One of Those Urban Mysteries
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
What I have always enjoyed about farming in Philly is the shift in perspective needed to grow food in a city. In the country farmers think about how lines of trees affects the wind and the sunlight. In the city we think about how buildings do this. In the country farmers think about how to get their water out of wells. In the city we think about how to get our water off of roof tops. And in the country, farmers devise intricate plans on how to stop foxes and other predators from eating their chickens. And until three days ago, the threat I feared most for my chickens was from the packs of feral cats that roam the neighborhood.
When I heard from my wife that our alpha chicken Mother Clucker was missing, my first thought was of a cat stalking her and dragging her away, which is ironic because she was the hen who most terrorized our runt chicken on the bottom of the pecking order. But after a careful inspection of the coop, the likelihood that it was a cat seemed very low. From the accounts of chicken farmers in the country, the hallmark of a fox attack is the violent explosion of feathers that is usually found following the attack. But in our coop, there were no feathers and no signs of a struggle. And as I understand, foxes are much craftier hunters (hence all of the expressions about them) so if they would still leave a trail of feathers behind, it stands to reason that a cat would do the same if not worse.
Our next thought was that Mother Clucker had somehow escaped. But as I have witnessed, when one chicken flies the coop, they all follow. A few weeks ago I thought that all of the chickens had disappeared. But after a quick walk around the farm, I found them all hiding in the rows of tomatoes, and I chased them back to the hole in the fence from which they came. On reflection of this story, I remembered my initial reaction when I couldn’t find them was to say, “Someone stole all of our chickens.” After finding them all that time, I assured myself that I was being ridiculous. Who would want to steal a chicken? But as Elisa and I sat down at the kitchen table, staring at each other in disbelief, the question did not seem that ridiculous.
Could someone have stolen our chicken? If the answer is yes, then the immediate follow up question is who would want to steal a chicken. Was it some hungry person in the neighborhood who couldn’t tell the difference between a young hen ripe for broiler, and the old Mother Clucker who wouldn’t even be suited for the stew pot? Or was it what one friend described one time as he stumbled across a chicken nailed to a tree in one of the more wooded areas of the city with religious tokens at the feet of the sacrifice spot? I thought this theory to be bizarre until I stumbled into the Botanica shop down the street from my house today and perused the miniature statues of animal sacrifice amongst the soaps and incense.
Whatever happened, Mother Clucker is long gone, without a trace. The rest of the flock is holding up. But when I first got chickens, I worried about cats, I worried about my neighbors complaining and the police taking them away. But never did I worry that someone would sneak into our yard in the dead of night and make off with one of our chickens for who know what purpose. And then again, when I was learning how to farm out in the country, I never thought that I’d ever be growing food in Kensington. I guess this is just one of the many adventures you get when you bring the farm to Philly.
Posted by Nic on 09/11 at 03:17 PM
Composting for City Dwellers
Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Many of us at Farm to Philly practice varying methods of composting, but not everyone has the room to do so. That doesn’t mean you can’t compost your garbage, though, and reap the benefits later on!
A friend sent me a link today to Bennett Compost. For $15 each month, you get a five gallon bucket and weekly pickup of your saved food scraps, cardboard, fireplace ash, and a whole host of other compostibles. Each spring Bennett returns the resulting compost to its clients for free. The website indicates that each customer routinely receives ten gallons of compost.
Here’s the rub: you have to live in Philadelphia—they don’t offer the service to the burbs yet. And if you’re an organic gardener, there’s no guarantee the compost will be made from organic scraps. Bennett won’t accept lawn trimmings treated with pesticides, but there are no rules about fruit and vegetable trimmings.
Still, it’s a cool service if you lack space for a compost bin.
Posted by Nicole on 08/15 at 08:56 AM
In Defense of Growing Food
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
I just spent the better part of this morning, and even the better part of the week trying to craft a blog to refute the recently published The Locavore’s Dilemma: In Praise of the 10,000 Mile Diet, which has been creating such a buzz and controversy in the sustainable farming world. It’s basically a case for why the industrialized food system is not only working well, but that the move to “locavore” culture will actually hurt our food system.
Five hundred words in, and I didn’t think I was doing justice to the analysis and research required for the piece so I scrapped it. But the experience did make me reflect on an interaction I had the other day at Emerald Street urban farm. I was picking tomatoes with one of our younger regular volunteers. After picking a really nice, 4-H fair quality tomato, I asked her if she wanted a bite. She informed me that tomatoes were stupid, which is her usual response for anything she doesn’t like. Although she can be a little rough, she’s mostly incredibly sweet and has a guarded curiosity. But before I could inquire into why she thought tomatoes were stupid, she said, “But I had some of your greens the other day.” I asked her where and she told me that it was over at the soup kitchen where we donate food and where her mom takes her when they don’t have money on their access card.
