Farmhand Handyman | Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak

I Worked on a few stories for Grid Magazine’s January 2015 issue. Pick up a hard copy to see the photos/story that corresponds to my earlier post Playing in Dirt.

Farmhand Handyman

Volunteer and grant writer brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

 

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

 

Bryan Thompsonowak says volunteering at the Emerald Street Urban Farm has made him more invested in the neighborhood. | Photos by Jared Gruenwald

When Bryan Thompsonowak, 37, was young, his father, a bricklayer and “all-around handyman-type of a guy,” taught him to not be afraid of trying new things. He applied that lesson when he tackled the construction of a three-bin compost system and a rainwater catchment system at Emerald Street Urban Farm in East Kensington.

The farm’s managers Nic and Elisa Esposito needed to expand their volunteer base because they were expecting their first child. That’s when Thompsonowak stepped up, volunteering on Mondays from May to October.

“It’s nice to have a project close to home, and it’s not just the work; it’s the people that you’re there volunteering with,” says Thompsonowak, whose last name is a result of combining his and his wife Sharon Nowak’s last name.

Founded in 2009 by Elisa Esposito and the former farm director of Marathon Farms, Patrick Dunn, ESUF reclaimed and transformed five vacant lots in East Kensington. The farm, which sits a few doors down from his home, offers produce through a weekly donation-based farmstand and several pick-your-own community garden plots. The core group of about a dozen volunteers also runs an outreach and education program.

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

The East Kensington Neighbors Association has worked closely with ESUF and various other organizations, such as the Kensington Community Food Co-Op and Hackett Elementary School, to improve the East Kensington neighborhood. President Clare Dych helps lead the various sectors of EKNA in addressing the concerns and actions of the community by hosting monthly meetings to discuss zoning and planning within the neighborhood, and by promoting the Clean Up and Green Space Committees that work to protect and maintain the local parks.

This past spring, the farm received a $1,000 grant from the association to support the farm and their youth programming. “ESUF has given so much to the East Kensington neighborhood, all on a shoestring budget, and we felt it was time to give back,” Dych says in an email.

Thompsonowak also wrote an application on behalf of ESUF for a grant provided by the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust given to nonprofits that further the field of ornamental horticulture through education and research. Esposito was blown away: “This went beyond the commitment of coming out every Monday. If we get the grant, it will be a huge game-changer for us.”

Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm
Philadelphia Urban Farming Volunteer Bryan Thompson-Nowak brings many skills to East Kensington’s Emerald Street Urban Farm

This winter, Thompsonowak, who’s also a graduate student of the Longwood Graduate Program in Public Horticulture, will continue the program through the University of Delaware with hopes of advancing his career within public gardens. But he won’t be too far from the farm.

“Volunteering at the farm has made me more invested in the neighborhood,” Thompsonowak says. “Being a part of something that is 100 percent good for the neighborhood is great.”

 

Playing in the Dirt | Laurel Valley Soils

Last week I went out to Laurel Valley Soils for an editorial assignment. Laurel Valley is an Avondale, Pennsylvania based manufacturer of soil and compost based products for wholesale to garden centers, landscape contractors, sports turf installers, and nurseries. I love dirt. I love digging in it with my bare hands, planting seeds into it and pulling plants out of it. Chances are that if you meet me anytime between early spring and late fall I’ll have dirt under my nails from digging around my garden. So when the opportunity to run around this giant dirt box came my way I jumped at the chance. Learning about where commercial soil comes from has always been of some interest to me especially since I developed a debilitating gardening addiction. Jake Chalfin, the sales manager whose portrait is at the end of this post was kind enough to give me the full rundown of how this process works, where soil comes from and how different mixtures and created.Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils Laurel Valley Soils

Dave and Buddy. Fishermen.

