Education and Workshops

Loafing in School

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Two hours; two beers; two pounds of freshly milled flour; one sourdough starter; more cheese, pizza and focaccia than I could eat; and a lot of knowledge.  It only cost me $35, but I think I ate, drank, and learned a lot more than the price I paid.

On Wednesday, I attended the Fair Food Farmstand’s “Food School” class dedicated to sourdough bread baking with Philly Muffin’s Pete Merzbacher. Although I have been baking sourdough bread for some time, I still came away from this having learned some very important things that have already improved my break baking:
- The tight, even “crumb” of a typical sandwich loaf or the airy, irregular crumb of a ciabatta are functions of gluten development.  The more developed the gluten is, the more uniform the crumb. 
- My greatest weakness in bread baking, loaves that spread out rather than spring up, is most likely a result of the dough being too wet.
- Because a home oven loses so much heat when the door is opened, preheat your oven higher than the temperature at which you are going to bake.  Then, reset the temperature once you have actually put the bread in the oven.

Pete is not a believer in using spray bottles or pans of water to “steam” dough in home ovens.  Pete is a believer in baking in a cast iron pot (a la Jim Lahey’s no-knead method).  The pot serves two important functions. One, related to the previous point, it will maintain a consistent heat for your bread.  Two, by trapping steam released from the dough as it bakes, it will function in very much the same way as a professional baking oven that injects steam.  In fact, Pete said that while he can easily tell a loaf baked in a home oven using a pan of water as compared to a professional oven, he would be hard-pressed to do so when comparing a loaf baked in a cast iron pot as compared to a professional oven.


Throughout the class, the good people of the Fair Food Farmstand plied us with PBC beer and tons of local cheese with pizzas and focaccia at the end.  Pete was personable and patient with a class of students with extremely varied levels of experience.  Most importantly, he tolerated my incessant questioning about my own issues and about using local grains.  The sourdough starter came from his own bakery, as did the whole-grain flour he had milled himself that day. 

If you have any interest bread baking, I can’t recommend a class with Pete highly enough.  The same goes for anything hosted by the Fair Food Farmstand.  I feel very lucky to have had such good and generous people share their knowledge - and, of course, food.

Posted by Kevin on 03/01 at 05:51 PM

East Coast Wines with The Wine School of Philadelphia

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Thursday, April 10th we attended a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia devoted to East Coast wine.  As excited as I was to do this, I was surprised (and disappointed) when our knowledgeable, passionate instructor (Zach) told us that in years past, the Wine School has had difficulty filling seats for this class.  The reason?  People, it seems, are very skeptical about the idea of quality wine made on the East Coast.  Zach was intent on changing that, and I suspect he succeeded with just about everyone in the room.  I actually heard someone say, “California wine is dead.”

We covered most of the East Coast wine regions - Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (the Finger Lakes), and New York (the North Fork of Long Island).  In all, we tasted nine wines, four of which were from the immediate area:

1) Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner - I had tasted this wine years ago at the fantastic farm-to-table restaurant John J. Jeffries in the Lancaster Arts Hotel.  I was impressed then, and even more so this time.  The nose on this wine was incredibly delicious, and the acidity begged for grilled fish.  This is something I could linger over with a leisurely summer dinner.
2) Va La Prima Donna - I have written about Va La before, and the more I learn of Anthony Vietri and this winery, the more impressed I am.  Quite simply, I love everything they produce and I love the way they produce it. 
3) Heritage BDX 2010 and BDX 2012 - These were the “biggest” wines of the evening, with complex aromas, tannins, and a long finish.  For a special occasion, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer one of these, but they wouldn’t do for most meals.  That is, unless you eat like royalty at every meal.

Of the remaining East Coast Wines, we tried a Keuka Lake 2012 Riesling and a Damiani 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both of which were excellent, but neither of which I would seek out - simply a matter of personal taste.There was also another North Fork wine, a 2010 “Taste” Red Blend from Bedell, that was lovely, but with which I had a similar issue as I did with the Heritage wines and the Barboursville 2010 Petit Verdot.  Again, I can’t fault any of them, but they simply weren’t my preference. 