Thinking back to that story made me delete my previous word document and write this blog in real time. Yes, there are flaws in the theories espoused by those who advocate for the local, sustainable system. And there is much more work to do to make this system make sense for all of society. But to theorize that the industrial food system is functioning quite well as the authors of the 10,000 mile diet defense do does nothing to address why my young friend’s food situation is at the whim of government assistance and the goodness of volunteers. There is still much more that we need to do and I’m proud to be sharing this blog with readers and writers who are thinking about how to improve our food system and who are trying to make a difference.
Sorry I couldn’t get a little bit more in depth with my analysis here in the shorter form of the blog world. But if you’d like to continue the discussion, I’ll be doing another set of book talks for Seeds of Discent this weekend in Brooklyn at Book Thug Nation in Williamsburg on Friday July 27th and Two Moons Cafe in Park Slope on Friday July 28th. Check out theheadandthehand.com for more details.
Posted by Nic on 07/25 at 10:51 AM
Coming to a Garden Near You: Philadelphia Pepper Project
Thursday, February 16, 2012
Hot peppers may not be in season right now (unless you’ve got a greenhouse), but there are plans afoot for an exciting pepper project in Philadelphia. Called the Philadelphia Pepper Project, it aims to grow heirloom peppers with Philly history and make them available in public gardens and byways in the city. The idea is to reintroduce the heritage of these peppers to gardeners and others and help preserve the history.
Anita McKelvey, a semi-retired chef and director of Authentic Philadelphia, is behind the project. Be sure to check out the blog to see what projects she’s participating in each month. The blog is also full of useful information on pepper varieties, seed houses, pepper history, interviews, and advice on seed saving.
Keep an eye out for heirloom varieties of peppers available through the Philadelphia Pepper Project this summer. We’ll definitely be waiting to see what kind of peppers pop up throughout the city!
Membership Drive: Winter Harvest
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
Bob Pierson and the good folks at Farm to City are looking to increase enrollment in the Winter Harvest Buying Club. Their goal is 300 active members. If you’re not familiar with it, Winter Harvest features over 500 items and 20 pick-up locations. It’s a godsend in the winter - when you’d rather be inside than making a pilgrimage to the Reading Terminal. I’ve been a member since November 2005, and without it, the winters would be that much darker.
If you’re interested, click here to enroll.
Posted by Kevin on 01/24 at 06:36 PM
Community Grants for Clark Park
Friday, April 08, 2011
Are you a West Philly denzien who loves Clark Park, but could think of a few improvements to make it better? Now’s your chance! University City District (UCD) and the Clark Park Partnership, a consortium that oversees park maintenance, events, policies and capital projects, have announced the 2nd annual Clark Park Community Grants. Up to $3000 for one or more projects that enhance Clark Park will be awarded. Eligible projects will include planting, mulching, maintenance, signage, park cleanup, or other permanent improvements to the park. (Educational or cultural programs are not eligible.) Projects awarded last year were the installation of the first commercial-grade special needs swing in the Clark Park playground as well as the watering and maintenance of 30 Clark Park trees by the skilled UC Green Corps. For more information, look here.
March 21, 2011: Guidelines and application released at http://www.universitycity.org (click here to download)
May 2, 2011: Applications completed and sent to:
Clark Park Community Grant Program
c/o University City District
3940 Chestnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Beekeeping Project Needs Support
Monday, February 07, 2011
There’s an awesome new project afoot in West Philadelphia - a community apiary and youth beekeeping program! Daniel Duffy, who currently tends bees in partnership with The Woodlands Community Garden and UC Green, has developed a kickstarter website that offers membership in a Community Supported Apiary in return for funds to help launch this project. From Duffy himself:
“I’ve been working with local beekeepers, farmers and UC Green to raise money for a community bee yard and the first urban apiary-to-table youth beekeeping project. We’ve put out a web site, which you can see here. Right now we’re raising money through Community Supported Apiary (CSA) shares and individual donations to set up hives at the Woodlands Cemetery in April.
Educators have started using beekeeping as an educational tool. With 20% of Philadelphia youth out of work and school, our bee yard will provide a unique opportunity to help students develop widely-applicable jobs skills and entrepreneurial savvy. Students are now applying for a program where they’ll use the apiary to raise bees and sell their honey at the farmers market.
But honeybees are primarily important because they pollinate a third of our food, and they’re dying off at an alarming rate. Some estimates give the bees little more than 20 years to live in the US. With so many commercial beekeepers backing out of the business because of economic necessity, there’s a void to be filled with new ideas and models.
There is a good reason to rely on individuals to fund this project. It has the potential to get different communities involved. And while we have a plan and the partnerships to help carry it out, it still helps to get lots of input in the project’s nascent stage.”
And if you really care about bee health, sign this petition to urge the EPA to ban the pesticide clothianidin that has been linked to Colony Collapse Disorder.
Support Your Local Food Co-op
Sunday, January 30, 2011
When I moved back to Philadelphia in 2008 there were only two food cooperatives in the entire city, and I was lucky enough to live a few blocks away from Mariposa Food Co-op in West Philly. Now there are new food co-ops forming all across the City of Philadelphia; Weaver’s Way has opened two new branches, there’s a food co-op being formed in South Philly, and the Mariposa Food Co-op is expanding. As a supporter and grower of local food, I am incredibly excited for Mariposa’s move and the increase in space, inventory, and community involvement that comes with it. Help support Mariposa’s expansion by going to the Valentine’s flea market/craft fair fundraiser in February.
