 Horseshoe Trail, Chester Springs, birchrunhillsfarm.com
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Veal Cutlets with Red Wine Pan Sauce 1
lb. thinly sliced veal cutlets cup white flour 1 tbsp. olive oil 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced 1 cup red wine 2 tbsp. honey 1 tsp. beef bouillon base (such as Better than Bouillon) 3 tbsp. butter pinch of salt 3 grinds of pepper
Put flour into a pie pan or other flat dish. Add salt and pepper, and stir with a fork to combine. Pat the veal cutlets dry with paper towels and dredge lightly in the flour mixture. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it is thin and shimmery, place the cutlets in the pan. Cook for two to three minutes on the first side and then flip them. Let cook for an additional three minutes, then remove to a plate. Sprinkle the slivered garlic cloves into the pan. When they’ve started to brown, add the red wine. Using a whisk, loosen the bits of browned flour stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the honey and bouillon base, and use the whisk to work it in. When the red wine has reduced by half, add the butter. When the sauce is thick and sticky, lay the cooked cutlets back into the pan to coat them. Once they are glazed with the sauce, kill the heat and plate them up.
Sweetheart Supper A locally-minded Valentine’s Day menu by marisa mcclellan,
rowing up, I spent weeks preparing for Valentine’s Day. Hours were burned making all my cards from scratch—cutting hearts out of flowery wrapping paper and affixing them to bright red doilies. My sister and I would compete to see who could make the most beautiful card. Then we’d practically skip to school on the big day, bursting with excitement to pass out our creations to classmates and teachers. These days, the general busy-ness of life means it’s a little harder to wedge in weeks of card-making—or even hours of cooking—in preparation for February 14. But that doesn’t mean you should give up entirely. Here’s a menu that can be prepped, cooked and plated in around an hour. It requires a knife and fork (the litmus test for fancy in my house), and will make your sweetheart feel loved and appreciated. On the dinner plate, you’ve got veal cutlets drizzled with red wine sauce, sautéed spinach 20
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with shallots and roasted potatoes flecked with fresh parsley. Birchrun Hills Farm in Chester Springs sells humanely-raised, grass-fed veal; find it at the Fair Food Farmstand or at their Headhouse Farmers’ Market booth. (If you don’t eat veal, you can also substitute beef medallions or boneless pork cutlets.) Finish the meal with a scoop of gooey brownie pudding cake. If you’re feeling particularly elegant, top it with vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of raspberry sauce.
Sautéed Spinach with Shallots 2 tsp. olive oil 2 lobes of shallot, finely minced lb. pound of baby spinach (I typically estimate lb. per person) 1 tbsp. butter 1 tsp. walnut oil (optional, but tasty) tsp. sea salt 2-3 grinds of black pepper
If your spinach is not pre-washed, rinse it well and spin dry. Spinach is grown in sandy soil, so it needs to be cleaned vigorously. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add the shallots and cook them to soften for two to three minutes. When they’ve browned a bit, add the spinach (depending on the size of your pan, you may have to add it in stages). Using tongs, move the spinach around the pan. If the spinach is perfectly dry, you may need to add a few drops of water to help it cook down. When all the spinach has wilted, remove it from the heat. Add the butter, walnut oil, sea salt and pepper. Toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. I like it just as it is, but you can also add a touch of lemon juice if you feel the need for a hint of acid.
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes 1 lb. young fingerling potatoes 2 tbsp. olive oil tsp. rosemary (fresh or dried) tsp. sea salt 3-4 grinds of pepper 2 tbsp. chopped flat leaf parsley
Wash and dry the potatoes. Slice them in half on an angle, so that you have a wide internal surface area (for better browning). Place the potatoes in a roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary, salt and pepper. Toss to coat. Roast at 425 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, until they are browned on the outside and tender on the inside. If they are fully cooked, but not
sufficiently browned, you can run the pan under the broiler for two to three minutes until they are golden. If you do this, watch carefully—they can go from brown to burnt in seconds. When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and sprinkle with the chopped parsley. Nothing says special like a flurry of green herbs.
Brownie Pudding Cake 1
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cup flour cup unsweetened cocoa powder, divided tsp. baking powder tsp. salt large eggs cup white sugar cup whole milk tbsp. butter, melted and cooled tsp. pure vanilla extract tbsp. hazelnut liqueur cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar cups boiling water cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Combine flour, a third cup of the cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together to combine.
In another bowl, combine eggs, white sugar, milk, butter, vanilla and liqueur. Whisk together. Once they’re fully integrated, add them to the dry ingredients and stir until the batter just comes together. Pour batter into an 8-x-8 baking dish and set aside. In a large, heat-proof measuring cup, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup cocoa powder, brown sugar and boiling water. Pour evenly over the batter and resist the temptation to mix. Scatter the chocolate chips across the surface of the batter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out with crumbs adhering to it. This typically takes 30 to 35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before serving, allowing the cake a chance to set.
Philadelphia’s African-American community is working towards a sustainable future— even if it’s called something different by lori l. tharps
wo years ago, Time magazine ran a story called, “Changing the White Face of the Green Movement.” The writer declared: “Conservation in the U.S.—and the environmental movement more generally—tends to be very white and relatively well-off, from the leadership down to the foot soldiers.” Though there are nationally-recognized African-American green superheroes, including MacArthur Genius Grant winner Will Allen and urban eco-warrior Majora Carter, there is still a perception (and possibly a reality) that the green movement is lacking in diversity. ¶ But here in the City of Brotherly Love, it’s not as easy to argue that blacks aren’t living green. We have our own black superheroes—even if they often eschew the “green label,” choosing instead to define their work through the lens of community-building and social justice. Unfortunately, we also have black people who feel alienated and disenfranchised from the sustainability movement. As with all things color-coded, it’s complicated.
