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Food Fighters

By Melissa Jones
Blogger.com

Yes, I Traveled to Philly for a Hurricane (and other adventures)

I just got back from another fabulous Food Fighters road trip.  This time to the love-ly city of Philadelphia.  Interestingly, despite my extensive travels across the U.S. (I’ve been to every state but Alaska) and my mom’s insistence of making every summer vacation of my childhood “historical”, I’d never stopped in Philly. (My mom was living in Philly when she met my dad.  I’m not saying this has anything to do with her neglecting to cover Our Nation’s First Capital on our summer jaunts through ages past, but you have to wonder, right?)  Anyhow, besides a quick there and back for a concert at Veteran’s stadium once (R.I.P. in-stadium jail), I’d never explored the city.

And, yes, there was this little thing called Irene in the middle of my visit.
Other than the fact that Philly…what’s the word I’m looking for?…overreacted by closing every place of business except the hotel bar by 8pm on Saturday night and keeping them shuttered until well past noon on Sunday, it was another incredible experience.  The people, the food, the city, and, of course, all the organizations I met with completely won me over.  I can’t wait to go back.  (No, literally…I’ve already signed up to go back for this Philabundance Hunger Symposium in 3 weeks.)

Here’s a quick peak at what I did over my 4 days in Philly:

I took the train from DC.  And lost my license before I even sat down.  In the quiet car.  Luckily, the crack search&rescue team at Amtrak recovered it.  Sadly, the passenger seated next to me is still hearing my loud and frantic whispering.

Started Day One at SHARE- a food distribution that serves areas of PA, MD, DE, NYC and NJ.  SHARE compiles food “packages” filled with a mix of healthy staples and produce that will last about a week.  The box may be worth up to $45, but participants pay less than half that amount.  Steveanna Wynn, the incredibly personable director of SHARE, works hard to find local sources of food at the most affordable prices.  SHARE distributes through community centers (where individuals can pick-up) and also services food banks.

Next stop was a Philabundance Fresh for All site. The Philabundance food banks saw a need for fresh produce and sought to fill it.  This program was the result.  At 12 spots across the metropolitan area in NJ and PA, Philabundance delivers a consistent, weekly amount of produce.  Participants “shop” similarly to a farmer’s market, choosing produce they like and would use.  Volunteers are on hand to give cooking suggestions and recipe advice.

On the way back to downtown Philadelphia, we made a quick stop at one of the gardens of the Urban Nutrition Initiative- a group that works with high school youth to establish gardens and educate and empower youth to engage in healthier lifestyles.

From there, it was lunch at Reading Terminal Market (more on that later) and a discussion with my “tour guide” for the day from Fair Food Philly. Fair Food Philly helps to link various restaurants, schools and community organizations to a more sustainable, local food supply.  They also host various events and run a farmstand at the Reading Terminal Market aimed at helping people investigate where and how their food is raised.

In the afternoon, I headed out to meet Nic Esposito at Walnut Hill Community Farm. Nic recently wrote a book called Seeds of Discent about changing communities.  He’s one of those whip-smart entrepreneurs that understand systems and how to interconnect people and ideas.  Nic’s got his hands all over different food initiatives in greater Philadelphia. Plus, he tolerated my complete ineptitude with the Philly subway system, and the fact that I was over 30 minutes late for our meeting.  I like that in a man.

Finished Day One with drinks outside at Parc cafe and dinner at Twenty Manning Grill.
Day Two was hurricane day.  I managed to take a run along the Schuykill River and run the Philadelphia Art Museum Stairs like Rocky.  I also had a brunch of so satisfying whole wheat banana almond pancakes at a Marathon restaurant.  Marathon is a local chain that sources from its own farm and as many other local places as possible.  I’m kind of obsessed.  (I had lunch there again on Monday before leaving.)

The rest of Saturday (Day Two) and Sunday (Day Three) are kind of sad…except for Sunday night when it got inexplicably gorgeous and I was able to both walk all over the city (Old City! Society Hill! Rittenhouse Square!) and people watch at the park while I enjoyed a leisurely meal at Parc.  THAT was blissful.

Day Four (Monday) was glorious.  Sunday night’s weather only improved, and it became clear that Philly had been playing coy with me all weekend.  Just as I was about to depart, she really showed off.  I found a sweet coffee spot, and I enjoyed a leisurely walk around downtown.
The Pennsylvania Horticulture Society has been around since the 1820s, and their depth of knowledge is immense.  I enjoyed not only visiting their Market St. Pop-Up Garden (like a pop-up restaurant but better for the environment), but also learning more about their City Harvest and Roots to Re-Entry programs.  City Harvest not only shares PHS’s expertise about gardening with local start-up community gardens, but also key tips on community organization and motivation- key factors for a successful garden.

My last visit was with Greensgrow greenhouse in the Fishtown neighborhood. Often referred to as the “original” urban garden in Philadelphia, Greensgrow not only runs a CSA, but also conducts a program known as “LIFE” that makes produce accessible to low income participants and teaches them how to use it.

The only thing Hurricane Irene disrupted was my visit to Greener Partners who I hope to connect with on a future visit soon, along with The Food Trust, a huge participant in the Philadelphia food justice community whose influence is pervasive in many of the other agencies I visited.

That’s the quick and dirty on the Philly trip.  Look forward to more on these amazing organizations and some great tips I learned, coming soon!

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