Hiding in Plain Sight - Finding the City’s New Green Space
Thursday, January 27, 2011
(Laurel Hill Cemetery)
Next week at the Academy of Natural Sciences, the next in a series of panel discussions about the Mayor’s Green2015 plan - this one is about being creative about finding new green space in the City of Philadelphia.
“Cities are continuously searching for new ways to make underused spaces greener to create the next generation of urban parks. As we learned last month, Philadelphia has initiated Green2015 - an action plan to turn schoolyards, recreation centers, public and private vacant land in to accessible green spaces. In his newest book Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities, author Peter Harnik shares his thinking about the complexities of creating new parks. Borrowing the best from other cities, he will discuss solutions - from reusing defunct factories, to eliminating parking lots and closing streets, to developing rooftop parks.
A panel of local stakeholders, facilitiated by Penn Praxis director Harris Steinberg will share innovative examples of how Philadelphia is already practicing what Harnik promotes and is well on its way to achieving the goals of Green2015.”
* Peter Harnik, Author of Urban Green: Innovative Parks for Resurgent Cities. Mr. Harnik will sign copies of his book, which will be for sale at the Academy’s bookstore.
* Harris Steinberg, Director, Penn Praxis (moderator)
* Alexander “Pete” Hoskins, President/CEO of Laurel Hill and W. Laurel Hill Cemeteries
* Jamie Wyper, President of the Roxborough Conservancy
* Mark Focht, Executive Director, Fairmount Park
This event is being brought to you by the Philadelphia Commission on Parks and Recreation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, and the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Where: Academy of Natural Sciences
When: Monday, January 31, 2011 - 6pm reception, 6:30pm to 8:30 pm program
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: http://www.soilkitchen.org
Short, inspirational documentary about Mill Creek Farm
Wednesday, January 05, 2011
Check out this great, two-part short documentary about Mill Creek Farm in West Philadelphia. Jo and Jade have been going at it for years and have built a real community resource, supplying education, organic local food, and a safe community space. Learn more about how to get involved on their website.
To help ensure that Mill Creek can continue its work, help it become part of a landtrust. Let Councilwoman Blackwell know that this land shouldn’t be on the auction block for future developement”
Please take a minute to send a message to Councilwoman Blackwell.
To submit your comments online, use this form:
To learn more about the land trust issue and how Mill Creek Farm is threatened, go HERE.
Get to Farming!
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Great news Urban Farmers! The Pennsylvania Abandoned and Blighted Property Conservatorship Act allows concerned citizens and neighbors to claim abandoned lots and “refurbish” them - which means you that you can turn that trash lot next door into a garden. Recently, the Urban Tree Connection in Haddington section of West Philadelphia tested the law and won, striking a victory for neighborhoods dealing with blighted property. You can read more about the recent case in this Philadelphia Inquirer article. Now, get to planting!
John and Kira’s launches seasonal chocolates
Friday, October 22, 2010
For the last few years, local sweets darlings, John and Kira (Baker-)Doyle, have been producing artisinal quality chocolates from their kitchen in the Northeast using Philadelphia ingredients ( I love the garden mint from Drew Elementary and UCity High School). Now they’ve sweetened the deal by adding seasonal specialties. This fall’s line features spiced pumpkins filled with pumpkin pie caramel and spices, chocolate cherries and rosemary bergamont and mint “urban garden” chocolate bars. you can find John and Kira’s at local farmers markets, the Reading Terminal Market’s Fair Food Farmstand, or order direct from their site at http://www.johnandkiras.com.
Eating well and locally on $4.50 a day? It can be done!
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Monica Eng of the Chicago Tribune decided to take the SNAP challenge - to feed herself for just $31 a week, or the average budget of a person receiving food stamps in Illinois. Not only is she doing it, she is shopping primarily at farmers markets and supplementing with bulk grains etc. from Whole Foods. She’s doing a pretty great job! Follow her this week, and use this “study” as a great example when people tell you that eating well and locally is too expensive.
Kensignton Community Co-Op Seeks Members
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Begun as a buying club, the Kensington Community Co-Op is in the middle of an ambitious membership campaign to expand the Co-Op and bring fresh, local, and healthy food to the Kensington community. If you live in Kensington, please consider joining up, and remember that creating safe, healthy and sustainable food stores not only help you and your family, but your neighbors, as well!
From the site:
The year ahead will be to raise enough funds through member investments, donations, grants and loans to purchase equipment, to buy a building, finance construction and hire a general manager. Once our funds are secured we will begin to narrow down our options for a location.
“Local Ownership Means a More Secure Future.”
Since KCFC is owned and operated by its members, it is their needs that the co-op most cares about, rather than the needs of corporate investors whose interest are often strictly the bottom line. Become a member of KCFC and your bottom line becomes our bottom line. Invest in your community today!