Monthly Archives: August 2015

Mark Your Calendar: The Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council Inaugural Meeting 9/24

FoodPolicyCouncilMembers

Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council

Invites YOU to its

 Inaugural Meeting

 September 24th

4-6 p.m.

Friends,

After nine months of working with key stakeholders in the Lehigh Valley food system, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley and fifteen other founding organizations, including RenewLV, are inviting you to the Inaugural Meeting of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council’s first formal membership meeting.

With one in ten people hungry in the Lehigh Valley, and exciting opportunities before us to grow the local food economy, we don’t have a moment to spare.

Since the end of the EnvisionLV process in 2014, a Founders Team of key stakeholders have been gathering and developing strategies through public engagement events organized by RenewLV.  Now we are ready to announce a formal Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council on Thursday, September 24th, and YOU are invited!

In the last year we’ve had some dynamic and informative events, discussions and collaborations on the topic of the region’s food economy. Through these earlier community-building events, over 150 residents and local organizations have participated in the development of the council. The event on September 24th will give you an opportunity to connect with others interested in this exciting topic and find your place within the now formal structure of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council in one of the nine working groups.

Why is the Lehigh Valley mobilizing a Food Policy Council now?  To resolve the hunger crisis in the Lehigh Valley and to take advantage of opportunities within the region to grow the local food economy.

1)  Food access is not a given for every resident of the Lehigh Valley.  Almost 75,000 people – one in ten – are relying on the food banks monthly.  In 2014, United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley pledged to reduce food insecurity by 50% in the Valley by 2022.

2) Growing the local food economy and preserving farmland in the process will create great economic opportunities.  “If each of the 241,047 households in the Valley were to spend just $10 per week on locally grown foods during the growing season, would result in the annual generation of $97 million in economic activity.

On Thursday, September 24 from 4:00-6:00 pm at Sacred Heart Hospital in Allentown you can join the Lehigh Valley’s New Food Revolution at the Inaugural Meeting of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council.

Across the country food policy councils have effected positive change in their local food systems.  The creation of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council is a recommendation of Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley’s Assessment Report:  Lehigh Valley Food Economy.  In 2014 the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission published “1LV,” a summary document of the EnvisionLV HUD-funded sustainability planning effort.  This report documented 31 regional sustainability goals, four of which the fulfilment of would move the Lehigh Valley toward a healthier local food economy.   The Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council will work to implement these 1LV goals and the other recommendations from the Assessment Report:  Lehigh Valley Food Economy.

Who should participate?

Any person, organization or company can be a member of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council.  This council will continue to move forward with the regional work on food access and food economy through the nine working groups of the council.  If you are interested in solving any of these tough regional problems, you should join on September 24th:

1) Food Access – limited access, government assistance, emergency resources, traditional retail markets, non-traditional urban markets

2) Consumer Education – healthy diets, where to find nutritious food

3) Urban Agriculture – community gardens, urban farms, alternative food resources

4) Food Waste – food recovery, composting, gleaning

5) Land Use – farmland preservation

6) Promoting Local Food Economy – farm to school, community education

7) Farming – farmers, farms, new farmer training, capacity and production

8) Distribution – infrastructure, processing, aggregation, distribution, wholesale buyers, farms to institutions

9) Entrepreneurship – growing the local food economy through starting and scaling up food and beverage businesses

There is no cost to attend this event, but space is limited so pre-registration is required.  To reserve your spot, click here.

Or, send an email to:  smartgrowth@renewlv.org.

The seventeen collaborating organizations comprising the Founders Team include:  Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, RenewLV, the Nurture Nature Center, Community Action Committee of the Lehigh Valley, Counties of Northampton and Lehigh, the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley, CADCA – Jordan Heights Neighborhood Revitalization, Second Harvest Food Bank of the Greater Lehigh Valley, Rodale Institute, Sodexo, Lafayette College, Seven Generation Charter School, St. Luke’s University Health Network, the Lehigh Valley Health Network, New Bethany Ministries and Penn State Cooperative Extension Office.

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Change Your Food, Change Your Life. Grow Your Food, Save Your Life

PepperonRoofIII
The FabFoto/Smart Quote Returns – “Change Your Food, Change Your Life!”

