Fun Finds

Yesterday I had a chance to attend a workshop about creating farm revenue in urban spaces and walked away with my head spinning. A very talented and enthusiastic guy by the name of Nic Esposito, who self proclaimed himself as just a “west-philly-grundge”, passed on his success and knowledge of how to start a small farm on urban land.

Working with several organizations in Philly, including UC Green, to green up urban areas, Nic earned enough of a reputation and was approached to see if he could do something with a particular vacant space in West Philly. In its lifetime the empty space had served as a place to get high, in trouble, and as a site for cherry pickers to park while constructing a new SEPTA station.  This is the space today:

Urban Farm in West Philly (Market & 46th)

In an area that traditionally viewed fresh and organic produce as expensive and out of reach, the community now has direct access to home grown. It gets even better though. Nic is working with a group of college students who are treating the non CSA part of the garden as a traditional farm. The students are learning the day-to-day operations along with selling the produce at Farmers Markets and to small stores and restaurants. The proceeds are there’s to keep.

The workshop spoke to many of the challenges and creative solutions to questions such as how to get land, community participation, water, and even wooden blocks for the plots. The answers to these questions are truly inspiring from a sustainable and community perspective. For example,  the blocks and bricks come from many unused scraps throughout the city. The water from rain will be gathered on the SEPTA station (red brick building on left) will go into barrels and then be used in the garden with the help of a battery and solar panel.

SEPTA station will collect water for Community Farm

Even if you don’t live in Philadelphia, which has 400,000 vacant lots, chances are there are vacant lots in your city. These places are typically gross and home to activities such as loitering, drug use, and other crime. See who you can contact in your cities to simultaneously improve the urban area and give people better access to fresh produce.


Lastly, I want to mention the organization that put together this workshop, SAITA (Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training Alliance). SAITA pulls together interns throughout the southeastern PA farms and creates a network in which they learn about new sustainability topics. Luckily, these workshops are opened to regular people too. Its just really impressive that an organization like this exists to bring together like-minded young people and create an environment where they can learn together about relevant topics.

Thanks SAITA and Nic Esposito!

Sustainable Agriculture Internship Training alliance

A had a perfect Saturday. After preparing a picnic, we left the city behind and set off for Sandcastle Winery in Buck’s County. Normally, the car is not my friend. I tend to act like a bratty child and annoy all passengers with cliche statements like “I have to pee” and “Are we there yet”. This drive is different though; after 40 minutes of highway you enter River Rd. Its small towns, nature, and a large dose of yearning for the serenity of country life.  After you’ve swore up and down that you are moving to Bucks County to everyone in the car, you arrive at Sandcastle Winery. I had no expectations for Pennsylvania grown grapes, but the tasting is one of the best I’ve ever experienced (Including Napa and Mendoza)! Each wine was paired with a different spice or chocolate and we were instructed to take a taste then to chew on the food pairing, everything from rosemary twigs to white chocolate, than have another taste. The wine changed drastically with the pairings, so much so that we were shocked.

Sand Castle Winery

After the tasting, we selected a bottle of rose and enjoyed a picnic:

Spread of Goodness

DiBruno's Cheese - never disappoints

Post picnic we headed to a Pick Your Own farm to collect strawberries and passed by a Polo game. Couldn’t help but stop and watch…really this Bucks County place is another world.

A casual Polo game

The strawberries were in full bloom, about 2 weeks ahead of schedule to the unseasonable hotness, and were incredibly easy to collect. I filled a 4 quart basket in about 15 minutes with perfectly ripe strawberries. They are so fresh and make me realize that somethings are better enjoyed in season.

Strawberry Fields

All in all, a perfect day!

How many times have you heard people say that they can’t afford to eat healthy? Sure, McDonald’s Dollar Menu is cheap but there’s a lot of other good deals out there. A great place to shop for produce is the Reading Terminal Market. I think a lot of people associate the market with a tourist attraction and a fun place to go sampling with friends but I associate it with bargain shopping. The same conventionally grown tomatoes selling for $2.99/lb at Whole Foods are here for .79 cents! That price differential holds for most items including potatoes, apples, and mushrooms.

@ Iovine Brothers Produce

Aside from produce, I also heart the 12th street Cantina: Handcrafted Mexican Food. The 5 years my boyfriend spent in LA have messed with his taco shell standards and since tacos are an easy week night meal 12th street Cantina offers a great option. 10 hand made corn tortillas for $1.50.

12th Street Cantina

The tomatoes and corn tortillas led to a 20 minute, market to table meal. My boyfriend makes the ground turkey with taco seasoning while I prepare a plate with fillings: guacamole, tomatoes, lettuce, salsa, and shredded cheeses. Very easy, filling, and the corn tortillas give it an authentic taste.

Market to Table to Belly

Does anyone know of any other great deals in Philly – shopping or eating out?

I visited Philly a few times during college and remember being unimpressed. Now that I’m a local, I find the same city amazing.  Something I never caught as a visitor, but love as a resident is the Schuykill Path which extends along the river for miles and miles. One minute you’re in the heart of the city competing for roadway with cars and the next your on an endless path with other bikers, runners, strollers, rollerblades…moving , active people basically. My bf and I love riding along the path to the next town over, Manayunk, and getting lunch on the river.

Roundtrip is almost 20 miles and takes about 2 hours. Its great exercise, beautiful scenery, and the break for lunch makes it perfect half day activity. Today’s 90 degree weather made the ride a bit more challenging, especially when my shorts seemed to glue themselves to my skin.

Our favorite place for lunch is the Manayunk Brewery. Does anything really beat eating on the water?

We had been here before in the spring and I was bummed by their salad selection (I think the options were garden or Caesar)  but now that its’ summer the salad options had expanded. This was my choice:
Riverside Salad
Jumbo lump crabmeat with marinated roasted shrimp, served over fresh field greens drizzled with sweet roasted red pepper vinaigrette and garnished with shitake mushrooms, cucumbers and tomatoes.

Review: Generous portion of field greens (I hate when restaurants are skimpy on the greens), the shitake mushrooms were cooked perfectly, big chunks of crabmeat, and the dressing was one of the best I’ve ever had out, as in I asked for it on the side and proceeded to use all of it.

My beer choice was the Blueberry, which was thirst-quenching and gave me an instant buzz 🙂

I love activities that get your heart going and lead to something yummy. Does anyone have any fun ideas for Philly?