This fall, PUC’s youngest co-founder Denzel Thompson was in for a few big supprises from Nickelodeon! First, Nick ventured down to North Philly to profile Denzel in a short film. Then, out of no where….Nick Cannon himself rode up to the farm on a golf cart and presented Denzel with a Teen Nick HALO Award and a $10,000 grant for PUC.
Later in the month, Denzel was flown out to Los Angeolas for a suprise guest appearance on the Queen Latifah show. Queen Latifah was paired with Denzel as his celebrity mentor, and we hope to continue the relationship with her well into the future to expand our mission nationally.
Lastly, On Nov. 14th, the PUC family all traveled out to LA to support Denzel as he and 3 other outstanding teens were presented with the 2013 HALO Awards.
Click Here to watch the HALO Video made about Denzel and PUC
and Visit our Multimedia/Media Appearances page to see all of the other amazing coverage of the events
Throughout the winter and into the spring, we have been on our construction grind! Along with a new host of partner organizations, students from local schools, volunteers, and neighbors of all ages from the neighborhood, we have renovated old structures, built new ones, and laid the foundation for 2 new gardens in the area.
Each monday and wednesday, 15 young men from the Mural Arts Guild Restorative Justice Program have participated as extensions of Devon’s Development team, assisting in the construction of 2 new green houses, a new class room, our vertical herb growing wall, and 30 raised beds. Together, they recycled old materials, pre-fabricated all of the structures in Devon’s workshop, and then moved them out across the street to give LIFE DO GROW an entirely renovated new look. In the process, they have developed employable skill sets in construction, demolition, landscaping, and urban agriculture, and we are beginning to teach them entrepreneurial skills through the management and distribution of the products grown in the green house that they have build for FUEL Philly’s 3 restaurants down in center city.
THE NEW CLASSROOM
With renovations on our mind, we decided to demolish the class room, our very first structure, and build an new one in its place. We recycled the tin from the original roof and lumber used for its structure to build new raised beds, and have replaced it with a much sturdier structure. This new class room also functions as a large rain collecting system which funnels rain water into our 300 gallon reserve water tank.
FUEL Philly’s Custom Green House
This winter, the Restaurant chain, FUEL Philly, officially became the first investor in our green house production program. FUEL made an investment of $1,000, with which we purchased supplies to erect a 15ft by 10 ft green house customer designed to harvest micro greens, wheatgrass, and herbs for their menu. This is the first, of what we plan to be many, such relationships with restaurants, and will soon evolve into the corner stone of our produce distributing business.
The guys from the Mural Arts Guild helped build the entire structure, and are now participating in the production of the plants inside, and will soon join in as we start selling these products to FUEL on a weekly basis. This way they are gaining practical skills in construction and green house production, as well as learning entrepreneurial skills through engaging with the inner workings of our emerging business plan.
THE VERTICAL HERB WALL
Using reclaimed wooden pallets, our building trade mark, we have created a vertical herb wall. This wall will soon be growing pounds of organic herbs including mint, basil, thyme, parsley, oregano, camomile, cilantro, rosemary, and lavender, and represent an affordable method to utilize vertical space for food production in an highly condensed urban setting.
We soon found that this wall quickly became integrated with the surrounding natural environment, and has become a host to all kinds of critters and small animals including this beautiful nest of Robin eggs.
Our neighbors, Visions of Missions church, have recently granted us permission to use a vacant lot that the own on Dakota street (just down the block from Life Do Grow). For years it has remained an overgrown vacant lot, but with the help of volunteers from throughout the city, we have cleared all of the weeds, laid down a thick layer of fresh mulch, and have installed 20 raised beds.
Along with members of the church and neighbors on Dakota street, we will be planting dozens of varieties of flowers in these raised beds, and will add a bee hive in the back of the property. This way, the flowers will provide a wealth of nectar for the bees to produce Honey, and in exchange, the bees will pollinate the flowers and help them spread their seeds throughout the neighborhood.
CARLISLE COMMUNITY GARDEN
Finally, in working with the neighbors on the 2300 block of N. Carlisle st, we have transformed a row homed sized vacant plot of land into a beautiful community garden. We have spent several months building relationship with the neighbors on the block, both long time residents and Temple students, and hosted a meeting to design the garden in early March.
