Welcome Terrence-UTC’s New Chester Farmer

IMG_1274UTC is excited to welcome our first ever Community Engagement Farmer, Terrence Topping-Brown, who will be joining us as the cornerstone of our new Farm and Education Program, funded by the Chester Housing Authority, at the Ruth Bennett Homes in Chester, Pa.  A native of Upper Darby Township, Terrence grew up in the neighborhood next to Haddington and still has strong connections to the area.  He presently coaches track at Upper Darby High School, his alma mater, and is excited to be working with folks near his hometown to build food security.

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Wild Edibles at the Farm


Chickweed as it is going to flower.

While there is not a lot that can endure the dogged days of winter, there is one wild edible that can be seen holding tenaciously to the frozen ground, reaching its limbs through cracks in the ice and breaks in the snow, and populating the pathways in our high tunnels.  UTC/NF farmer Rachel de Vitry shares her insights on Chickweed, a surprisingly resilient cold hardy vegetable that makes a happy home on our farm:

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UTC Builds Innovative Health Partnership at First African Presbyterian

For twenty years, the United Community Clinic—a free medical center operated by the University of Pennsylvania at First African Presbyterian Church (4159 Girard Avenue)—has treated hypertension patients from some of West Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods. The doctors 15625632618_46f3813028_oand medical students who work on the Clinic’s hypertension team have seen the tragic impact of poor nutrition on the health of low-income Philadelphians, many of whom lack basic access to fresh foods.

Now, Urban Tree Connection is developing an innovative health and nutrition partnership with First African and the United Community Clinic that has the potential to impact the long-term prognosis for low-income patients with high blood pressure, no health insurance, and limited access to fresh, healthy foods. Continue reading

Volunteer Year In Review 2014

In assembling the volunteer data for 2014, the number of discrete volunteers has already reached 950, contributing more than 7,000 volunteer hours and we’re still counting!
Vanguard Volunteers on MLK Day 2014

Vanguard Volunteers on MLK Day 2014

The year began on January 20th with Vanguard volunteers building raised beds on MLK Day and ended on November 22nd when Ursinus College volunteers joined a group of buildOn students from Furness High School to winterize Novick Brothers Farm, South Philly.
UTC hosted two week-long alternative spring break programs in 2014 – Western New England University and University of Delaware.  Lots of other college groups signed on during the season including Bryn Mawr, Haverford, Ursinus, Drexel, Thomas Jefferson, St. Joe’s University, Swarthmore, Penn and Villanova.  Secondary schools joined us as well – Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, Delaware Valley Charter School, YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School, and West Park High School.
University of Delaware Alternative Spring Breaks Volunteers - Building High Tunnels

University of Delaware Alternative Breaks (UDAB) Volunteers – building high tunnels at Merion Avenue

UTC's Drexel Community Scholar Alexis Carlsson

UTC’s Drexel Community Scholar Alexis Carlsson

The youth organizations City Year, Educational Talent Search, PAAN (Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network), Urban Technology Project, buildOn, HEAF (Harlem Educational Activities Fund), and Camp Galil all brought their young people.
Country Day School of the Sacred Heart students

Country Day School of the Sacred Heart Volunteers

Kim Laughlin and Steve Wilson - Mission Philadelphia Leaders

Kim Laughlin and Steve Wilson – Mission Philadelphia Leaders

Faith-based groups were strong supporters.  Teens and adults of the Trinity Church Youth Group and their Philadelphia partner, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, donated over 2,000 volunteer hours during Mission Philadelphia week in June.  Others included Ward AME Church, both Bryn Mawr and First Presbyterian Churches, UCC Warminster, Lutheran Inter-Parish Youth of Central MA, as well as the many congregations involved in the Interfaith Center’s “Walking the Walk” program.
Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Vounteers at the front of the Annex

Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Vounteers at the front of the Annex