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ight years ago, after finishing college, LeRoy Thompson, 30, moved to Philadelphia. An environmental engineer by trade, he quickly joined up with a local environmental organization. He regularly participates in tree planting events sponsored by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, attends neighborhood clean-ups and frequents lectures on green themes. But when he looks around the room at most of these gatherings, he doesn’t see many other faces of color. “I’m usually the only Cocoa Puff in the box of Kix,” he quips. Valerie Erwin, executive chef and owner of Geechee Girl Rice Café—a West Mt. Airy restaurant known for its seasonal menu and sustainable food practices—echoes Thompson’s sentiments. She recalls participating in a recent event sponsored by the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation. Local chefs with an interest in sustainable agriculture and local sourcing were brought together to brainstorm strategies for putting Philly on the map as a food destination. “I looked around the room of, say, 50 people,” recalls Erwin. “The only people of color were me and [my sous chef ].” That said, Erwin still feels like a respected member of Philadelphia’s green foodie establishment. “But I think one of the reasons people know me is because there are so few people of color,” she says. “I stand out.” But not everyone paints such an underwhelming picture of African-American involvement in Philadelphia’s green movement. Paul Glover, editor of greenjobsphilly.com and founder of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, sees things differently. According to Glover—who is not black—when you define being green in terminology that is relevant to people’s circumstances, the real leaders emerge. photo by j e s s i ca ko u rko u n is
Paraphrasing social justice/eco guru Van Jones, Glover says, “If you knock on doors and say the ice caps are melting and polar bears are dying, then people will just say, ‘Leave me alone. I’m hungry.’ But if you say, ‘We’re going to make fresh food that’s healthy, your heating bills will be cut and we’re going to employ the youth of the neighborhood,’ then people pay close attention. And that’s been going on for quite some time in Philadelphia.” In fact, asserts Glover, when you shift the paradigm of going green from abstract issues to a quest for social justice, African-Americans are leading the way. lmost 20 years ago, U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah founded the American Cities Foundation (ACF). Based in West Philadelphia, the ACF’s mission was simple: “To facilitate economic development, increase opportunities for Philadelphia’s low-income and disadvantaged communities, and save the environment—all at the same time.” Many people don’t consider the ACF an environmental organization because their concern is “urban uplift,” but for almost two decades, that uplift has been deeply connected to environmental activism. They have a revolutionary program to train unemployed and underemployed individuals in the green jobs of the future. They plant trees (over 1,000 and counting), remove tons of debris a year from the communities they serve, and distribute rain barrels and recycling bins. They
I looked around the room of, say, 50 people. The only people of color were me and my sous chef. Valerie Erwin
Executive Chef and Owner Geechee Girl Rice Cafe
also educate neighborhood residents on how to reduce stormwater pollution and host the annual Urban Environmental Roundtable and Summit. The president and a majority of the leadership of ACF are black. Indeed, Philadelphia is home to several eco-friendly organizations and institutions—from the Wissahickon Charter School to the Urban Nutrition Initiative—that work with and/or are led by African-Americans, but don’t necessarily fly their “green” flag high. In fact, some of these leaders, whether they work with flora and fauna or food and farmers, shun the green label. Chris Bolden-Newsome, 33, is one of those people. Bolden-Newsome comes from four generations of free farmers in Mississippi. Today, his parents run an organic farm in Tulsa, OK, while Bolden-Newsome runs the community farm program at the Martin Luther february 20 11
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King High School in West Oak Lane. But, whatever you do, don’t call him green. “I’m black,” he jokes, but is quick to clarify his position. “Being green is such a broad title,” he continues, pointing out that Martha Stewart has recently adopted the green label. “I want to be specific with what I’m doing. I’m about justice—food justice.” Bolden-Newsome is a passionate advocate for educating kids about food sovereignty. He believes everyone should have agency when it comes to what they eat. Safe, nutritious food should be a right, not a privelege. When describing his work with students—many of whom have never even tasted a fresh vegetable, much less grown one from seed—BoldenNewsome’s voice sparkles with excitement and hope. And his work goes far beyond Farming 101. “My first goal is to see these kids make it out of high school alive,” he admits. By putting the concept of food justice into a framework of history, spirituality and service, he makes growing food relevant to his small band of mostly male students, many of whom are often ridiculed by peers for “playing in the dirt.” From the slave revolts to the Irish potato famine, Bolden-Newsome offers his students a new way to look at the power of farming. “I’m teaching a food-based liberation,” he explains. The kids in the program learn how to grow fresh fruits and vegetables. They then sell the produce at farmers’ markets and in the community. They also learn how to cook and prepare healthy meals. Some of the students get paid for the work they do on the farm and everyone is welcome to take food 24
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home. Profits from the sales of their produce go back into the students’ hands. “Through this action of growing food and selling it, they’re helping support their families,” says BoldenNewsome. “They can actually see the power in that.” Another African-American sustainability pioneer in the city of Philadelphia who sees her work in the context of social justice is Rashida Ali-Campbell. The executive director of the nonprofit organization LoveLovingLove, Ali-Campbell, 33, has set her sights on bringing the Earthship to urban Philadelphia. What’s an Earthship? Well, according to the official website (earthship.com), it’s a “radically sustainable
home made of recyclable materials.” In a nutshell, it’s a dwelling built out of old tires, bottles and cans that receives all necessary power from solar and wind energy, and collects rainwater to supply its water. Every Earthship also comes with an indoor garden that supplies the inhabitants with fresh fruits and vegetables. “The Earthship can feed a family of four,” enthuses Ali-Campbell, obviously excited by the thought of bringing the Earthship to urban Philadelphia. “You don’t have to pay an electricity bill; you have to tend to your garden. It’s a home that takes care of you.” While most Earthships have been built in remote places, such as the outskirts of Taos, New Mexico, and Ontario, Canada, Ali-Campbell thinks ph oto by gene s mirnov
Farm Coordinator Martin Luther King High School
it’s a no-brainer to raze and/or reclaim some of Philadelphia’s 40,000 vacant properties to build Earthships for the city’s neediest citizens. “It belongs in the neighborhoods making the biggest carbon footprint,” she argues. It pains her to see people in urban communities completely disconnected from environmental conservation. But, like Glover, she understands why. “In a lot of poor neighborhoods, survival is the most important issue,” she says. “But, if you get them out of survival mode, then you have their attention. That’s why I want to bring them the Earthship.” Naysayers may doubt Ali-Campbell’s plan, but she’s got Senator Arlen Specter, Mayor Michael Nutter and former Governor Ed Rendell supporting her initiative. She recently secured a plot of land in West Philadelphia to build the first Earthship; it will serve as a training facility for teaching people how to build these eco-friendly homes. Truth be told, Ali-Campbell wants to live in an Earthship herself—but she’s willing to wait. “I want to build one in my backyard,” says the Yeadon resident with a laugh. “I just have to be patient.”