I recently had the pleasure of running into Chad Helmer and Donna Taggart of Taggart Associates at the corner of 7th and Hamilton streets in Allentown, last week after the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation’s Conversation & Cocktails event featuring, Dennis Davin, the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED).

They told me how much they missed RenewLV’s FabFoto/Smart Quote feature…so by popular demand, this week we are bringing it back!

Today we offer you a super quote from Ron Finley, guerrilla gardener with The Ron Finley Project. You may know about this Los Angeles-based activist from an influential TED talk that went viral. His language is sometimes a little edgy, but his example is very inspiring.

Ron proves that growing food in urban neighborhoods can be tranformational to the neighbors and the neighborhood. One of the biggest obstacles to growing your own food in the city is space. Finley’s “guerilla gardening” efforts started with the organization L.A. Green Grounds around 2013 when he installed a vegetable garden on the 150 x 10 foot patch of ground in front of his house. He lived in an urban area that had suffered economic decline and the citizens were sick. He was tired of “seeing wheelchairs bought and sold like used cars, tired of seeing drop-in dialysis centers popping up like Starbucks and tired of driving a 45-minute round trip to get an apple that was not impregnated with pesticide.”

Things got interesting for Ron. According to an article on TedBlog, the strip of land he planted was an area between the sidewalk and the street that is owned by the city but maintained by residents. He was issued a citation and told to remove the garden. This was followed up by a warrant for his arrest. He didn’t back down. Eventually, the city of Los Angeles backed off. After a couple years, the city changed its ordinance to allow for these urban gardens.

In an excerpt from a recent article at Co.Exist.com: The gardens help give neighborhoods control over their own food while building community. “It’s about being self-sustaining,” Finley says. “It’s about you changing your life and being responsible for your health, and for your community. It’s you taking a stand that this is mine. We’ve basically been enslaved by food companies, and they’re killing us slowly. There’s other means and other ways to supply food.”

What does this have to do with us in the Lehigh Valley? Well, we have a substantial “food security” problem. Our friends at the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley and Second Harvest Food Bank tell us that almost 70,000 people in our region of roughly 650,000 individuals (more than 10 percent) rely on the food bank monthly to eat. That’s a sobering statistic that indicates we all need to do more to end hunger in our region.

Donations to the food bank are needed and encouraged, but we consider a broader question toward self-reliance: We ask,”What role could urban agriculture – “growing your own” play in reducing or eliminating food insecurity — while improving the vitality, livability and quality of life in our neighborhoods?”

With urban agriculture, people with very little money can take the reins for improving and maintaining their own health. According to the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy, “The unequal distribution of food resources in the Lehigh Valley Have left some of its communities without access to fresh, health foods.” If you garden, you don’t need much money (free seeds are available from the America the Beautiful Fund for community gardening efforts and people with SNAP benefits can use them for seeds.) Ron Finley and others closer to home have showed us you don’t need much space to eat well and grow enough to share.

So, we thank Allentown resident, Liz Bradbury for providing us with today’s FabFoto. Liz, who snapped the picture of her pepper on the rooftop garden at her place with the PPL Tower in the background, has been using her Center City rooftop to garden for more than 20 years. She has planted extensive vegetable container gardens on the specially constructed roofs of small garages. This summer, a picture someone forwarded to us of her bounteous peach harvest called our attention to her efforts.

liz bradburyspeaches
Liz is an example of an urban organic gardener. “We grow without pesticides or synthetic fertilizer in the rich compost provided free to Allentown residents at the City’s Oxford Drive Yard Waste Site,” says Liz. “This year we’re having garden dinners with tomatoes, butter beans, green peas, carrots, onions, shallots, leeks, Swiss chard, beets, romaine, radishes, lettuce, cucumbers, spinach, collards, green beans, all sorts of peppers, celery, eggplant, strawberries, grapes, peaches and many kinds of herbs,” Bradbury adds that sweet potatoes are their easiest and biggest crop.

Urban gardening can help turn a “block” into a community. Never before have we needed the neighborliness of gardeners to help strengthen the fabric of our urban communities as we do today. Urban gardening and the natural sharing of produce can be the way relationships are started and strengthened.