Of the non-local wines, the one I most enjoyed most was the Black Ankle 2011 Syrah.  It was softer and more subtle than any of the other wines - far more so than the other reds.  It wouldn’t dominate any food it might be served with - though you would have to take care not to dominate it with food.  Regardless, this sustainable winery is only 132 miles from Philadelphia.  I think there is a road trip in the near future.

This was my first time at the Wine School, and I was impressed with the quality of the wines Zach had procured for us.  In fact, the only complaint I have - and I am not even sure if this would qualify as a complaint - is that the Wine School was so intent on convincing us that the East Coast makes great wine that we wound up drinking great wines - few of which I would drink on a daily, or even weekly, basis.  So, here’s hoping the Wine School ceases to have any trouble filling those seats.  With wines like this, it is hard to imagine how.

Posted by Kevin on 04/16 at 07:51 PM

Fair Food Winter Education Schedule

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fair Food Philadelphia is offering a series of classes on various aspects of local food production with a focus on several local purveyors.  Upcoming classes include chocolate and beer pairings with Jon and Kira’s Chocolates and Yards Brewery, sustainable dairy production with Mark Lopez of Wholesome Dairy Farm, and raising pastured pork and creating charcuterie with Stryker Farm and Rooster St. Provisions.  You can buy tickets here.

Fair Food is promising upcoming monthly classes on a host of other topics such as wild foraging and Native American food production, and proceeds of course benefit Fair Food’s support of sustainable agriculture in our area. 

Posted by Donna on 01/26 at 07:45 AM

Upcoming Workshops

Friday, May 31, 2013

Greensgrow Farms is hosting gardening and cooking workshops in June.  Turn what you would normally consider kitchen scraps into a delicious meal with fresh, local ingredients!
June 1st, 12-2pm, $25: Unusual Container Garden
Bring a crazy container for a step-by-step workshop to create a garden outside of the pot.  Soil, light, and positions will be discussed for your container.  You will receive a $10 Greensgrown Gift Card after the workshop.

June 8th, 12-2pm, $40: “The Soupmaker’s Kitchen” with Chef Aliza Green
Registration required.  Aliza Green is one of the pioneer chefs to make Philadelphia a dining destination and author of twelve cookbooks.  Use trimmings and seasonal vegetables to make homemade vegetable stocks.  Take home recipes and learn to store soups.
Soupmaker Jacket

Posted by Renee on 05/31 at 12:41 AM

Kickstarting The Honey Helpers: Urban Beekeeping for Kids

Friday, March 23, 2012

It never fails: once every few months I get an email from a Farm to Philly reader asking about urban beekeeping. So it’s a thrill to find out about a Kickstarter project involving beekeeping set to take place at the Wissahickon Charter School. Local beekeeper Matt Feldman is trying to raise $2,279 by April 18 to get a very cool beekeeping operation off the ground at the school. The Honey Helpers are a group of six elementary school students who will learn about bee biology, hive design, honeybee foraging habits, and honeybee genetics. Each student will be responsible for the care of their own hive with the help of an adult, and as honey production begins, students will participate in the harvesting and bottling of the honey. And the project aims to be self-sustaining: The Honey Helpers plan to sell honey, wax candles, and bees, the proceeds from which will be reinvested back into the project to continue and expand.

Right now they’ve got pledges for a little over half their goal. If you’ve got a couple bucks in your pocket, consider making a donation to the The Honey Helpers. There are some really awesome benefits to pledging $50, $100, or more, but you can get in on the action for even a dollar. Check out the Kickstarter page for more information about the project and the benefit levels.

Matt, the organizing beekeeper, was kind enough to answer some questions about the program and beekeeping in general. Matt’s the founding member of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild, and he’s been a beekeeper for four seasons. When asked how he got into beekeeping to begin with, he said, “I saw a rather famous Philadelphia beekeeper—Joel Eckel of Wee Bee Brothers—giving a few lectures about beekeeping. I thought that it was amazing and that is something I want to do. I also keep a very non-traditional type of hive, called a Kenyan Top Bar Hive. This hive design is VERY simple to build and reduces barriers for people to get into beekeeping.”