The corporate stars included Vanguard, Recyclebank, Ernst &  Young, Starbucks, Impact100, and Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and UTC salutes them for both their labor and financial support.
Damir, Sickels Street Repair the World's Philly Farm Crew leader Tali Smookler

Damir, Sickels Street resident, with Repair the World’s Philly Farm Crew leader Tali Smookler

Repair the World’s Philly Farm Crew brought volunteers three times during the season. UTC’s best adopt-a-garden model St. John’s Community Services ended almost four years of weekly volunteering in the Rose Garden after loss of funding. Two other service organizations, Philadelphia Health Corps and Engineers Without Borders both donated their time.
Suzanne and Julian

Suzanne and Julian

Individual volunteers signed on and worked at Neighborhood Foods Farm with the farm team and others joined volunteer events. Julian came out many times, joined by his mom, Suzanne, to work his Bar Mitzvah project with us. Community members joined in, too, both children and adults.  And we can’t forget the friends and family of UTC staff members! 

Junior Community Volunteer Julian with his buried treasure from the 54th Street Community Garden

UTC and this volunteer coordinator thank each and every volunteer who came out in 2014.  We would not be able to accomplish what we do without you and we are extremely grateful for all your help!

Please join us as a volunteer in 2015 to help out with the many gardening, farming and community projects!  Contact me to sign on as an individual or organize your school/university group, your church, your friends or your co-workers: suegwitte@gmail.com
Sue Witte
Volunteer Coordinator
Urban Tree Connection

Spring Markets and Celebrations!

We celebrated our first day of markets this Saturday, with many people coming together to kick off the season!


Q and Pearl Street Sprouts set up decorations

Rachel and Dori (farmers) headed to Rittenhouse Square early in the morning, as dedicated neighbors—Lisa, Joann, Anita (NF Founders Group), and Pat, Ann, and Gale— started setting up the market at the entrance to the farm. Soon teen apprentices arrived to help prep and decorate the pavilion.


Rachel and Dori worked at the Rittenhouse Market stand

By mid-morning, neighbors were arriving to get the first farm produce of the season. They could pick up flowering plants, and sign up with Destiny (teen apprentice) to have compost picked up from their house each week. Inside the farm, dedicated volunteers— from the Presbyterian church, and a middle schooler completing a Bar Mitzvah project— helped Awinda (farmer) and Sue (volunteer coordinator) plant and weed at the farm, and then joined everyone for lunch.


Awinda, Gale, Sunlight, and volunteers

Gale was back a the grill, kids decorated pots and planted flowers with Addie and Jasmine (garden educators), while Alexis (teen apprentice) painted faces.


Jasmine and Alexis painting faces!

Dr. Sunlight Little, west philly nutritionist, naturalist, and herbalist, made her way back to the farm too. She led an awesome juicing class for us on Thursday, giving advice on nutrition that also touched on behavior and culture. She talked to many neighbors, and over lunch she sat down to talk with Skip (UTC director). We hope she will join us again soon!


Skip and Sunlight

High school students trekked down from as far away as Harlem for the day(!). They came to learn about urban faming in Philadelphia, recognizing that, as a city, we are forward thinking about it, and embrace it. They got a tour of all sites from Skip, and then worked with Sue in the Pennsgrove garden, a block away.


High school students from the College Quest Program in New York City

By the afternoon, kids had taken creative charge of the face paints, and collaboratively transformed Lily, Q, and Karen (garden educators), as well as several parents, into animals and super-natural creatures.


Q, Lily, and Karen with Pearl Street Sprouts and parents!

It was awesome to see so many people—both long-time supporters, and many new faces— enthused about a new season of fresh, neighborhood veggies, and excited about growing our community activities and programs. Thanks to everyone who joined!

Kids Garden Programs “Get Grounded” with New Garden Curriculum

In April, UTC Garden Programs began at the Pearl Street, Memorial, and Ward community gardens, setting the foundation for the coming months. Kids learned about ecosystems, soil, and the planting cycle, and framed the garden community and each person’s role and value in it. UTC Staff, Teen Assistants, VeggieKids and Sprouts worked together to set garden “ground agreement” (guidelines and expectations), prepped beds with compost, and started planting!