Since then, we have covered the lot in fresh mulch, built 4 raised vegetable beds, a vertical herb wall out of pallets, and a raised bed around the fence for vines, flowers, and fruits to crawl up. We will be building them a green house in the next month. From here on out, the neighbors on this block will manage this site, and stand as an example how North Philadelphia Residents and Temple students can forge healthy relationships and collaborate to transform our urban landscape together.
In recent weeks, PUC has been on a mission to initiate the business end of our operation. For years, we have had the goal of developing relationships with restaurants in center-city to sell our produce to in order to generate a sustainable source of capital to re-invest in the expansion of our program, and to create jobs for local teens in our community as managers on the farm. But, with no one in our group having any experience in the world of business, these have only been vague conversations…..until now.
This fall, we finally reached a true consistency with the micro-greens grown in our green-house, and decided that it was time to put our product and vision to the test.
In october, we contacted 6 restaurants down town that we identified as having a potential interest in our micro-green sprouts and/or our organic wheatgrass. We then met with the owners of each of these 6 restaurants, explained to them the mission and vision of PUC, and supplied them with samples of our products.
Of those 6 restaurants, 4 of them showed a real interest in our products, and agreed to make a first purchase. In early november, we made initial trial sales, and we now have strong relationships with 3 of them to whom we are selling our sprouts each week! Go see for yourselves!!!
KAMAL’S MIDDLE EASTERN SPECIALTIES: READING TERMINAL MARKET
SOOKHEE’S PRODUCE & JUICE BAR: COMCAST CENTER BASEMENT
TEAFULL BLISS (11TH & SPRING GARDEN) FUEL PHILLY (12TH & WALNUT)
The fourth of these restaurants, Fuel Philly, is an up and coming restaurant chain that is looking to franchise their store throughout the region. They have shown a great deal of interest in working with us, and we are currently in negotiations with them about building them their own green-house on our farm from which we will grow produce exclusively for their various franchise’s.
This is a huge step forward for us. It is proof that our products are pure and desirable, and that we have grown enough as an organization to produce these products consistently. Our group has no prior experience with business management, so we are still very much learning from our mistakes as we go. But our learning curve is steep, and our determination unyielding. And with all of the positive energy flowing from our community, our partners, and the youth that we work with, these first few transactions appear to be beacons for the future of our organization, and small insights into the food revolution we are slowly building with our partners to transform Philly into a fully functioning model of local, sustainable, food systems and youth-driven, community-based development. HERE WE COME!!!!
PUC friends and family, please take a few moments to visit our new Kickstarter campaign. We just launched it, and have a fundraising goal of $4,000 to reach by Dec. 1st and need your help!
Congratulations to Jeaninne Kayembe and the rest of the PUC clan for winning the GRAND PRIZE in Magic Johnson’s WHAT INSPIRES YOU VIDEO CONTEST!
Watch our contest videos with Jeaninne, Shaniqua, Devon & Kevin, B.J. and Kianni, Rachel and Justin, and Ashely NOW! (click on their name to watch their video)
Magic’s crew came to Philly in August to conduct a series of brief video interviews with some of our organizers and young leaders to put up on their website for their national video competition. Since then, we just recieved the amazing news that Jeaninne’s video was selected as the 1st place winner (meaning she is going to get flown out to L.A. to meet Magic himself and rep. PUC!!!!!), and the even better news that their foundation has offered to support us in the purchase and installation of a giant hoop-house and Solar Power system! We cannot thank the Magic Johnson Foundation enough for their unwavering support!
This summer, 2012, proved to be PUC’s second harvest…..and an extremely successful one at that. Having added our greenhouse and tripled our production space, we were able to get a jump start on the season and grow all kinds of vegetables, herbs, flowers, shrubs, fruits, and even mushrooms!!?!
Some of our most successful crops this season were Tomatoes (red, green, yellow, and cherry), Peppers (bell, green, cayenne, and the HOTTEST Jalapeños ever!!!), Basil, Mint, Thyme, Parsley, Okra, Tomatillos, Swiss Chard, Beas, Beans, Osage Oranges, Sunflowers, 4 varieties of sprouts, and thanks to Keem….our youngest planter (4 years old)….Corn and Cantaloupes!
