Tree Planting

On Friday, Sarae and I met at The Spring Gardens at North Street between 17th and 18th St, a community garden that occupies an entire block. We met the group and then split into smaller groups after a short presentation on how to plant the tree. The event was one of many tree plantings throughout Philadelphia run through the Philadelphia Horticultural Society. Before this event, I only planted small seedling trees so this was a new experience for me.

Our group, consisting of three people including myself, planted four trees throughout the Fairmount neighborhood. The trees varied in size and shape and were planted within sidewalk blocks. All of the soils varied within the different spots. We learned how to properly plant a bare root tree ( a young tree with exposed roots that needs to be transplanted into the ground). We used buckets of water once we dug out the hold, planted the tree, and added mulch. The water helped to get rid of air pockets that will help the tree grow better and increase the chances of survival. We were also told how to properly position the tree so its roots can spread out and the branches will not grow into the sidewalk where they can easily be destroyed by pedestrians. Our leader also explained to us how the tree roots often strangle the tree itself in urban spaces because the roots do not have enough space to spread out. Another group was set to tie posts around the tree for stability later in the day.

I really enjoyed this project. Our group leader was very helpful and patiently taught us the proper way to plant the tree. It was very rewarding to contribute to the neighborhood. Hopefully we can make a return visit and see our trees growing strong!


For more information on The Spring Gardens:


Visiting the Mill Creek Urban Farm

Last week, I visited the Mill Creek Urban Farm located in West Philadelphia. Despite the inclement weather, we boarded the bus in the early morning to head over to the farm.

Once we arrived, we received a tour from one of the workers there, Jo, who explained the history of the lot, the farm, and what they do there. Leased by the Philadelphia Water Department, the lot was formerly a row of homes built with poor foundations. The houses were eventually torn down in the 1970s. On the west side of the lot, a community garden was created for the local community. Until 2005, however, the other side of the lot stood bare.

 The Brown St. community garden from a previous growing season

Jo explained the mission of the farm and how mostly everything grown here goes back to the community. Throughout the growing season, the harvested crops are sold to the neighborhood residents for a reasonable price. Because there is not a supermarket or grocery store in this area, residents often rely on a corner store with little food with good nutritional value for sustenance, a sad but ever present trend within urban populations. With this fact in mind, the farm was created to provide fresh produce to the community without discrimination of financial standing.

On the tour we were shown many things that enhance the character of the farm while still keeping within sustainable practices (and also allowed to sample the just picked asparagus which was out of this world!).

Besides growing their food organically, the farm uses a composting toilet, solar, panels, sustainable building materials such as cob walls and recycled pieces to decorate. Cob is a building material (seen in the photo) and is made from clay, sand, straw, and water. Cob is not only cost effective and made with out harmful chemicals but, it is also a great for heating and cooling buildings.

We also got to see (what I thought was the coolest thing!) a green roof. Although it was only a small scale roof, it was very cool to see a green roof filled with sedum and succlents and other plants that can absorb large amount of water for period and also thrive during drier periods. This design lowers cooling and heating costs effectively and with little maintenance.

After the tour, I was so excited to finally get my hands dirty and do some work! Our group helped weed a bed that would one day produce veggies. It was hard work but it felt very rewarding after we were done.

Weeding the beds

All in all it was a great way to spend a morning and the weather held out. I really enjoyed visiting the farm and seeing urban agriculture flourishing : )


Tree Planting Stewardship Work

This past Friday, I went out to help with just one of the many tree planting events going on throughout Philadelphia over the weekend. I had planted trees just once before, when I was very young. I am lucky enough to still see them growing in my backyard at home. That kind of satisfaction is what made me want to plant trees for some of my stewardship work.