The project at Wissahickon Charter School is an important one for a few different reasons. While we see bees in Philadelphia, and kids might learn about the role bees play in food and flower production, city students don’t usually get much of a chance to see bees in action. As Matt notes, Wissahickon Charter School receives only a fraction of the per-pupil allocation that the Philadelphia school district receives, and the charter school runs a very tight budget—there’s not a lot of money for extra projects, which makes fundraising via Kickstarter a great way to ensure the students have this opportunity. Another issue, though, is something most people have heard of—Colony Collapse Disorder has been an ongoing problem, making for a shortage of bees in some parts of the country. Raising bees and understanding bee culture is more important than ever for all of us.

While the initial project includes a group of six students, Matt would love to include more kids as the initiative evolves. “I truly believe there is so much to get out of handling the bees that it isn’t fair to offer it to just six kids. I would also like to involve the kids in research related to bees. There are a lot of unanswered questions regarding beekeeping and scientists right now are so busy working on the major issues that small ones that could help a lot of people are lost.”

If you’ve ever been to Wissahickon Charter School, you know the school backs up to a residential area, and there are several neighboring businesses. The general area is a bit on the industrial side, though. I was curious about if there were any perils to raising bees in this environment. The answer is no: Philly doesn’t use a lot of pesticides—these chemicals can get into the wax and honey and be harmful to bees (interesting note: the pesticides in honey are generally not dangerous to people, according to Matt). And as for the people who live close to the school, they shouldn’t suffer from a sudden increase in the bee population because Matt tells that bees fly out roughly six feet from the hive, then travel to a nectar source. Being an urban setting, the bees often find ornamental plants that are often in bloom for nectar, which means they rarely lack a nectar source.

If you’re interested in beekeeping yourself, be sure to check out the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild for useful information, monthly meetings, and beekeeping courses. And donate to the Wissahickon Charter School’s Kickstarter project, The Honey Helpers!



Posted by Nicole on 03/23 at 01:49 PM

Drexel’s Global Challenges Conference Focuses on Food

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On March 2, Drexel University’s Office of International Programs presented a student conference which explored the topic of food as a global challenge. I found out about this conference when I attended a screening of the documentary Urban Roots – an awesome film about urban gardening and food justice in Detroit—and I was curious to see if Drexel’s conference about global food issues would include discussions about local, community-based agriculture as well as international topics.

The panels and keynote address covered a huge variety of food-related topics, ranging from social and economic trends to human rights, from food culture to media and advertising, and much more.Regarding the U.S. historical background, I learned about how in 1790, farmers comprised 90% of the population, but only 50% in 1950, and only 2.6% in 2010. I knew that fewer and fewer people are farmers these days, but those numbers still shocked me! Panelists also talked about the implications of subsidies in distorting the actual cost of food – which brings to mind how many of my friends and family talk about how expensive it is to buy local and how I’ve wondered why food shipped from all across the county and world (not to mention produced with large amounts of pesticides, fertilizers, and expensive machinery) sometimes costs less than what my local farmers grow. Other student panelists mentioned the Slow Food movement, their attempts to eat more organic foods on a budget, and food issues they’re concerned about: the effects of genetically modified crops on farmers in third world countries, issues of food insecurity in the U.S. and Philadelphia specifically, as well as in the global context, and problems involved with factory farming and mono-culture crops.

Even the keynote speaker, Marian Nestle (whose specializes in nutrition and the role of food marketing) emphasized the importance of access to healthy local food and advocated for Farm Bill changes that prioritize the needs of small-scale farmers.