As our crops have grown, so too has the bio-diversity of the environment around us, as well as the leadership abilities of the youth in our community. Every day, more and more bees, butterflies, ladybugs, kids, and pollinators of all kinds have swarmed the farm and spread pollen, seeds, ideas, and energy throughout the neighborhood. (We have found some really rare species of grasshoppers and praying mantises which is a really great sign for the overall health of our space).
Our most consistent kids come to the farm almost every day now, and are blossoming into incredible young leaders. They are beginning to give their own tours of the garden, participate as leaders in our orientations and work days, and take on daily responsibilities in maintaining the farm all on their own. We can’t wait to see how much more they grow in the next few years!
Check out this amazing NEW VIDEO made about PUC by Saeed Brisco as apart of the POPYYN program highlighting our work in North Central Philly and our April 1st block party!
PUC has faced a great deal of adversity since our April 1st block party. Inconsistent weather, vandalism, and the loss of some of our core members have tested the moral and resilience of our young organization. But with the unveiling of summer, we have proven ourselves to be living examples of the mantra: “what doesn’t break you makes you stronger”. We have not only overcome the obstacles in our way, but have emerged a much stronger and more unified group, and have made significant strides in developing our farm and overall program.
Over the past two months, we have re-built our greenhouse and stacked it with all kinds of plants propagated by students at Temple’s Ambler campus, completed our composting tunnel system around the greenhouse including our first worm compost bin, built a 500 ft. fence and growing wall to enclose the garden, and cleared a 700 square ft. section of our land to use as the next section of our production space.
On June 1st, we celebrated our progress with all of the partners that we have collaborated with this year. Over the course of the day, we hosted over 300 people of all ages at Life Do Grow as apart of a ceremony that included music, dancing, mural painting, the Sankofa Rights of Passage closing Libation, workshops, and the construction of 4 new raised beds as the kick off to the next phase of expansion and summer program.
We have learned from many of our mistakes, and have grown because of them. Now, we plan to carry this surge of energy into the summer as we expand our farm, develop Dev’s shop across the street into our indoor base of operations, strengthen the bonds we have built with our partners, and harvest the young leaders in our community to become the next generation of PUC organizers.
While transitioning into spring, strong partnerships have continued to lay the foundation for PUC’s expansion. Bellow are descriptions of some more of these ever evolving relationships that define the diverse movement we are all working together to build.
1) Our Community: With the arrival of warmer weather, young people from throughout our neighborhood have flocked to the farm to participate in our after school activities. Kids of ALL ages have begun to spend almost every day with us helping to plant the first seeds of the new season, expand the garden, paint, and just hang out. While they have been with us, we have made sure to engage them in a variety of reading, writing, and math activities such as practicing reading and spelling the names of the seeds we are planting or measuring the lay out of the farm, or calculate the price of our crops. While relatively informal now, these small interactions are the beginnings of what is evolving into our after school program where we will help students grasp the concepts that they are learning in school through hands-on activities on the farm.
On April 1st, we held another community block party which was a HUGE SUCCESS! Dozens of the children and their families came out to enjoy the day that was filled with music, snacks, seed planting, weed clearing, face and mural painting, and even some horse back riding!
Weather big or small, each of these daily interactions contribute to making our program more and more community based. The families of the children that are with us each day have an increasingly invested interest in the project, and the kids themselves are turning into spectacular young leaders on the farm!
2) Education Works & Heartranft’s After School Program: Every wednesday afternoon, students from Education Work’s after school program at Heartranft middle school (our neighborhood public school) have joined us at the farm. They have been a huge help as we have transitioned into spring, and we have trained these students to be expert composters, recyclers, seed and seedling planters, and even young community organizers. As a result of this blossoming partnership, these students are now applying all that they have learned with us to their own school campus where they are now managing their own garden!
This is really exciting for us because it is the first step in the overall direction that our overall program is headed. The goal of all of the relationships the we develop with local schools, organizations, and neighbors, is to empower them to initiate their own projects. The start of this groups garden is a perfect example of the effectiveness of this model where we host volunteers, train them, and send them back to their communities to with the skill set to export this overall vision and lead their own movements towards self sustainability.