Through this action of growing food and selling it, they’re helping support their families. They can actually see the power in that.
look like the version of sustainability portrayed on a Sierra Club poster. Just ask Maa Kheru Men Metu, a longtime employee at the Nile Gift Shop and Café in Germantown. “Our culture was the first culture, and we’re trying to reconnect people to that culture and to the earth,” says Men Metu, who doesn’t reject the green label, but makes it clear that a relationship with nature isn’t a fad, but rather a lifestyle incorporated into mind, body and spirit. Glave would agree: “Africans saw nature and spirituality as one, as intertwined,” she says. This intersection of nature and spirit is quite evident at the Nile, which serves as a community center, retail store and restaurant all in one. The sweet, spicy scent of incense greets you as soon as you step into the brightly lit store. African garb is for sale, alongside African drums, vitamins, shea butter and books with titles like Emancipate Your Spirit. On the other side of the store is the modest café, offering vegan and vegetarian dishes like vegan roast duck, split pea soup, sweet potato bread and collard greens. The Nile has been in existence for 16 years, turning many people in the neighborhood on to a life-
style in which the earth is sacred and one’s relationship with it is honored daily. Some might call it green living; Men Metu calls it something different. “We’re just trying to help people—black or white—connect to a more Africancentered way of life,” he explains.
ccording to Dianne D. Glave, author of the recently released Rooted in the Earth: Reclaiming the African-American Environmental Heritage (Lawrence Hill), “AfricanAmericans practiced environmentalism through the lenses of religion, agriculture, gardening and nature study, long before the birth of the modern environmental movement.” In other words, black people have always been environmentally conscious by way of their cultural heritage—it just may not Photo by A Lb e r t Y e e
Maa Kheru Men Metu Long-time Employee Nile Gift Shop and Café
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President Niche Recycling
aurice Sampson, 56, president of Niche Recycling and chair of the RecycleNOW campaign, puts it another way: “Black people are green,” he says simply, referring to the agrarian past of most AfricanAmericans, including his own grandparents. “But talk of ‘the environment’ is too esoteric of a topic.” The result, in Philadelphia at least, has been an official green movement that feels very segregated. But Sampson sees that changing for the better. He gives a lot of the credit to Mayor Nutter—arguably the greenest black man in the city—and his plans to make Philadelphia the greenest city in the nation. With Nutter’s help, says Sampson, “We’ve turned Philadelphia into an urban juggernaut in terms of environmental issues.” For his part, Mayor Nutter says including people of color in that process is critical. “African-Americans, Latinos, Asian-Americans and other ethnic groups care just as much as anyone else about the environment and a sustainable future,” says the mayor. “When people are presented with the information they need, they respond. That is particularly true in the area of sustainability.” In other words, all anyone needs is a chance.
o, now it’s about making that chance a reality. Bolden-Newsome suggests African-Americans who don’t think “saving the environment” is a “black thing” need to rethink those cultural hang-ups. Meanwhile, his assistant at the Martin Luther King High School farm, Karl Ingram, a native Philadelphian and sustainable food enthusiast, thinks that some of Philadelphia’s racially-homogenous green organizations need to work harder to diversify their membership. “If being an inclusive movement is not a priority, it’s not going to work,” he says. 26
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After more than 20 years in the business of saving the planet, Maurice Sampson is confident that change is going to come to Philadelphia. “Now, when I go to [environmental] meetings, I see black and white,” he says brightly. “And I think in another five or 10 years we won’t be having these types of conversations [about race and the environment].” Instead, Sampson hopes we’ll be talking about how Philadelphia reinvented itself. “I want to see us do for the world with trash what we did for the world with democracy,” he says, speaking of his desire to see
every single individual and commercial enterprise recycle 100 percent of their waste. If and when we get to that point, black or white won’t really matter. In Philadelphia, we’ll all be seeing green. Lori L. Tharps is an assistant professor of journalism at Temple University and author of the novel Substitute Me. Tharps blogs about race, identity and parenting at myamericanmeltingpot.com.
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WHEN has been working closely with the Philadelphia Water Department to develop a pilot project that helps people dispose of pharmaceuticals in a more environmentally-friendly manner, following federal guidelines. On location at the Fairmount Water Works (left to right): Kelly Anderson from the Philadelphia Water Department; Dianne Moore, MSW, WHENâ€™s Manager of Food & Sustainability Initiatives; Julie Becker, Ph.D., MPH, President and Founder; and Teresa Mendez-Quigley, MSW, LSW, WHENâ€™s Director of Environmental Stewardship. 28
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WHEN the Going Gets Tough A life-altering diagnosis inspires one woman to sound the alarm by lee stabert
t age 31, Julie Becker was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. An advocate by nature, her personal experience inspired her to get involved with the growing breast cancer movement. But, after years of serving on boards, she grew tired of the exclusive focus on diagnosis and treatment. “We kept saying, there’s got to be somebody speaking about prevention,” she recalls. Fourteen years ago, she attended an international conference in Canada that focused on links between the environment and breast cancer. The Women’s Health and Environmental Network (WHEN) was born. Becker is a computer scientist and researcher by trade, lending a unique methodology to her advocacy work. “When I talk about research, I not only know what it’s like to be a researcher,” says Becker, who now holds both a Ph.D. and a Masters in Public Health (MPH). “I know what it’s like to be a bench scientist—I was a grunt in a lab; I know what its like to do the basic science and the social science. But I also know what it’s like to be the piglet on the other end. I signed a research protocol for six years. So, for six years, I was tethered to the institution where I received my treatments. It was very experimental. There were about 1,000 women enrolled; less than 50 of them survived.” At first, WHEN focused on public hearings and encouraging public officials (including thenmayor Ed Rendell) to talk about links between the environment and breast cancer. “We decided to focus on the nexus between environment and health,” says Becker. “There are a lot of great environmental groups out there, but, to be honest, they’re a little short on the health impacts.” Becker is open about her suspicions regarding her own exposure. “I grew up in the Midwest, mostly in the Chicago area,” she says. “They had tremendous mosquito problems. Back in the ’60s, they used to spray DDT extensively. We used to follow behind the DDT trucks as they would spray. You would hold your breath as you raced along behind, then you would peel off into a yard and just exhale. I firmly believe that a number of these exposures I received during very pivotal moments helped contribute to why I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer at a very young age.” photo by g e n e s m i r n ov
WHEN has two full-time employees, Dianne Moore and Teresa Mendez-Quigley; Becker, technically a volunteer, is the president. The organization also relies heavily on hours from local nursing and public health students. In recent years, WHEN has expanded its reach beyond cancer, while narrowing its focus to target particularly vulnerable populations—kids, women of childbearing age, senior citizens—and limiting their exposure to harmful (and potentially carcinogenic) chemicals. They take aim specifically at healthcare facilities, childcare centers and senior living. save the date
Urban Sustainability Forum: Healthy Homes in Toxic Times Julie Becker, President and Founder of the Women’s Health and Environmental Network will be speaking, and local organizations that promote healthy homes will offer additional advice at information tables. See the full event listing on p. 36. January 20, 6 – 9 p.m., Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy.