What inspired me most about the conference was how, amidst a variety of perspectives and opinions, an overwhelming message prevailed: KNOW WHERE YOUR FOOD COMES FROM. It seems like such a simple idea, one that wouldn’t have even crossed our minds a hundred years ago when much food came from a backyard garden or the farm down the road. But globalization and urbanization often separate us from the sources of what we consume, and reclaiming that knowledge holds value for our own health and both the physical and social health of our communities.  Once I started thinking about what I was eating and where it was coming from, I realized that planting my own garden, choosing seasonal produce, and buying from local growers are responses that make a lot of sense to me. It all starts with asking questions and seeking knowledge, and that’s why I think events like Drexel’s food conference are important and relevant today.

Posted by Stephanie on 03/15 at 05:40 PM

The Home Grown Institute

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

As you may be able to tell from reading my posts, I have a certain reverence for the people who take their ideals a step further by learning how to produce the products they consume or who grow their own food. This is not to downplay the contribution of the people who make that first step of forgoing that conventional product for an organic one or who will plan their produce shopping trips around their local farmer’s market day. Because getting to a more sustainable lifestyle is just a continuous series of steps that people can take. And thankfully, the Home Grown Institute’s Springing Good Intentions Into Action conference (held March 24th and 25th) will be providing the know how and support to take a few more steps towards leading a more sustainable and resiliant life. 

Quoted on the Institute’s website is the Turkish proverb, “No matter how far down a wrong road you are, turn back.” The road that Institute founder Sarah Gabriel wants us to turn back to is a more sustainable path for our society. However, in her view the act of turning back is going to depend on the regenerative practices we employ to break the bad habits we’ve learned as we’ve removed ourselves further and further from the ecosystems of our planet. Some of these regenerative practices include backyard chicken keeping, bee keeping, healthy soils, season extension, garden builds, cooking, eating, spirit and mind, along with many more found on the website.

As I have said in the past, the best thing about this blog are the stories of people who are tearing down that line between producer and consumer to live a healthier and more thoughtful life. And this conference is a great representation of that. So come on out March 24th and 25th and learn how you can further regenerate the ecosystem around you and the habitat in which you live. Because as I can attest, bees, chickens and beans sometimes make the best neighbors.

Posted by Nic on 03/06 at 09:07 PM

PHS and Philly Homegrown Pop-Up Garden

Monday, July 11, 2011

2011-07-07 12.25.21

In partnership with Philly Homegrown, PHS created a beautiful pop-up garden in the formerly empty lot at 20th and Market. Just look at all the beauty next to those boring skyscrapers! You’re welcome to pop-in on Wednesdays and Thursdays and spend some time in the garden. The garden will stay up until October, then come down for the winter and pop-up in a new location next Spring! I stopped by for a short workshop on vegetable growing. These Wednesday workshops are free and easy to squeeze in over your lunch hour:

• August 4: Gardening Odds and Ends — Fabulous Containers
• September 1: Edible Landscapes — Growing Beautiful Food
• September 22: Edible Landscape — Planting and Harvesting

And, if you’re feeling like a special lunch afterwards, you can visit one of six local hot spots – R2L, Square 1682, Table 31, Sampan, Barbuzzo, and Paradiso —who have agreed to use ingredients from the pop-up garden in special dishes whose proceeds benefit City Harvest, PHS’s program that provides fresh produce for underserved Philadelphia residents.

2011-07-07 12.24.37

Posted by Erin on 07/11 at 11:57 PM

E-Z Grow Vegetable Workshop

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Trying to make the best of your paltry city lot? Or maybe you’re interested a larger plot that aims towards vegetable self-sufficiency? Either way, it’s good to learn the tricks of the trade.

April 9, 2011
Penn State Philadelphia Master Gardeners 2nd Saturday
EZ Steps to Grow Vegetables (Come and Learn from my Mistakes!)

Fairmount Park Horticultural Center
N. Horticultural and Montgomery Drive Phila., Pa.19131
9AM Registration    
9:30 Workshop Begins  
$10.00 registration fee

Julie Cox
, Penn State Philadelphia Master Gardener and avid long time
vegetable gardener, will be addressing the questions and dilemmas of
the beginning vegetable gardener. Topics will include site selection,
soil testing, planning, planting, nurturing, and harvesting in a
mostly organic approach. A fan of “Intensive” or “Square Foot”
gardening—she will have you hooked on homegrown tomatoes in no time.