“We take turns watering other families’ gardens when they’re on vacation,” says Liz’s partner, Patricia Sullivan, who has been canning grape jelly and peach preserves for the last few weeks. “We’ve had a great time all summer going for long walks around the City, watching all the exciting changes, seeing all the people having fun downtown. Whenever we see someone from the neighborhood, we give them a jar of jelly or share some vegetables. We couldn’t manage the garden without the help of neighbors.”

To improve regional food security by expanding your sphere of garden generosity, when your garden is exploding with produce, please consider sharing your bounty with one of the Lehigh Valley’s food banks. They’re always in need of fresh produce. Enter your zip code here to find the food pantry or soup kitchen nearest to you. Then, any day when you have too many tomatoes or zuchinni (or in my case, kale) you can simply drop them off to benefit our region’s citizens in need.

No matter where you live, if you’re not already a gardener, consider starting a garden. Plant an extra row for those in need, and become a part of the national movement, Grow a Row to mobilize an end to food insecurity.

Remember, urban agriculture is a way to literally bring life to our cities and boroughs. You can be like Liz Bradbury and grow peppers on your roof. Or, you can be like Ron Finley with his experience in his Los Angeles neighborhood: “It’s walking outside your door and being greeted by hummingbirds and dragonflies and bees, and a green, healthy ecosystem that’s not in these communities—it doesn’t exist. I have birds that I’d never seen in my life before coming to my garden now. And you’re filtering the air. People walk by and see beautiful things, instead of just concrete.”

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Together, we can change our lives, save our lives, change our neighborhoods and save our neighborhoods.

p.s.  Thank you to Dan Poresky for the butterfly photo!

How “Smart” is the Growth and New Development in the Lehigh Valley?

NIZ

How “smart” is the growth and new development in the Lehigh Valley?

As we watch downtown Allentown’s rebirth, the importance of using the principles of Smart Growth has been on our minds, especially as it applies to walkability.

Understanding Traditional Neighborhood Developments (TND) and their principles, we think that the development in Allentown is very “smart.”

Traditional Neighborhood Developments are urban or village-style developments (either existing neighborhoods or new ones) that include a variety of housing types, a mixture of land uses and an active center. TNDs have a connected walkable design with a transit option in a compact neighborhood. Often there is a street grid with numbered streets.

Traditionally built cities like Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton and boroughs such as Emmaus, Hellertown and Nazareth are traditional neighborhoods by definition. There used to be just one way to build. New “infill” developments that take place within these communities would qualify as TND or “Smart Growth” if they follow the principles of Smart Growth.

The Ten Principles of Smart Growth are clearly evidenced in Allentown’s resurgence. Although citizens may argue a couple of points (and we welcome lively discussions), we believe that Allentown and its NIZ demonstrate Smart Growth and are taking the city on the right (walkable) path!

According to the Smart Growth Network, the ten accepted principles that define smart growth are:

  1. Mix land uses.
  2. Take advantage of compact building design.
  3. Create a range of housing opportunities and choices.
  4. Create walkable neighborhoods.
  5. Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place.
  6. Preserve open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas.
  7. Strengthen and direct development towards existing communities.
  8. Provide a variety of transportation choices.
  9. Make development decisions predictable, fair, and cost effective.
  10. Encourage community and stakeholder collaboration in development decisions.

But what about what’s built in the Lehigh Valley’s greenfields?

Regrettably, unlike other areas of the country we have not seen nor heard evidence of real New Urbanist-style developments being built on greenfields in the Lehigh Valley.

Seasidekentlands

New Urbanist Developments like Seaside Village in FL and The Kentlands in MD provide inspiration for what is possible in compact, walkable, mixed-use new developments in the Lehigh Valley. If you are a township official or greenfield developer who is presently working on zoning for or building a new village consistent with the principles of smart growth, please let us know.

However, because people are asking for it, walkability is finding it’s way into newly constructed conventional suburban developments. It’s our position that any increase in walkability which reduces our dependence on our automobiles and connects residential areas to retail is an improvement that we can all get excited about.

After a recent drive past construction of one the region’s most anticipated commercial developments, Hamilton Crossings in Lower Macungie Township, we began to wonder about the true “walkability” of this development.

HamiltonCrossings

It’s not “Smart Growth” because it doesn’t have a mix of uses. However, we asked, “Will people in the nearby residential neighborhoods actually be able to walk safely to the stores?”