Danielle and I went to The Spring Garden at 18th and North Streets to meet with the group planting. As we arrived we were split into teams and given some basic instructions on how to plant the trees. The trees I planted on Friday were much larger than the seedlings I planted before, and required a different type of planting technique. We learned that the hole must be dug deep enough for the roots to be just under the soil, or the tree could not grow properly. The roots also needed enough soil under them so that there would be no air pockets between them. This was not always so easy to do, especially with roots growing out in so many different directions. We learned how to pack the soil in, as well as water the soil so no air pockets would be left.

We went off to four different locations to plant our four trees. Two of the trees were planted near 17th and Wallace Streets, one was at 22nd and Brandywine Streets, and yet another not very far from the art museum. Each tree, although not far from each other, was a different experience. The first tree’s soil was damp, and seemed a little heavy. It was not very difficult to plant, especially since the roots were not very wide. For the second tree, the soil was much wetter, the roots much wider, and many rocks in the soil, making it difficult to plant. For the second two trees, the soil was much dryer and made for easier planting.

Although it was difficult work, the tree planting was very rewarding. I like to be able to go and visit a tree that I know I put into the ground, hopefully for years to come. The man on our team was telling us how difficult it is to get the community involved with keeping the trees alive. They need the residents near the newly planted trees to keep them watered with many gallons each day for the first few weeks. It seems as if many people cannot be bothered by such a simple task that could help the environment of the city so much. However, it is good to know that there still are some people who are willing to put in the effort and help, especially those who take time out to plant these trees. It really is a lasting impression on the city of Philadelphia.

-Sarae Gdovin

Grant Proposal Case Study- New York High Line

On June 6th, 2009, New  York City officially opened up its highly anticipated and visionary “Midair Oasis”- The High Line (section 1). The mile-and-a-half-long elevated train track was built in the 1930s to lift freight trains 30 feet up the ground in order to improve dangerous train traffic on the ground level. The trains stopped running in 1980, and the elevated rail became home to all sorts of wild plants. In 1999, Friends of the High Line was formed in an effort to preserve the historical landmark when it was subjected to demolition. The group laid out frame work for High Line preservation and reuse and advocated for city support. In 2004, Friends of High Line teamed up with James Corner Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro to design the High Line Park.

The High Line Park runs through several neighborhoods such as the Meatpacking District and  West Chelsea. The greenery along the walkway includes species of plants that were inspired by the wild seeded landscape left after the trains stopped running. Simplistic yet modern recreation spaces are also incorporated in various spaces through out the stretched space. Public art is installed to enhance the recreation landscape and interaction between the park and the visitors. In the future, the park plans to include food service to make the visit more enjoyable and verify the functions of the park.

Ever since its opening, the High Line has attracted millions of visitors and has become a new green, and neighborhood friendly landmark. The reuse of modern industrial relic and turning it into functional and environmentally friendly park space is the perfect example of retrofitting. The High Line built upon existing architectural structure that combines the past and the present.

photo by Joel Sternfeld from the High Line Image Galleries

planting, image from the High Line Image Galleries

A much similar story to the High Line in Philadelphia is the Reading Viaduct. Over the years, various groups in the neighborhood and University from around the Philadelphia had made effort to follow the path of New York. There are talks about renovating the old viaduct to a green public space but none seems to gain enough momentum to leave the planning phase due to lack of consensus from the surrounding neighborhood.

Recently, a new project called Reading Viaduct Park – Philly’s Park In the Sky launched by Jamie Moffett seem to have taken renewed initiative to rebuild the viaduct. There was a presentation at the Flower Show to showcase the project. More information can be found on the link above. Like the page if you support the project!


Grant Proposal Case Study- Retrofitting Homes

Retrofitting is a fairly new procedure in green developments. It involves adding new technology to improve the energy efficiency of different things. It has been seen throughout the country in many different projects. From converted railroad tracks in New York City, to the possible green roof of the Empire State Building, retrofitting is being utilized more and more. In one big way, it has been used to make homes more energy efficient as well as cut many costs.

