Last Friday evening, June 3, the Lutheran Settlement House (LSH), 1430 Frankford Ave., opened its doors to local residents for its First Friday Sustainability Open House. The event is part of an ongoing effort to raise awareness about environmental issues, work with local organizations and get the community involved in sustainability efforts.
Rachel Winsberg, development and administrative assistant at LSH said, “As an organization, environmental sustainability is important to us and community connections are important to us, so we wanted to bring people together for First Friday to build those connections.”
The event was held on LSH’s recently installed healthy living deck, with resource tables set up by a number of local organizations, including the Philadelphia Office of Sustainability, New Kensington Development Corporation, the Clean Air Council and the Franklin Institute.
Chili was provided by Kensington Quarters, 1310 Frankford Ave., and fresh-made fruit drinks were provided by the teens in LSH’s own Food & Farming after-school program.
Activities included face painting and tours of LSH’s urban farm.
LSH’s focus on sustainability may be surprising to some, as the organization is perhaps better known in the area for its senior services, its work with the homeless and its adult education programs.
However, environmental sustainability has become an increasingly visible part of LSH’s mission. As part of the recent renovations to its facilities, the organization partnered with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) to install modifications to soak up stormwater and reduce harmful overflow.
PWD Community Planner Maggie Dunn was on hand to celebrate those improvements.
Beneath eye-catching towers constructed of snap-together raindrops, she explained the project’s importance.
“When we get a lot of rainfall,” she said, “we end up with a combination of rainwater and sewage overflowing directly into the Delaware River. We have a capacity problem. Our pipes aren’t big enough to hold it all. If we can soak up some of that water when it rains, it keeps it out of the sewer system and we don’t have those overflows into the river.”
In order to combat the problem, PWD provided a $20,000 grant to LSH to install such features as permeable pavers that allow water to drain through and a stone bed to hold the water instead of sending it into the sewer system. LSH also received significant funding from PTSSD for renovations.
“Every time it rains, it holds about 3,260 gallons,” she said, “and over the course of a year, that’s 133,000.”
That’s not all that LSH has been doing to support environmental sustainability.
The organization also runs a small farm through its Hungry 2 Healthy Initiative. Vegetables grown on the farm include carrots, turnips, radishes, bok choy, sweet peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and different varieties of tomatoes.
Although they won’t bear fruit for several years, apple trees have recently been planted along the edge of the farm, and raspberry bushes will be added soon.
By allocating additional land to the urban farm, the program has been able to expand in the last year.
“Last growing season, we grew 800 pounds of produce and we gave that to our Senior Center members for free,” said Chloe Warnick, Hungry 2 Healthy program coordinator. “This season, we hope to grow about 1,600 pounds of produce.”
The expanded harvest means that LSH will be able to sell some of its produce through its mobile farm stand.
“That’s going to be part of our teen internship summer program,” Warnick said. “The main part of that internship is that they’re going to be doing gardening work with our Senior Center members, and they’re also going to be doing educational sessions on gardening with our farmer.”
Although the ingredients in the chili provided by restaurant and butcher shop Kensington Quarters weren’t grown by LSH, they didn’t travel far, either.
“All of the meat from our butcher shop is coming from local pastured animals — small farms in Philadelphia,” Katie Maley said. “Our beef is coming from northern Virginia, but that’s as far as we go.”
At the resource tables, representatives from different organizations were on hand to provide information about what their organizations are doing or what residents can do to support environmental sustainability.
Barbara Jerome, museum educator for the Franklin Institute, offered a hands-on demonstration that showed how simple modifications like rooftop gardens and rain barrels can help soak up water that might overtax the city’s drainage system.
Will Fraser, outreach coordinator for the Clean Air Council, talked about sustainable transportation, specifically sustainable ways for residents to get to and from work: public transit, biking, carpooling and more.
The goal, he explained, was to get businesses to offer incentives for employees to use these modes of transportation, including stipends to use public transit, showers for cyclists to use at work after sweaty commutes and indoor bike parking for employees.
“One of the things that we’re working towards in Fishtown, Kensington, and Northern Liberties is increased bike parking,” Fraser said. “We recently were funded by Penn Treaty Special Services District to be able to fabricate and create custom made bike racks by a local artist to install at 25 businesses in and around Fishtown and Kensington. Secure parking in front of businesses encourages sustainable commutes. It also promotes cyclists to visit those businesses, so there’s an economic component as well.”
The LSH open house was a First Friday event, but one will not be held every month.
“We’re not going to be doing them every single month, but we are going to be doing them regularly and with different themes,” Winsberg said. “The next one we’re going to do at the end of the summer is going to be a ‘Back to School’ theme and we’re going to feature our adult education program as well.”The next LSH Open House is scheduled for the evening of Friday, August 5. For more information about the organization or its sustainability efforts, visit lutheransettlement.org.