Wednesday, September 19, 2007

South Bronx Food Cooperative

Bronx Green Zena Nelson has initiated the South Bronx Food Cooperative. Check out their great website at SBFC is a green shopping alternative to what is generally offered in the Bronx. Founded and operated by committed local residents, the SBFC is dedicated to making a difference in the community by working together to provide healthy and affordable food available to all who want it.

SBFC is selling on-line and at a distribution center, and is seeking a retail location. SBFC will carry a wide variety of products including local, organic and conventionally grown produce; pasture-raised and grass-fed meat; free-range, organic poultry; fair-traded chocolate and coffee; wild and farmed fish; supplements and vitamins; vegetarian & vegan alternatives; bulk grains and spices; environmentally safe cleaning supplies and much more. In addition, the coop will stock a selection of familiar and common supermarket items making the SBFC a one-stop shopping destination.

Members will share ownership of the coop with fellow coop members. Members have a voice in the decision-making process and can participate in planning and discussions of the organization's future. Equally important, shoppers learn where their food choices come from. Members have access to fresh foods at low prices and learn about local farmers and vendors.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Philly Orchard Project

Paul Glover, the founder of Ithaca Hours, a candidate for the Green Party presidential nomination in 2004, and a speaker at our first Green Fest in 2003, moved from Ithaca to Philadelphia several years ago. Ithaca's loss is Philly's gain. Paul's latest project is the Philly Orchard Project, to plant orchards within the city of Philadelphia, in order to provide healthy food free or at low cost, create jobs, stimulate related business, reduce crime, increase summer cooling, make space for beauty and play. The project was featured in The New York Times , September 2, 2007, Replacing Neglect With Peach Trees, by Virginia McGuire:

ON a sweltering summer afternoon in August, Paul Glover rode his bicycle 12 miles to spread mulch around peach trees in a fledgling orchard — in South Philadelphia.

Mr. Glover is founder of the Philly Orchard Project, a nonprofit organization established earlier this year with the goal of planting fruit trees on Philadelphia’s vacant lots, creating “edible community centers,” Mr. Glover said.

Building on Philadelphia’s tradition of community gardens and urban farms, Philly Orchard Project’s leaders are hoping to emulate the success of longstanding urban orchard projects in Boston, Los Angeles and Austin, Tex.

Scott Harris, the executive director of TreeFolks, based in Austin, said his group’s Urban Orchard Program has changed the culture of the city. The increase in residential food gardens has drawn children outside, away from television and video games, he said, and because people are outside more, there is less vandalism and crime.

In Philadelphia, where the population has declined by more than 25 percent over the last half-century, there is no shortage of vacant land.

Domenic Vitiello, an assistant professor of city planning at the University of Pennsylvania, is president of the Philly Orchard Project’s board. He said the population decline had occurred because the city lost nearly all of its industrial economy.

While everyone agrees that the city’s thousands of vacant lots could serve a better purpose, there is no consensus on what should be done with them.

Most tracts make up the small footprint of a row house and are interspersed in a line of occupied homes, their small size making them unattractive to developers.

The lots are also located in less desirable neighborhoods like South Philadelphia and New Kensington, where gentrification has been slow to take hold. Developers are more attracted to Center City, said Joanne Davidow, a vice president at Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors, where they are “building on every little inch of ground.”

It is these less-desired lots that the Philly Orchard Project is targeting. And environmentalists would like to see the vacant lots preserved as green space. Philadelphia Green, a program of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, began to “clean and green” many of these lots in 1974. “The city didn’t have a land management program in place to take care of those parcels,” said Michael Groman, the organization’s senior director. When vacant land is neglected, the resulting blight “exacerbates the downward spiral in the neighborhood,” he said.

Susan M. Wachter, a professor of real estate finance at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, set out to quantify the impact of vacant land on the housing market in a 2005 study. Her study examined New Kensington, an industrial neighborhood hit especially hard by the deindustrialization of the city. She found that cleaning up vacant land raised the value of adjacent homes by 20 percent.

And in a 2006 study, Ms. Wachter and Grace Wong, an assistant professor of real estate at the Wharton School, found that planting trees on residential blocks citywide raised property values on the block by almost 10 percent. The increased market values are attributable to a “combination of landscape changing dramatically, and also a signal that someone is reinvesting in the neighborhood,” Ms. Wachter said.

Real estate professionals in the city know that green space sells houses. Heather A. Petrone, associate broker for Joseph D. Petrone Real Estate and president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, said she regularly includes proximity to community gardens in property descriptions. People who may be moving back to the city from suburban areas, where “everybody has an acre,” are especially interested in the gardens, Ms. Petrone said.

As the population in Philadelphia and other cities continues to decline, city officials and urban planners are eager to retain existing city residents and attract new ones.

“Philadelphia will not prosper by merely refilling with people,” said Mr. Glover of the Philly Orchard Project. “Real progress requires that agriculture becomes a prominent part of the structure, economy and culture of the city.” He sees urban agriculture as a way to combat poverty by creating jobs and inexpensive food, while reducing the environmental impact of food production.

A veteran activist, Mr. Glover is best known for founding Ithaca Hours in 1991, an alternative currency designed to strengthen the local economy in Ithaca, N.Y.

Mr. Glover and his organization already have two orchards under way in Philadelphia, and they are planning several more to be planted this fall, when fruit trees can tolerate transplanting.

They expect to plant primarily on land acquired through transfers of development rights, where owners retain the title but give up the right to develop the land. The project also plans to help existing neighborhood groups, like schools and community centers, plant their own orchards.

In South Philadelphia, for example, the group provided peach trees and expertise to a group of youth interns who had started a community garden on land owned by United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, a community development agency that provides educational and leadership opportunities.

Laura Smoot, a youth development specialist who works with the volunteers who planted that garden, said the project had been welcomed by area residents. “Litter and vandalism have drastically reduced since we started planting gardens and fruit trees,” she said.

For 35 years, Sharon Robinson has lived opposite the lot where the new orchard planted this spring is already producing peaches. She remembers when an apartment building on the lot was abandoned. After the city tore it down, the lot sat empty for years, accumulating debris.

Ms. Robinson used to go to a park across town when she wanted to be outside. But since Ms. Smoot and her interns began cleaning up the lot, Ms. Robinson said, she spends time outside on her front porch and contributes to the garden by watering it on weekends.

The group is in the process of finding more sites appropriate for fruit trees, and the city is a possible source of land. Darlene Messina, Philadelphia’s coordinator for environmental and urban sustainability initiatives, said that the city may consider allocating land for orchards or other urban agriculture initiatives, but “it has to make economic sense.”

The city has started a new initiative, GreenPlan Philadelphia, to preserve open space and reduce greenhouse gas emissions citywide. “Orchards are part of that plan,” Ms. Messina said.

In the meantime, volunteers recently gathered to plant perennials around the young trees and layer wet newspaper and compost to keep the weeds down. They lined the beds with broken bricks salvaged from the apartment building that stood in the empty lot before the city tore it down.

“Beauty in cities is not a luxury,” Ms. Wachter said. “It’s a necessary public good.”