In hospitals, WHEN’s major push revolves around food. Commercially-produced ingredients are often packed with pesticides, chemicals and pharaceuticals used to treat livestock. Five local health care organizations have made pledges to change the way they purchase, sell and prepare food, offering more local, organic and vegetarian options. WHEN is also consulting on a national effort to keep pharmaceuticals out of our drinking water. They hope to educate healthcare providers to change their prescribing practices, reducing the amount of drugs in the environment. “There’s a lot of confusion,” says Becker. “So we’ve started an educational initiative with the universities. We’re also working with one hospital to set up an exemplary practice.”
When it comes to kids, WHEN has targeted daycare facilities. They’ve partnered with the Penn State Cooperative Extension to encourage Integrated Pest Management (IMP) in outdoor play areas. It’s a system that relies on prevention, observation and intervention, significantly reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides. They’re also encouraging green cleaning and local, organic food for kids. “From ages 0 to 6 is when your brain is most active in terms of its growth,” says Becker. “So, we want to try to assure that they have the least amount of chemical exposure possible. It also helps educate the parents.” Despite all she knows about the harmful chemicals lurking around every corner of everyday life, Becker remains hopeful that our society can change. She knows from her own experience that all it takes is a point of entry. “Cancer was a great jumping off point [for me],” she says. “People need to find a niche to get into something. When people say, ‘Oh, I can’t do anything to help the environment—it’s too overwhelming,’ pick one thing. Just one. And start to make changes over time.” —julie becker WHEN might be small, but they still believe they can have a tremendous influence. “We’ve always focused on a train the trainer model,” explains Becker. “We’re a small group, but the biggest impact is training people, and then they can spread the word.” Becker’s positivity and enthusiasm are contagious. She even views her early health crisis through an upbeat, no-nonsense lens. “I don’t spend a lot of time in the ‘Why Me?’ space,” she says. “It’s not really my M.O. You have time delimited stewing. For things that are not that important, you get 24 hours; for things that are a little more important, you get 48. For cancer, I gave myself 72.” Though the mission has expanded significantly since its founding, WHEN retains a close emotional tie with its original objective—namely, women’s health. “Women control 80 percent of purchasing in a family, so women are pretty potent,” explains Becker. “We’d like that to always be our top focus. They are, unfortunately, the canaries in the mine.”
There are a lot of great environmental groups out there, but, to be honest, they’re a little short on the health impacts.
when.org february 20 11
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by bernard brown
Welcome Wagon Philadelphia’s cormorants are winter warriors
hat is your welcome-to-Philadelphia vista? The sight that signals you’ve arrived? Maybe it’s the grand spread of rowhomes and skyscrapers coming into view as you cross the Ben Franklin Bridge? Or perhaps the hospitals as your train nears 30th Street Station from the south, and you know it’s time to pack up the laptop. How about the scrapyard and refinery flares lighting up the industrial wasteland along Penrose Avenue?
For me it’s always been the cormorants. I grew up in Central Ohio, but my parents were Philadelphia natives. Every year we made at least one drive east to the homeland. I’m sure most people note the majesty of the Art Museum as they drive east on the Schuylkill Expressway towards Center City, but I was always fixed on the odd black birds—sitting on a cable stretched across the river above the falls. If any bird can appeal to a reptile-obsessed child, it’s the cormorant. Gawky, with thick, long necks and beady eyes crammed close to a hooked bill, they violate our basic rules of avian grace. They don’t alight delicately on the tips of tree twigs; they’re more likely to squat by murky water, black wings stretched out to dry in the sun. They don’t chirp or sing; my Sibley Field Guide to Birds describes “hoarse grunting or wailing.” Even their scientific name is ugly—just try to pronounce Phalocrocorax. Their beauty is best appreciated underwater. Cormorants make their living by catching fish; 30
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not just quickly popping down from above, but giving underwater chase with wings tucked in. They shoot around with disarming grace and speed, propelled by powerful thrusts of their webbed feet. Cormorants have long been persecuted for competing with anglers, and the double-crested cormorant (the most common fresh water species in North America) also took a big hit from DDT in the middle of the 20th Century. They’ve since recovered, to the point that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits state governments to cull them—though it’s hard to say they ever really steal fish humans would want to catch. The cormorants in the Schuylkill are doublecresteds, but on the other side of the city you can see great cormorants, distinguished by their bigger size and white cheek patch. I admire any bird that can sit out the winter on a wind-scoured buoy in the middle of the Delaware, but as local birder and environmental educator Tony Croasdale (who suggested cormorants as a subject)
pointed out, they’re only Bird Watching Tip: If you want to limited by their ability to take your own find food. Cormorants shot at spotting can catch fish as long great cormorants this winter, try as they can get under Pennypack on the water. When the the Delaware river freezes over, they Park in Northeast just shift south into the Philadelphia. Delaware Bay. I went out to see the great cormorants on a recent frigid morning, binoculars shivering with my hands. I could just barely make out a black shape on a buoy way upstream. Not very rewarding. So, I made sure to cruise past Boathouse Row on my way home. Two double-crested cormorants welcomed me back to West Philly. Bernard Brown is an amateur field herper, part-time bureaucrat and director of the PB&J Campaign; read about his forays into the natural world at phillyherping.blogspot.com. ph oto by c h ri st i an hu nol d
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Jennie Love Love ’n Fresh Flowers of
This Valentine’s Day, ditch the roses