It was a beautiful day today and I had a few spare hours this afternoon so I decided to head down to South Philly in search of something to photograph along the Delaware River.  I find myself shooting down there quite often. It’s a pretty photogenic area and it seems each wander I go out on I find a new and interesting subject. Today I parked just along the entrance to Pier 68. When I got to the edge of the platform a man aboard a tug boat called out to me.  He seemed pretty chipper and just wanted to chat. His job that day had him piloting the boat from the dock to the middle of the river where an oil barge called the Chesapeake was anchored. That’s it. Just back and forth multiple times a day. I didn’t catch his name but if I had more time I would have talked my way on board. Next time. As our conversation trailed off, an older fisherman sitting in a camping chair opposite the boat waved invitingly over to me. There were no immediate introductions. We just started having a conversation as if we were picking up where we left off the day before. He was surrounded by gear one would use to fish in various stages of wear as well and other random items like a bag of unopened Rice Krispies and Walmart shopping carts. I eventually asked him his name as the conversation was getting rather intimate. Dave is Korean and has lived in Philadelphia for 34 years. Or was it 43? Either way he left Korea behind when he was a young man and hasn’t returned. Despite having lived stateside longer than I’ve been alive he still spoke with a rather thick accent and I had trouble making out some of what he said. I did gather quite quickly that he is rather devout as the topic settled on god. He was a little taken aback when I told him I lean more towards the agnostic but understood my point of view. I asked him which particular sect of christianity he followed. He told me none. He wasn’t catholic, protestant, snake handler or presbyterian. He said he simply followed the word of god. I liked that. I honestly don’t understand all the divisions within the religion anyway. It’s all just jesus isn’t it? At this point another man walked up and plopped himself into a chair adjacent to the river. He didn’t seem at all concerned with this random photographer hanging about and just started chatting with us as if he was privy to the entire conversation. His name was Buddy I think. Well that’s what Dave told me at least. Buddy, a lifelong Philadelphian is probably sixty to seventy years old. He’s very soft spoken, polite and knowledgable about fishing. He had just returned with more beef livers to use as catfish bait. Despite being happy to chat he didn’t want me taking his picture. The only explanation he gave was that he was playing hooky from work and didn’t want to get caught. I assured him these photos would only end up on my blog which maybe three people read. Dave at this point started talking about his younger days. He had been an avid photographer and purchased an underwater camera to take out on fishing trips back in Korea.  He then reached into his backpack and pulled out about ten folded pages with incredible black and white images of young men fishing in the 1960’s. He named a few of the men as his relatives and pointed out a few shots of himself. They were stunning. I assumed that Dave and Buddy had been fishing together at this spot for decades however they’d only connected recently. Dave had been calling Pier 68 his personal fishing spot for years and Buddy was stationed at the next pier down just fifty feet away. A recent influx of new anglers forced Buddy to move. Dave called Buddy’s spot North Korea, his spot South Korea and the water separating the two the DMZ. I wanted to ask him more about life in Korea before he emigrated but he didn’t seem to want to go down that road. He just kept saying how Philadelphia and the United States are the best places in the world. We chatted a bit more about bread, beer, politics and how to properly bait a hook. I had to get going said my goodbye’s and walked off just as casually as I’d come, assuming that no proper farewell was needed as next time I visit we’ll just fall back into the same old comfortable conversation.

Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy Dave and Buddy

 

Rather Long Cape Cod Gallery

The outer cape (wellfleet, truro and provincetown) has a certain romantic majesty that for me never seems to fade. This may have something to do with the occasional day dream I have of working as a lowly deck hand aboard an 18th century whaling ship. I’ve made the trek out to Truro countless times over the better part of the the past decade to visit Tasha’s (my wife’s) family and each time I come away feeling humbled for having the privilege of experiencing such a monumentally magical land (and sea) scape. so here’s a rather long gallery featuring eighty photos from my latest trip which took place this past late August/ early September.

 

 

Two Creepy Kids in the Woods

Last month while visiting the in-laws, my wildly creative artist mother in law Deb Mell and I collaborated on some photos of her two grandchildren (and my niece and nephew) Zara (4) and Beckett (4 months). Earlier in the summer we had all visited D.C. and popped into a handful of museums including the Hirshhorn. At some point Deb and I found ourselves strolling silently through a photo gallery more or less unimpressed until our gazes became simultaneously fixed upon a single image of a harshly lit lone figure standing in the woods. It was delightfully creepy and I was not surprised when she asked if when I visited next we’d subject Zara and Beckett to a similar sitting. So here it is. Two creepy kids in the woods.