3) Fairhill Housing Cooking Class: For the past several months, we have assisted Tara Anastasi of Foundations, Inc., with a cooking class at the Fairhill high-rise community center across the street. Every Thursday, PUC organizers help Miss Tara to teach children from the Fairhill Apartments how to make such tasty treats as salsa, quesadillas, spring rolls, scrambled eggs, pancakes, muffins, and hummus.
The kids sure love making and finally eating their creations, and we have lots of fun helping them! And Once our crops are ready to harvest, the class will purchase and prepare produce right from the farm! Because of the energy generated from this program, these students now also spend one day a week with us at the farm, where we are training them with the basic skills to start their own garden in the court yard of the high rises.
4) GrassROOTS Foundation: This year we had the honor of establishing a partnership with the GrassRoots foundation, an organization that focuses on teaching nutrition and mental wellness to young women of color in inner-city communities across the nation. The organization was founded by Dr. Janice Dias and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter from The Legendary Roots crew.
For our first collaboration, we were asked to cater a community event and fundraiser hosted by the GrassRoots Foundation, where we served fresh and healthy snacks to the patrons of their Fundraiser. In the morning, we participated in a community meeting with the GrassRoots staff, Tariq, Mayor Nutter, the C.H.I.C.K.S. program, and other organizers and representatives from throughout the city, and at night attended an awesome concert and dance party with legendary performers from Philadelphia including Dj Rich Medina , Dj Diamond Kuts, and Quest Love and Black thought from the Roots. At both events, we served our very own Salsa made from produce from the farm, along with Hummus made by the students in the Fairhill Cooking class and Quiche made by students in A.P. Randolph’s Culinary program.
This was a great opportunity to network and market our project to an entirely new community filled with musicians, doctors, activists, organizers, and people of all professions. The event was a great success and we got lots of fees back and encouragement from so many adults. It was an amazing day, and the start to what we hope to be a long lasting partnership with the GrassRoots Foundation. We hope to provide their C.H.I.C.K.S program with our food and teach them how to bring a community garden to their school, and help youth throughout Philadelphia learn the importance of maintaining a healthy life style while empowering them with the tools and resources to create these healthy environments for themselves and their communities.
For more info on GrassRoots Go to www.GrassRootsfoundation.Org
5) Growing Power INC (round 2):
This April, six PUC organizers that were blessed with the opportunity to go to Growing Power INC’s weekend workshop for the second straight year. Growing Power is one of the nations largest urban agricultural programs, and located in one of Milwaukee’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. We spent the weekend taking workshops, sharing ideas, and talking with other farmers and environmental justice organizers. Members of PUC learned the art of bee keeping, community project design, cultivating mushrooms, and instilling renewable energy. We ate from the richest vegetable, used honey and drank milk made by Growing Power themselves!
The power of learning from another organization that has successfully implemented the art of food production as well as community involvement is true inspiration, and it is now our job to take the skills that we learned from Growing Power and utilize them to empower the youth and residents of Philadelphia. This weekend sparked new energy and innovation from this transformative weekend with Will Allen and staff! We are excited to continue to grow, learn, eat, and educate the people of Philadelphia.
6) Sedexo Foundation: In February, we received word that PUC is one of the recipients of the Sedexo Foundation’s STOP Hunger grant for $5,000! This is the largest grant we have won, and it is going to be a huge boost to our initiatives as we enter the summer. On April 25th, the Sedexo crew joined us at the farm to meet us and film us for a short film they are making about PUC’s work with local food production and education in North Philly. This short film will be available in June.
7) Philadelphia Former Gang Member Association & Friends: Finally, one of our longest partnerships has begun to blossom. For the past 3 years, PUC has attended community meetings hosted by the Philadelphia Former Gang Member Association; an organization also founded in 2009-10 by ex-offenders and former Philadelphia Gang members. The Association has worked diligently to bring many different organizations together to collectively provide ex-offenders with support while re-entering society, with opportunities to give back to and inspire peace in their communities, and to mentor “at risk” youth to keep them from falling into similar paths. After several years of these meetings, strong partnerships are being forged, a unified vision is starting to emerge, and together, this network beginning to empower segments of these neglected populations to more effectively navigate the systems that restrict their social mobility, and participate in the movement to reinvent them from the ground-up.
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