W.B. Saul students participate in Philadelphia Science Festival’s ‘Grow It, Cook It, Eat It’ event

For the hosts of this weekend’s Philadelphia Science Festival event at Bartram’s Garden, the weekend’s wet weather offered both good news and bad news. 

The pouring rain posed a challenge to many of the planned agricultural activities, but the nascent fields and beds badly needed the rain after a long spell of dry weather.

The “Grow It, Cook It, Eat It” event, held with help from students of Roxborough’s W.B. Saul High School, took place in Southwest Philadelphia at Bartram’s Garden, a 45-acre National Historic Landmark operated alongside the Schuylkill by the John Bartram Association and the City of Philadelphia. 

The festivities were somewhat compressed inside a few of the Garden’s main buildings and a planned orchard demonstration was canceled due to rain, but presenters, including several Saul students, were ready to educate attendees on everything from gardening and composting, to canning and at-home skincare. 

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At W.B. Saul, 14 juniors and a few seniors have been taking an Advanced Placement class in Environmental Science. Their coursework over the last several weeks helped to prepare them for participation in the Philadelphia Science Festival, alongside Fair Food Philly, the Franklin Institute, the University of Pennsylvania’s Urban Nutrition Initiative (UNI), and many other organizations.

Saul students teamed up in small groups at different stations to offer information about and demonstrations on simple, eco-friendly skin care.

Seventeen-year-old juniors Lasheda Brooks and Brenna Downey offered a moisturizing and exfoliating skin mask made of finely-ground almonds, milk, and lemon juice. Sixteen-year-old Azani Carpenter and her seventeen-year-old classmate Riley Grobelny demonstrated “Eco Beauty” with a simple two-part system: a lip scrub made of brown sugar and olive oil, and a kid-friendly chocolate-flavored lip balm. Azani explained that for the festival, she and Riley had altered the original recipe of the lip balm to use more earth-friendly vegetable shortening instead of petroleum jelly.

“And the cocoa powder makes it more interesting,” Azani said of the gentle chocolate aroma of the finished balm.

Other Saul participants included Kierra Johnson, 17, and Julie Velazques, 16. They offered attendees a fragrant and effective exfoliating citrus sugar hand scrub concocted from orange juice, honey, lemon juice, olive oil and sugar.

All of their projects were meant to demonstrate that top-notch skin-care can easily be done with gentle, earth-friendly and inexpensive ingredients. Each station offered attendees the chance to try the homemade products, and snag a recipe.

“We want to teach people that you can use ecologically friendly things at home,” Azani said. All of the balms and scrubs the students offered can be cheaply assembled and used without having to make an extra trip in your car, and without the chemicals so often found in average store-bought cosmetics.

Other Saul students offered attendees the chance to taste-test organic products versus conventionally-grown ones, and note the differences.

More “Grow It, Cook It, Eat It” participants included Philadelphia-based food blogger Marisa McClellan, whose first cookbook, “Food in Jars“, will be published in May. She helped attendees make their own jar of pickles with fresh cucumbers, pepper, dill and garlic, and hot salted vinegar.

“There is such a rise in interest in canning over the last three or four years,” McClellan said. “There’s so much going on the world that leaves people wanting to have more of a hand in their food.”

At another station, 15-year-old high-schoolers Dwayne Draper and Naz Odu, involved with Bartram’s Garden through UNI, demonstrated how to transplant the spring’s most miniscule jalapeno pepper plant. Anna Padget, a traveling scientist with the Franklin Institute’s outreach program, dug into a bin of compost teeming with friendly bugs and worms to describe the vital life-cycle in our soil, and also illuminated the surprising anatomy of mushrooms.

UNI staffer Ty Holmberg, who helps to oversee some of Bartram’s fields, plant beds and nurseries, led a tour to the greenhouse along with Drapere. Attendees gave a wide berth to some flourishing poison ivy along the way, and then got up close with freshly-sprung flats of tomatoes, basil, kale, collards, peppers and more.

The second annual Philadelphia Science Festival, a collaboration between local schools, universities, cultural institutions and research centers, is currently being held through April 29 to spotlight various scientific disciplines in locations across the region.

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