Season Overview

Garden Curriculum Overview: each week includes a Sprouts lesson, VeggieKids lesson, and VeggieKids business day activity

This winter UTC program staff collaborated to create a UTC Garden Curriculum specific to our outdoor, neighborhood-based after school programs. Lessons incorporate urban ecology, farming, health, entrepreneurship, and arts, to encourage a new generation of gardeners and community leaders.

UTC Staff use this Garden Curriculum to run seven weekly programs at three garden sites for our Sprouts (ages 5-9) and VeggieKids (ages 10-13). Three Teen Assistants are folded into this system, training with UTC staff, learning to lead activities, and serving as solid role models for younger kids in their neighborhood.


VeggieKids at the Pearl Street Garden work on a lesson planning and mapping their garden beds for the season

On the first program day at the Memorial Garden, Shae, Teen Assistant, knocked on doors inviting new and familiar faces back into the garden. You could feel everyone’s excitement after a long winter to be back outside and for the season to start. After orientation activities, kids spread out into their own space to observe the garden, writing poems/raps about their favorite birds which they shared. Blue birds and robins got shout-outs for their awesome colors, and eagles for a winning (& Philadelphian) spirit!

April (and winter prep) have set a solid groundwork, and gotten everyone excited for the season!



Kids prepare to share bird poems at the Memorial Garden after talking about ecosystems


Jasmine and Memorial Garden VeggieKids experiment making natural dyes

Soil Shake

Soil Week’s cover page

Soil Shake_Page_2

VeggieKid’s Soil Lesson page 1. (This lesson combines elements from Boston’s Food Project, ‘French Fries & the Food System,’ and Growing Healthy Habits Curriculum).

Soil Shake_Page_3

VeggieKids Soil Lesson, p. 2

– Karen Bustard, UTC

Ward Winter Cooking Program!

It’s another Monday afternoon and Q, Angel, and I have set up cutting boards and vegetables in the newly renovated basement kitchen of Ward AME church, now ready for our weekly children’s cooking program.


The Ward kitchen!

Today we have a peanut theme to accompany a lesson on George Washington Carver. We are making peanut butter, and peanut bars from one of the 105 peanut recipes Carver published in his bulletin to promote the nitrogen-restoring crop among rural growers. Q works with a few kids to add a small amount of salt, honey, and peanut oil, and they watch as the peanuts turn to a familiar store product in the food processor. The rest of us takes turns cutting apples, celery and bananas. After grinding the peanuts and making the dough for the bars, everyone molds their own shapes, and the snakes, suns, and squares go into the oven.


Shalise already knew we’d be cooking with peanuts when we first picked the kids up from the Martha Washington afterschool program a block away, and Q said cryptically, “we’re making something out of a plant that became popular because of a really famous black farmer dude.”

Image“Oh, peanuts.” She said. “Great, I hate those.” But by the time it comes to eating them she has changed her mind, and is hording the bowl of apples for dipping before Angel nods to her to pass it along, and pay attention to the section of the Carver biography that Preece is reading out loud.

Inventing over 300 products from peanuts— including insulation, antiseptics, and wall board— and teaching rural farmers best growing practices through the mobile Jessup Wagon, Carter embodies the creativity, ingenuity, and connectivity that we admire in urban farmers today!



Kids harvest greens from the 43rd Street Community garden in the fall. Everyone’s excited to return outdoors this spring, and grow some food to cook!

Angel, the block captain on 43rd street and Ward AME member, partners with us to run this program. Her two sons and nephews are joining today, the older insisting that the younger can read the words on the page, to have us be patient. Angel has been instrumental in setting up the two gardens now next to Ward and across the street, and the kids always respond to her energy, sense of humor, and nurturing guidance in the kitchen and the garden!