Using retrofitting can even help bring a community together, such as what happened with the group Retrofit Philly. The organization held a contest for a block in Philadelphia to be retrofit with green roofing, the “Coolest Block Contest”. Members from many different communitties throughout Philly got together to sign petitions and register to win. The winning block was 1200 Wolf Street. Each of the homes that signed the petition were fitted with “cool roofs”. These roofs help to reflect the sun, instead of absorbing it, therefore keeping the home cooler. This contest was no small effort. It was sponsored by the City of Philadelphia, The Energy Coordinating Agency of Philadelphia, and the Dow Building and Construction business group. In ending the contest, the winning group not only benefited from the new roofing, but also received a block party to celebrate. Seeing how important it is to have the community involved in evolving green cities, this project does that in an enormous way. It is the way to branch out green initiatives to future generations (Retrofit Philly, 2010).

There are more programs like the Retrofit Philly going on throughout the country. In New York, individuals are taking the green initiative into their own hands and retrofitting their homes using money from the Green Jobs/Green NY program.

This program will not only help to cut costs and make many homes more energy efficient, but it will also help to create jobs for the contractors doing this green construction.  In January 2011 alone, more than 800 homes were retrofitting through the program (Dodge 2011).

With these and other initiatives, people are slowly working together to create more energy efficient environments. It is so important to get community involvement when doing projects such as this in order to create a sense of unity in such an important concept. Not many other urban greening projects have that same unity. Many others are just large corporations trying to be environmentally friendly. While this is not a bad thing, it is disconnected from many people. I feel that it is better to keep a strong grassroots initiative, which is why these case studies can be a great start to a grant project.

Retrofit Philly. “Coolest Block Contest”

Dodge, Darren. “New Yorkers Retrofitting Homes Through Energy Efficiency Program” March 10, 2011.


-Sarae Gdovin

Mill Creek Farm Stewardship Work

This morning I attended the trip to the Mill Creek Urban Farm in West Philly. The day started fairly early, and the weather wasn’t looking the greatest. Either way, I was excited to finally begin work for my stewardship project.

We met and Bess drove a few of us over to the farm. Upon arriving, we got a tour from Jo, one of the farms main opperators. She explained so much about her work with the farm and what the farm means to the community. The farm began as a block of houses that were built on the Mill Creek. The houses began to sink because of the unstable sewers underneath them. Eventually the houses were torn down, and a vacant lot remained. On one side of the lot, there was a community garden for people in the area. This was important to the community, and Jo and others knew that when they proposed the farm to city officials. They were given the land that was transformed from a garbage filled vacant lot, to a beautiful urban farm.

Although some people may see bees as a pest, they are very beneficial to an urban farm. This farm has two different types of hives, a more traditional hive as well as a flat pack bee hive. Along with plant pollination, the honey is collected and sold to the community. I also learned that eating the honey from bees that pollinated plants you are allergic to, could actually help relieve those allergies!


As we continued the tour of the farm, we saw that the roof of the small building on the site was transformed into a green roof. Jo explained how the plants were able to sustain a more dry or mountain climate, like a cactus, to live on the roof. But the plants became very efficient for heating and cooling purposes. It might not seem like much, with just a few plants and rocks, but it really could make a difference in energy use.



We spent the rest of the day working in the farm itself. We helped to get the beds ready for planting of the next crops. It was a lot of hard work, but the group of us managed to get a great amount of work done. The weeding we did will be really beneficial to the plants that will grow there in the future.




The farm now helps so many people in the community. Twice a week throughout the summer and until Thanksgiving, the farm sells their produce at the farm as well as at a local farmers market. There is no grocery store in the neighborhood, so the people don’t have many options when it comes to receiving fresh fruits and vegetables. The farm is working hard to change that. It was really fulfilling to be able to help out such a great initiative that is really changing the community and even Philly as a whole to live healthier lives.