he act of giving flowers on Valentine’s Day dates back to the 17th century—blooms became symbols of passion, love and hope for reconciliation. But today’s global flower industry undermines the romance of the holiday. Love ’n Fresh Flowers’ Jennie Love explains, and offers local alternatives to imported bouquets. Can you discuss the global flower industry? Jennie Love: Three-quarters of the cut flowers sold in the U.S. today are grown in South America. In these places, the working conditions are terrible. There is a lot of child labor that goes on. A lot of women who are trying to support their families are getting exposed [to pesticides]. Even if their kids aren’t working, they’re bringing their kids to the workplace and they’re getting exposed to a lot of pesticides, many of which are illegal in the U.S. What is the scope of the local flower industry in the Philadelphia area? The local flower industry is a budding enterprise that is gaining more interest as Philadelphians continue to show their support for and commitment to locally-sourced and sustainable products. At this time, Love ‘n Fresh Flowers, to the best of my knowledge, is the only business in Philadelphia dedicated exclusively to flower production and using only locally-grown flowers for our arrangements. However, several of the city’s urban farms incorporate some basic flowers like zinnias and cosmos into their vegetable fields—the presence of nearby flowers attracts the pollinating and beneficial insects that make vegetable growing more productive. There are other growers in the Philadelphia area, including Market Blooms, a shop in Reading Terminal Market that grows some of the flowers they offer at a farm in New Jersey. Since it’s too cold for most plants to grow in February, what are the alternatives to giving imported flowers on Valentine’s Day? It is indeed unfortunate that Valentine’s Day—the most important and busiest holiday for florists in the United States, accounting for more than a third of all sales each year—falls in the middle of winter. Here in Pennsylvania, that means it’s difficult to find locally-grown anything—let alone the traditional red rose that flies in from South America or Africa via a layover at the Dutch flower auction. Rather than forgo florals altogether, give one of the following a try for your sustainable sweetheart. 32
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by ariela rose
roses behind your back on Valentine’s Day, you may want to give them one of the suggestions above and a copy of Amy Stewart’s Flower Confidential, a highly readable and informative book about the flower industry.
Forced Bulbs: Do a quick search online and you’ll find easy instructions for forcing bulbs like paperwhites and tulips to bloom indoors in winter. Find a pretty container—perhaps something vintage or artistic to match the receiver’s personality—and plant bulbs according to the instructions. They’ll have the pleasure of watching the bulbs send out tender green shoots, grow tall and then bloom in stunning colors in the midst of
Bonus Gift Idea
dreary winter. You can also find forced bulbs already blooming at most florist shops; these tend to be sourced from domestic growers. Forced Branches: Again, a quick search online should yield a simple guide to cutting branches in winter and bringing them inside to force into bloom. Think of the fluttering springtime serenade of cherry blossoms making an appearance at your lover’s bedside in winter. Often you can find good branches for forcing—such as forsythia, cherry, crab apple, dogwood, willow, magnolia and quince—right in your own backyard, or that of a neighbor (ask first, of course). Getting an early February branch to bloom usually takes about two weeks. If you’re running short on time, this is another gift you can give in a pretty container, letting the receiver finish the forcing process themselves. Potted Plants: While they may not have the romance of a rose, potted plants make great gifts, both in terms of sustainability and longevity. Choose something really unusual or a plant in bloom to make it special. If the one you love is also a black thumb, I’d recommend finding them a succulent, as these plants are native to arid landscapes and thrive on neglect. A unique container adds charm. If you’re committed to locally grown flowers, but aren’t sure your loved one will understand why you’re not holding a bouquet of imported
Love ‘n Fresh offers a flower CSA (same premise as a vegetable one) that promises your loved one a bucket of blooms every week once the season arrives.
Where can one purchase locally-grown potted plants? What about forced bulbs? Local nurseries and florists are likely to carry an assortment of potted plants and bulbs for forcing. You might want to ask where the potted plants were grown just to be sure. If you’re buying bulbs for forcing other than paperwhites (Narcissus), ask if they have been pre-cooled. This is important for tricking the bulbs into blooming in winter. If you’re stuck in a pinch, big garden box stores probably still have some paperwhite bulbs floating around. In Chestnut Hill, Killian’s Hardware carries high quality bulbs for forcing. Valentine’s Day aside, what locally-grown flowers can we expect to find once the warm Flower weather returns? Classics like vibrant zin- Confidential nias, sunflowers, celosia, by Amy Stewart cosmos and snapdragons abound at farmers’ markets. We’ll have over 50 varieties on offer throughout the season, starting with parrot tulips, alliums, double narcissus, sweet peas, wild columbine, bleeding hearts, astilbe, nigella, larkspur and calendula in spring. The key to enjoying the locally-grown flower scene is to be prepared for constant change, as many blooms are in season for only a short time. But just when your favorite is fading, another stunning specimen comes into bloom. For more growing gift ideas and information on the local industry, visit lovenfreshflowers.com or ascfg.org, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers’ website. february 20 11
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Land Trust Gaining access to vacant land in Philly might not be easy, but it’s worth it
by robyn mello
t takes a lot to start a garden in this city. Fortunately, Philly has lots—and lots—of vacant lots; over 40,000, with 12,000 owned by various city agencies. Residents in every neighborhood are waking up to the idea of growing their own food, but private ownership is preventing supply from keeping up with demand, despite the fact that many owners haven’t touched their properties or paid the taxes in years. Fortunately, state and city governments are working to ease the process of gaining access to neglected land through the Pennsylvania Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship
Legally gardening on someone else’s land may seem daunting; here are some tips to get you started 1. be flexible and patient. This process will not happen overnight, and you might not be able to work in your first-choice lot. Balancing time on the phone with time playing in the dirt will keep you on track. 2. go door to door on the block to share your ideas, recruit help, take notes on others’ ideas, write a petition and address any concerns. Hearing stories is one of the best parts of doing community work. I knew I was on the right track with Mercy Street when one resident showed me a well-established grape vine he’d planted along his back fence. 3. try to contact the private owners using the addresses listed on the Office of Property Assessment’s Property Search Website (opa.phila.gov). Tax information is also available on the Revenue Department website (phila.gov/revenue). Sometimes private owners will respond to you, sometimes they owe so many back taxes that they’ll avoid you at all costs, and sometimes they’re dead. After sending multiple letters to all the private owners, I’ve gotten permission to use one private lot indefinitely, and applied through the Office of Housing and Community Development (OHCD) for control of all eight of the block’s city-owned lots. 4. Earn the support of your district councilperson; it’s crucial to accessing city-owned land. Meet with one of his or her staff and point out the obvious benefits to gardening, including cleaning up dumping grounds, deterring drug trafficking, bringing a diverse group together, opening eyes to the potential of an overlooked neighborhood, improving health and making less work for city departments. 5. Become familiar with the agencies that will be a major part of your quest when applying for city-owned land, and don’t be afraid to contact the same offices repeatedly until they help. The ODCD deals with real estate. The lots are owned by the Redevelopment Authority, the Public Property Department, the Philadelphia Housing 34
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Authority and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation, respectively. The Mayor’s Office of Sustainability isn’t established enough yet to streamline the process, but its staff is very helpful. 6. get involved with groups and individuals trying to green the city and build community. You’ll not only become enmeshed in a network of inspiring people, but you’ll learn from the victories and mistakes that came before you. Some of my favorite urban gardening groups are the Philadelphia Orchard Project (POP), Philly Rooted and United Communities of Southeast Philadelphia (UCSEP). Two listservs worth joining are the Philadelphia Urban Farmers’ Network Google Group (PUFN) and the Eastern Pennsylvania Permaculture Guild (through meetup.com). 7. take initiative. If you start working on a city-owned lot before you have legal access, the city will be more likely to take you seriously. If you start gardening on a private lot, you may someday gain conservatorship. Lastly, any attention to a neglected lot is an improvement, and it will help you stay focused.
Act and the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act. (See last month’s Grid for a rundown of the Urban Tree Connection’s recent success with this strategy.) But waiting for legislation to find its way to your block will probably ensure you miss harvesting those dreamy heirloom tomatoes for yet another year. If you drool over every vacant lot you see, going through the process of gaining access is still well worth the effort. Since September, I’ve been working with my South Philly neighborhood to start a large garden on the 500 block of Mercy Street. The project has already improved the area and helped build community—and not a single seed has been planted. After a mid-November clean-up that cleared eight lots, I learned that the block’s residents hadn’t seen the ground there in nearly 20 years. Recently, a wise friend offered up this Thomas Edison quote: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Urban gardening is much more complicated than throwing seeds in your backyard, but I dare say it’s also much more rewarding—and it motivates the city government to work for its citizenry. Don’t give up! If the process is too difficult for you individually, I’m available to provide tips, help you find likeminded gardeners in your neighborhood or involve you in the 5th & Mercy project. I can be reached at email@example.com.
Dead of winter
one are the carefree days of my go-to bike posse riding through the streets in shorts and tank tops. Hello, cold biting air. I hate you. But I still want to ride my bike. Last month, I called some of the great folks I had the pleasure of riding with this year to ask for their best winter cycling tips. (Mine begin and end with good moisturizer and the ski socks I stole from my freshman year roommate.) So, here is my seasonal gift to you. I hope it encourages you to keep feet to pedals. →→ Linda McGrane, President of the Bi-
cycle Club of Philadelphia, gives the most important tip of all: Dress in layers! “The spaces between layers retain warm air,” she says. “The base layer—closest to your skin—should be made of a breathable material, which wicks away perspiration. Do not wear a cotton T-shirt as your base layer; cotton will absorb your perspiration, then remain damp. The outer layer should be rain-proof and wind-resistant.” →→ John Boyle, Advocacy Director at the
Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia offers up three simple things that will make a huge difference in your comfort: “Chemical hand and foot warmers, Balaclava (you might need to adjust your helmet fit slightly) and Neoprene booties over the shoes.”
→→ “Wheel fenders,” suggests Sarah Clark
Stuart, Campaign Director at the Bicycle Coalition. “They’ll prevent snow and mud from going up your back.” →→ Joel Flood from Via Bicycles wants you
to try “rolling your foot a little more to circulate blood. It will keep them warmer. A nip of whiskey in the water bottle helps, too.” →→ Breen Goodwin, Education Director at
the Bicycle Coalition wants you to start out chilly: “You should be cold for the first five minutes of your ride—otherwise you will sweat through all of your clothes after you warm up.”
A nip of whiskey in the water bottle helps. —joel flood
photo by dam o n lan dry
by julie lorch
→→ Everyone agrees that gloves are a must,
but Steve Taylor, Safe Routes Philly Coordinator gives details on the ins and outs of proper hand coverage: “It is essential to have a pair of gloves that protect the hands from the cold while allowing only slightly restricted access to brakes (and shifters if applicable). For me this means layering long-fingered neoprene riding gloves with light, wicking liners; for others it means “lobster” gloves. For most short-distance commuters, a pair of suede gloves (even some lined suede work gloves from the hardware store) will work fine, perhaps with the addition of liners as temperatures drop.” →→ Chris Harne, head mechanic over
at Fairmount Bicycles, reminds you to get ready for spring. (Spring!) “If you get a yearly tune-up, hop into line before the queue fills up. The best time is when you’re excited for spring weather to break, but it hasn’t broken yet. Getting your bicycle in for service before spring blossoms can make a week’s difference in turnaround time at your neighborhood bicycle shop.” I know I’ll be thinking about those first balmy days as I curse the windy Walnut Street Bridge on my daily commute. For now, put on your gloves and fenders. Hope to see you out there! february 20 11
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Dubbed “A Wedding Expo for the Cool at Heart,” this isn’t your typical bridal brigade. The event will highlight Philly-area vendors outside the mainstream world of wedding planning. Local talent, hand-crafted and eco-friendly products, bakers, venues, photographers and more will be on hand to help you make your big day special, and sustainable.