Posted by Erin on 04/06 at 02:43 PM

Become a Master Gardener!

Monday, March 14, 2011

yellow flowers use R

Penn State Philadelphia County Outreach Accepting Applications for the Master Gardener Class of 2012

The Penn State Master Gardeners are taking applications for the Class of 2012, which commences in August 2011. We are looking for dedicated organizers, horticulturalists and environmental stewards with at least 5 to 10 hours of volunteer time to work in areas of elementary gardening education, workshop presentation series and answering gardening questions via our Hortline. For more information and an application, please refer to the Penn State Philly website at From the home page, select Horticulture/Gardening tab and find the Master Gardener section.

Applications and inquiries may be send to Kim Labno at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Posted by Erin on 03/14 at 03:54 PM

Prune those Branches

Tuesday, February 08, 2011


Saturday, March 5th, 1-3pm
@ Grumblethorpe Historic House & Museum
5267 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia
Many Philadelphians grow their own fruit trees, and you could, too! But one of the basics of fruit tree ownership and maintenance is pruning. Find out everything you need to know to keep your fruit trees healthy and productive at this low-cost workshops. 

This introductory workshop will cover the basics of fruit tree pruning, with hands-on demonstration on some of the existing trees at historic Grumblethorpe. Workshop leader Phil Forsyth is the Orchard Director of the Philadelphia Orchard Project, a non-profit that plants orchards in partnership with community groups across the city. Forsyth also operates an edible and ecological landscaping business ( and writes about urban food growing at

$ 10 per person

There are 25 seats available, and you must register and pay before the class.  To register, visit to sign-up through PayPal.
* If the class is canceled due to the weather, there is a rain/snow date scheduled for Sunday, March 6th @ 1pm.

Posted by Erin on 02/08 at 02:12 AM

Start Your Own Community Garden!

Monday, January 17, 2011

I can personally attest to the awesome-ness of this course - after I took the winter and spring sessions I started not one, but two community gardens in West Philly!

Garden Tenders:  Create a Neighborhood Garden

These self-help courses are designed for individuals and groups who want to improve their neighborhoods by turning vacant lots and other spaces into both community and individual gardens.  Garden Tenders participants learn how to get gardens started, and how to keep things going once the garden is in the ground.

Winter:    Saturday, January 29, 9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Fee $10 Preregistration deadline: Jan 21.

Spring:    Wednesdays, March 23, 30, April 6, 20, and 27, May 4 and 11, 5:30-8:30 p.m. &
                    Saturday, April 16, 10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.:  Fee $25 Preregistration deadline: March 18.

These trainings are held at the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, 100 N. 20th Street, 5th Floor.
To register and pay online, go to
Act 48 credits are available.

For more information, contact Sally McCabe at 215-988-8846 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Posted by Erica on 01/17 at 07:34 PM

Soil Kitchen

Friday, January 07, 2011

Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy just commissioned the artist group Futurefarmers to create a temporary public art project that addresses urban sustainability.  The Soil Kitchen will be a pop-up facility in an old warehouse at 2nd and Girard that will function as a wind-powered soup kitchen, soil testing laboratory and event space.  The project will be up for about a week, coinciding with the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Conference scheduled to take place in Philadelphia April 3-5, 2011.

Soil Kitchen will incorporate community involvement, naturally generated energy, local foods, food exchange, the creative reuse of a brownfield site, and brownfield mapping. This new site-specific public artwork will provide a stage for community interaction, dialogue, and education on topics of sustainability that impact every Philadelphian. The work will depend on the thoughts and actions of the people who engage with it.

Futurefarmers, founded in 1995 by Amy Franceschini, is a collective of artists and designers based in San Francisco, California. Their work explores a myriad of social and environmental issues by encouraging participation and interaction. Futurefarmers’ playful and accessible projects provide platforms for local communities to examine issues central to their lives.
Follow the project at:

Posted by Erica on 01/07 at 03:30 PM

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