Located on the Rte. 222 bypass and Krocks Road, Hamilton Crossings is being developed by Staten Island-based developer Timothy Harrison. He has said during meetings with Lower Macungie officials that he wants this commercial venture, which will be home to restaurants and large chain stores like Costco, Target and Whole Foods, to be “walkable.” He said that he wants to model it after the Promenade Shops in Saucon Valley.
Walking at the Promenade is easy, safe and there are sidewalks and beautiful outdoor common spaces – but it’s not connected to residential development nearby. At Hamilton Crossings there are residential neighborhoods within walking distance. Our hope is that residents who live near all new suburban development will be able to walk safely to commercial destinations.
By next summer Hamilton Crossings will be open. How walkable will it be?

hamilton crossings, 2
Good news. It turns out — surprisingly walkable – especially for people who live ½ mile east of Hamilton Boulevard. According to Sara Pandl, Lower Macungie Township’s planner, people who live in the areas east of the shopping mall will have a continuous dedicated walkway to the stores from their neighborhoods (including Shepherd Hills, Harvest Fields, Westwoods, Meadowick Condominiums and Hamilton Fields). Thanks to funding from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and an easement from PPL, a half-mile trail will be built in the PPL corridor (where all the power lines are located) east of the shopping mall.
“There also will be walkways along the entire stretch of Krocks Road and there are a couple miles of walkways inside the project itself,” Pandl said.
More good news. On the west side of the Rte. 222 bypass, Pandl said the township is currently working to get a walkway installed from Country Meadows, as well as a bike lane. The goal, according to Pandl, is to make Hamilton Boulevard a “Complete Street” – which means “multi-modal,” or with more than one type of transportation mode having access to it. Along those lines, good work has been done by Lower Macungie Township in the development of their Hamilton Blvd. Study by the Kairos Design Group. It conceives of a “Complete Streets” model for that corridor, calling for pedestrian and bicycle intrastructure that interconnects with transit to make it easier to get around without your car.
Retrofitting suburban communities to be walkable has been a challenge, but is not impossible, as evidence by this study and the work of citizen activist, Jim Palmquist. His herculean efforts are changing the face and function of Lower Macungie Township.

If you are a planner or traffic engineer or a municipal official who hires these professionals, there are resources to help you make our Lehigh Valley communites more walkable and bikeable — “smarter.” The American Planning Association, APA, has partnered with the National Complete Streets Coalition to develop a guide for planners who want to include complete streets in their designs.

We encourage you to:

  • If you’re a planner or traffic engineer, become versant in “Complete Streets” and help retrofit the streets of the Lehigh Valley.
  • Tired of maintaining your yard? Live a less auto-dependent lifestyle by moving to a traditional neighborhood like those found in the cities and boroughs of our region. As of last month, Stratta, the high end apartments in downtown Allentown are now available to rent!
  • Make your local municipal officials aware that you want pedestrian connectivity in your community. Be like Jim Palmquist and keep asking. Don’t give up.
  • If you’re a local planning commissioner or elected offical, support sidewalk ordinances and resist the temptation to hand out variances. Take the stand of Emmaus Borough Council President, Lee Gilbert. She recently told me when I asked her what her position on sidewalks is, “You’ve got to put them in.”
  • Pass TND ordinances.  Here’s one from Montgomery County, PA.
  • Stay informed of what is going on around the country and the Lehigh Valley regarding Smart Growth through our RenewLV Facebook page. “Like us” and leave comments.
  • If you want to connect in person, send me an email at smartgrowth@renewlv.org or give me a call at 484-893-1060.
  • To get plugged in, consider serving on one of our dynamic committees: Farmland Preservation, Food Sustainability, Smart Transportation or Smart Growth Education and Outreach — or help volunteer for our full-day conference, the Summit for Smart Growth and Sustainable Communities on December 4th.If you’ve appreciated our emails or events and if you want to continue to connect with others who support smart growth, sustainability and municipal cooperation, please contribute to our financial health by making a donation today. Over 700 people “like” us on Facebook. However, nothing says you really “like” us as much as showing financial support. Please become a real friend and give today.

Thank you for all that you do to learn about and implement smart growth, sustainability and municipal cooperation in the Lehigh Valley. Together we are making a difference!