→→ January 9, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m., $6.50
online; $10 at the door, World Café Live, 3025 Walnut St., purchase tickets at lovesickexpo.eventbrite.com, for information, visit lovesickexpo.com
SBN Annual Members Meeting out what the Sustainable Busi18 Find ness Network has in store for 2011 at its first meeting of the New Year. The evening will include networking opportunities, board elections, a look back on accomplishments of 2010 and planning for the organization’s 10th anniversary year. →→ January 18, 5:45 – 9 p.m., Academy of
Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., to register, visit sbnmembermeeting11. eventbrite.com, sbnphiladelphia.org
Fashion Entrepreneurs Circle by the National Association of 19 Hosted Sustainable Fashion Designers, this event will bring together entrepreneurs dedicated to social change and interested in adding more sustainable elements to their fashion businesses. Each meeting of the circle will offer participants an opportunity to learn how to advance their business; a selected entrepreneur will present their ideas to the group at each session. →→ January 19, 6 – 8 p.m., LuluLemon, 1527
Walnut St., for information, or to register, visit fashioncircle.eventbrite.com
Healthy Homes in Toxic Times edition of the Academy of Natural 20 This Science’s Urban Sustainability Forum will focus on reducing harmful exposure during our weekly routines, and creating healthy home environments. Julie Becker, President and Founder of the Women’s Health and Environmental Network (see story on p. 28) will be speaking, and local organizations that promote healthy homes will offer additional advice at information tables.
Studio B Presents The Farm: Bountiful Harvest of Art 21 AThis will be Studio B’s third showing of The Farm, an exhibition showcasing works inspired by Pennsylvania’s agricultural roots. Entries are expected from artists working in a variety of mediums, including sculpture, watercolor, linocuts and mixed media. Cash prizes will be awarded, and the artist named “Best in Show” will win a featured spot in Studio B’s next members’ show. The artwork will be in on display through February 14.
→→ January 20, 6 – 9 p.m., Academy of Natural
Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., to RSVP, visit urbansustainabilityforum healthyhome.eventbrite.com
Taxing Carbon: The Simple to the Climate Crisis 21 Solution The Progressive Democrats of America and the Philadelphia Regional Anti-War Network are hosting this talk by Charles Komanoff, an environmental activist and director of the Carbon Tax Center. Komanoff co-founded the organization in 2007, giving a voice to Americans who believe that taxing carbon dioxide emissions will help mitigate global warming. His current work includes transportation advocacy and developing models for traffic pricing and free transit in New York City.
→→ January 21, 5 – 8 p.m., Studio B,
39 E. Philadelphia Ave., Boyertown, for information, visit studiobbb.org
Delaware Estuary Science & Environmental Summit This year’s event, anticipated to attract over 300 attendees, will be focused around the theme “Connections: Land to Sea, Shore to Shore & Science to Outreach.” The goal of the three-day event is to create effective partnerships among those interested in the prosperity of the Delaware Estuary. The days’ events will feature over 130 presentations, hands-on workshops, special guest speakers and networking opportunities.
→→ January 30 – February 2, Cape May Grand →→ January 21, 7 p.m., Tabernacle Church,
3700 Chestnut St., for information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-694-7803, pdamerica.org
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Hotel, 1045 Beach Ave., Cape May, NJ, for more information or to register, visit delawareestuary.org or call Dr. Danielle Kreeger at (800) 445-4935 x104
Entry-Level Solar PV Design and Installation Course This course, led by Infinite Solar, will provide an overview of basic solar photovoltaic (PV) system applications, primarily focusing on gridtied systems. The goal of the course is to create a fundamental understanding of the core concepts necessary to work with all PV systems. Infinite Solar has furnished a 25-x-25 foot mock roof for two days of indoor hands-on instruction. Upon completion of this course, participants will be eligible for Advanced IREC-ISPQ accredited solar PV courses, as well as the NABCEP Entry Level Exam.
→→ January 31 – February 4, 8:30 a.m – 5 p.m.,
$1,200, Chester County Economic Development Council, 737 Constitution Dr., Exton, for information, contact email@example.com, smartenergypa.org
Germinating Partnerships: Seniors with 1 Connecting Community Gardens Join GenPhilly for an afternoon of pizza and discussion about bringing together community garden advocates and those who work with older adults. Involving seniors with gardens will allow them to grow their own food, share gardening knowledge, express creativity and exercise. →→ February 1, noon – 2 p.m., City Hall’s
Conversation Hall, Broad and Market Sts., for information or to RSVP, visit gpgardens-pr.eventbrite.com
Natural Building for the Northwest and Mid-Atlantic Climates This lecture, presented by New Frameworks Natural Building, will examine how to best apply natural building practices in a cold, wet climate. Appropriate materials, technical detailing and aesthetics will all be evaluated, and basic building science concepts will be addressed. The evening will conclude with a Q&A session.
→→ February 4, 7 p.m., $10 suggested donation,
Parish Room, First Unitarian Church, 2125 Chestnut St., for information, visit
meetup.com/philadelphianaturalbuilding and newframeworks.com
20th Annual PASA for the 2 5 Farming Future Conference This yearly event brings together over 2,000 farmers, processors, consumers, students and environmentalists, and defines PASA’s focus on community building. Presentations, keynote speakers, a sustainable tradeshow and marketplace, and meals featuring organic and sustainable ingredients are conference highlights. Past seminar topics have included cheese making and raw milk marketing, and a scholarship fund assures that any interested farmer is able to attend. →→ February 2 – 5, The Penn Stater
Conference Center, 215 Innovation Blvd., State College, for tickets and registration, visit pasafarming.org, for information, contact Patty Neiner at patty@ pasafarming.org or 814-349-9856 x23
photo by alb e r t ye e
ANS Friends and Family Overnight 4 Safari Join the Academy of Natural Sciences’ naturalists for interactive activities, and a chance to meet some live animals. The evening’s events will include a dinosaur dig, crafts and a scavenger hunt. In the morning, enjoy a light breakfast and browsing in the Academy’s giftshop. →→ February 4-5, 6:30 p.m. – 9 a.m., $35
members; $40 non-members, Academy of Natural Sciences, 1900 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy., for reservations, call 215-299-1060, ansp.org
BCGP Guy’s Bicycles Repair Classes The Bicycle Coalition will host a repair class every Saturday at Guy’s Bicycles throughout February. If you like to service your own bike and want to learn more, this is the event for you. The series will teach you everything from basic adjustments to hub overhauls.