-Sarae Gdovin

Urban Agriculture: Space and Soils

Last Tuesday, a friend and I attended a meeting for the Temple Community Garden here at Temple University. I wanted to go to their meetings before as gardening is my favorite hobby but never could seem to make it to them. When I came to Temple, I thought I would only be able to keep house plants and plant a garden in my hometown in the summer. I was thrilled to find out that I could participate in a garden project right in the middle of Philly. Although I wished I had started working with them earlier, I made a specific point to add them to my list of resources for the stewardship project for Green vs. Grey. At the meeting, I was shocked and disappointed to find out that the space TCG had for their garden was going to be taken away by the school only to be replaced by a parking lot. In light of the irony of this recent update, I began to realize the sacredness of space in a city.


Community gardens have been the cornerstone of each and every civilization and its people. Despite the trendiness of urban gardening, growing food for consumption is one of the most rudimentary things humans can do and carries great benefits. Authors of “Rethinking Urban Poverty: A Look at Community Gardens”, Autumn K. Hanna and Pikai Oh of Penn State University, cite a study sponsored by the Penn State Cooperative Extension saying, “…urban gardeners in Philadelphia ate more fresh produce from their gardens for at least 5 months of the year than a statistical control group of nongardeners (Blair, Giesecke, &Sherman, 1991). Many gardens shared fresh produce with neighbors and with their church” (Hanna, Pikai 2000). Vegetable gardening is necessary for life and often promotes a healthy demeanor and mental approach.  But, with the constraints of a city, urban community gardens and their caretakers often face a much greater challenge.

Space in a city is an issue that extends far beyond urban agriculture. Space in a city is sparse and coveted and there are often few areas of vast open space. Due to the lack of large amount of private space, urban dwellers often rely on community gardens to feel close to nature. A case study conducted by Ishwarbhai C. Patel, a County Agricultural Agent specializing in urban gardening, cites a 1982 Gallup Poll showed that “more than three million Americans garden at community sites; an additional seven million would garden if land were available and 76% of those polled would like community gardens to be a permanent part of their communities” (Patel, 1991). While the lack of space was a problem over twenty years ago, increasing concern comes in the statistics of the 2010 Census. According to the national poll, the population in metropolitan areas in the Unites States increased by over 10% from 2000 to 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). It is also reported that over four-fifths or 83.7% of the U.S. population resides in cities (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).

On top of a lack of space, urban gardeners are often faced with very poor quality soil. Urban soils often hold remnants of buildings and other debris. According to a 2000 study “Urban Soil Management: A Growing Concern”, the layers of urban soils are often uncharacteristic of healthy soil and can be traced to anthropogenic sources. The layers of the soil are often heavily inundated with pollution and inorganic matter and soil becomes compacted and loses its health benefits. Unhealthy city soil Urban soils often contain many contaminants unless properly treated. Not unlike air pollution, soil pollution can be very detrimental to crops and not safe for growing crops to be consumed (De Kimpe, Morel). Although urban gardening has many great benefits, often it comes with a challenge.

Example of unhealthy city soil

Source: (De Kimpe, Morel, 2000)

Healthy soil Diagram

Source: (Cain, 2010)

For more information on urban farming, soil quality, and alternative to city soil:           Gardening.aspx


Works Cited

De Kimpe, C. R., and M. Jean-Louis. “Urban Soil Management: A Growing Concern: Soil

            Science.” LWW Journals 165.1 (2000): 31-40. Web. 30 Mar. 2011.

Hanna, A. K., and P. Oh. “Rethinking Urban Poverty: A Look at Community Gardens.” Bulletin

            of Science, Technology & Society 20.3 (2000): 207-16. Print.

Mackun, Paul, and W. Steven. “Population Distribution and Change 2000-2010.” U.S. Census

            Bureau. (2011). Web. 30 Mar. 2011.

Patel, Ishwarbhai C.”Gardening’s Socioeconomic Impacts.” Journal of Extension 29.4

            (1991). Web. 30 Mar. 2011.