Sustainability director finds receptive crowd in Mt. Airy

The discussion at the November Weavers Way membership meeting wasn’t about adding more stores to the now-three locations of the Mt. Airy based food cooperative. Nor was the focus on how to get more members. Instead, the nearly 60 in attendance wanted to know how to work with the City of Philadelphia in making the city a more sustainable place to live.

Enter Katherine Gajewski, the city’s director of sustainability. The highlighted speaker of the meeting — and former chief of staff for Mayor Michael Nutter — talked about Greenworks Philadelphia. At the meeting, she addressed one of the goals of the program: “Bring local food within 10 minutes of 75 percent of residents.”

“Food touches every person’s life,” Gajewski explained, “so it’s a difficult area to tackle.” Greenworks has devised a plan to focus on several levels of food production and accessibility, including using vacant land and cultivating a demand for locally grown food. There is a battle, Gajewski said, between healthy, locally grown food and the more affordable junk food.

Partnerships like those with West Philly’s Carousel House, which has a teen farming program, and the Food Trust, which issues WIC-based Philly Food Bucks to help lower-income families afford local, healthy foods.

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“Outreach continues and continues,” Gajewski said, adding that Philadelphia currently has 25 schools participating in farm-to-school programs, and has added four farmers markets to underserved areas with 10 more on the way.

The next step for Greenworks involves adopting a policy for vacant land use. Gajewski’s aim is to develop a policy to encourage neighbors to share the chores of gardening, to simplify the food production on city land and to encourage what she calls responsible management.

“Right now, it’s very unclear what [the food production] process is,” she said.

Greenworks, she said, wants to ensure that today’s eyesore properties don’t once again become eyesores should a community garden project fail or end. Instead, the Office of Sustainability will seek to coordinate interested parties with an agreed upon time frame and an appropriate vacant space that could later be repurposed.

It’s all about finding the balance between growth and open space, Grajewski said. “There are tons of neighborhoods eager to be transformed.”

Weavers Way members expressed interest at the plans Gajewski proposed, and said they want to be actively involved in helping make the city more sustainable.

Several members suggested a partnership between Weavers Way and the city, to which Gajewski was open. While no specific collaborative ideas were mentioned, Gajewski promised to brainstorm ideas.

When it comes to sustainability, she said, “It’s all about partnership.”

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