→→ February 5, 12 & 19, $100, Guy’s Bicycles,
326 E. Street Rd., Feasterville, to reserve your spot, email firstname.lastname@example.org, bicyclecoalition.org
Pennypack Farm Presents Angry Moms 8 Two Pennypack Farm and Education Center will screen the documentary Two Angry Moms as
part of their Sustainable Movie Series. The film asks the question: “What happens when fed-up moms try to change school food?” and follows the filmmaker as she travels in search of healthy alternatives to school lunches. →→ February 8, 6:30 – 10 p.m., $10, Ambler
Theatre, 108 E. Butler Ave., Ambler, to purchase tickets, visit amblertheater. org/pennypack, for information, visit pennypackfarm.org and angrymoms.org
Up on the Roof: Legalese Behind Green 12 The Roofs and Rooftop Farms Green roofs and rooftop farming hold tremendous hope for improving stormwater management and food access, especially in urban areas. Two representatives from a recent Philadelphia rooftop farming initiative will talk about how to green our skylines. The focus will be on the municipal labyrinth of zoning and code enforcement, and the engineering realities of old buildings. The presenters are Stephanie Alarcon, a Philadelphia County Master Gardener, and Zhenya Fomin, a former green roofer and graduate student at Philadelphia University. →→ February 12, 9 a.m., $10, Fairmount Park
Horticultural Center, N. Horticultural and Montgomery Drs., to register, call 215-471-2200 x100, for information, visit philadelphia.extension.psu.edu (under Horticulture and Gardening)
Couples Partner Yoga Workshop 34 Yoga presents this special 12 Studio workshop just in time for Valentine’s Day. Various poses and meditations will offer you and your partner a chance to connect in a lighthearted and fun environment. Each of the poses will incorporate the support of your partner, and are suitable for anyone interested, regardless of yoga experience. →→ February 12, 12:30 – 3:30 p.m., $50 per
couple, Studio 34 Yoga, 4522 Baltimore Ave., for information, call 215-387-3434, studio34yoga.com
Love Train Event on the love train for a one-of-a-kind 13 Hop romantic experience during Valentine’s Day weekend. An exclusive decorated SEPTA El Train will take you and your loved one on a tour of artist Stephen Powers’ Love Letter murals. The ride will be followed by a screening of A Love Letter for You, a documentary on the creation of the murals. Tickets are limited, so reserve your space early. →→ February 13, to purchase tickets,
call 215-685-0754, for information, visit muralarts.org
f ebruary 20 11
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Found Art by laryssa kwoczak
hunch over the table for hours—scraping, wiping and chipping away at grout until the mosaic shines. My hands are a shade of ultramarine from an experiment with dye, and my face has a light dusting of white powder from the disintegrating grout. My mosaic-making process is not always glamorous. I finally take a minute and stand back, allowing my eyes to readjust to looking at objects from further than three inches away. Finally allowed a moment of relief, my spine lets loose a quiet wail. It’s not easy being an artist, but what can I do? I did not find art; it found me. Long before my brain was capable of forming long-term memories, I was creating pictures. When I was young, making art was a way to escape the world around me. I replicated Disney pictures and created murals of fictitious underwater scenes in my bedroom. As I got older, I moved on to still life and self-portraits. Eventually, I put my hobby aside—I was attending Drexel and studying graphic art. No more painting for the fun of it; now my work was earning me a grade. It was also in college that my frugal nature led me to new activities. My hobbies shifted to outside adventures, including hiking, biking and gardening. The city girl who had never climbed a tree was evolving into something of an environmentalist. I still loved to make art, but I found myself doing it less and less. Questions about the materials I was using—how to dispose of them safely and the effects they had on my health—left me confused. I went to an art store to look for alternatives, but all I saw were warning labels. Do not inhale! Do not ingest! Abrasive to skin! All of this led to a big question: What is an artist’s role when it comes to sustainability? I had no answer. I had ignored the issue for years. My reasoning was that the positive change artists brought to the world outweighed the negatives. Besides, I had a worm bin, rode a bike and tended a garden—that had to earn me at least one 38
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get-out-of-jail-free card with Mother Nature. There was no lifealtering, ah hah! moment. Realizing I could create art that wasn’t so intrusive on my health or the environment was a slow process. It began with a mosaic. I had always found mosaics interesting, but didn’t want to spend money on new supplies. I decided to use eggshells instead—a material that was free and abundant in my house. I quickly realized that this was too tedious for my liking. I tried a few other ideas; nothing stuck. Then, one night while walking up to my house, I saw a box of pottery on the porch. The owner of the pottery, my roommate and a potter by trade, told me the cast-offs were off limits. He insisted they be trashed—he did not want people displaying work he didn’t like. I asked if I could take it, if I promised to break them for a mosaic. He agreed. His box of misfits was enough for my next piece: the top of an old dining room table. The finished mosaic cost practically nothing to create and was made almost entirely from recycled materials.
This got me thinking. I started turning to the trash for inspiration, picking up non-porous and breakable items such as glass, mirrors and dishes. Then I expanded my vision, plucking Barbie shoes, eyeglasses, leaves and rubber bands. I covered a hubcap in bike reflectors and surrounded a stove burner with seashells. I became fascinated with rust on metal and paint chipping off wood. “Isn’t this screw beautiful?” I would ask, plucking the cast-off from a crack in the sidewalk and placing it in my pocket. My companion would inevitably stop, look at the screw and say something like, “Shouldn’t you be wearing gloves before touching that?” Friends and acquaintances began donating unwanted items, and some even started making their own mosaics. Knowing that my art is opening people up to the possibility of finding a second use for forgotten objects has became incredibly rewarding. I will admit, I used to be concerned when people caught me trash picking. But, thanks to some choice embarrassing moments—bumping into poles and stepping out into oncoming traffic— my concerns have dissipated. A quick flush of shame across the cheeks is a small price to pay for the rewards of a great find. Laryssa Kwoczak is principal of the Philadelphia graphic design studio LKGD. Find photographs of Laryssa’s found object mosaics and instructions on how to make your own at lk-gd.com/mosaics. mosai c s by laryssa kwocza k
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Published on Jan 14, 2011