Forbidden Trail/ Devil’s Pool/ Wissahickon Creek

Natasha and I went wandering through the Forbidden Trail along the Wissahickon Creek the other day. We climbed steep slippery slopes (stairs provided to aid hikers), encountered threatening wildlife (some dog playing in the water) and forded the deep rushing whitewater river (wading up to our ankles to cross back to the side of the creek our car was on) All in all a lovely wander.

Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail Walking the Forbidden Trail

A Bugs Feast

I stumbled upon some bugs (moths, beetles, butterflies and i think a wasp) binging on a buffet of some gnarly rotten fruit during a stroll along the delaware river in south philly. it was all things gross and beautiful. wish i had a macro lens but honestly didn’t want to get too much closer. it smelled much worse than it looked.

bugs_001 Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia Bugs feasting on rotten food along the Delware River in South Philadelphia

Peace Rock

I Spent the day at Peace Rock in Hamburg, PA with a lovely group of friends. I didn’t want to bring out the top level gear as I knew I’d be swimming most of the time and leaving thousand’s of dollars of camera equipment on the sandy shores while I swam around seemed unsettling. So I decided to dust off the trusty ol’ 7D and I’m quite happy I did. Been relying on the 5D MK III for quite some time but sometimes you need the high frame rate to catch all the craziness that unfolds around you. It was 40 feet from the top of the rock to the river below and despite having jumped 15+ times this old dude put me to shame with this one rad dive. Well done sir. I will never have the guts to join your ranks.

I loaded up the photos into iMovie and put this little clip together. Sound effects added for your viewing pleasure.

Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania. Daring old man does handstand drive off of the 40 foot cliff, Peace Rock, in Hamburg, Pennsylvania.

Life Cycle of A Black Swallowtail Butterfly

I have an amazing backyard with an amazing garden which I love. I spend lots of time back there planting, pruning and perfecting. So when I noticed a horde of caterpillars decimating my dill and fennel plants I had to take action. A friend who was over pointed out that these fat little green goobers were black swallowtail butterflies. So I decided to keep them. I put together a fern leaf dill filled terrarium and transported them with the intention of building a bigger enclosure for them after I returned from being away over the weekend. However, when I got back they had already sealed themselves into their Chrysalis. I decided to leave them as is and waited for the transformation to finish. When I walked out to check on them this morning two fully formed beautiful black swallowtails had emerged and were waiting for release. Needless to say I was thrilled my little science experiment came to fruition.

Black Swallowtail ButterfliesBlack Swallowtail Butterflies

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Chrysalis Shell after the first butterfly emerged

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Three of the Chrysalis’s fell to the bottom so I used some chopsticks to prop them back up

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Black Swallowtail Butterflies

Found a horde of caterpillars eating all my dill so i made them a dill terrarium and watched them go into cocoon and eventutally transform into beautiful butterflies

This poor lady’s ( i think it’s a female) wings didn’t develop properly. I did some research and there’s no way she’d survive outside. Luckily I have a variety of terrariums perfect for butterflies throughout my apartment. I added some banana and sugar water for food and branches for her to perch.

Found a horde of caterpillars eating all my dill so i made them a dill terrarium and watched them go into cocoon and eventutally transform into beautiful butterflies

Found a horde of caterpillars eating all my dill so i made them a dill terrarium and watched them go into cocoon and eventutally transform into beautiful butterflies

Found a horde of caterpillars eating all my dill so i made them a dill terrarium and watched them go into cocoon and eventutally transform into beautiful butterflies Found a horde of caterpillars eating all my dill so i made them a dill terrarium and watched them go into cocoon and eventutally transform into beautiful butterflies

http://youtu.be/fKMH3Lu9ADo