Help Needed: Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday


Important Farmland Preservation Vote Before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday

by Julie Thomases and Ron Beitler, RenewLV Board Members

An important vote is coming before Lehigh County Commissioners on Wednesday Oct. 14 regarding the funding of farmland preservation.  Lehigh County Commissioner Percy Dougherty ( R ), representing District 2 that includes Lower Macungie and Upper Macungie Townships, Macungie and Alburtis, has proposed an amendment to the 2016 budget to allocate $500,000 to a municipal match farmland preservation program.  On Wednesday, October 14th, the Lehigh County Commissioners will vote on this proposal.  We need you to contact Lehigh County commissioners whom you know and let them know of your support of farmland preservation and this proposal.  Also, please attend the meeting on Wed. evening at 7:30 p.m. at the Lehigh County Government Center.

If approved, these funds together with state matching funds, will allow the Country to leverage its $500,000 into more than $2,000,000 for farmland preservation through the purchase of conservation easements.  Additionally, townships, townships would be able to participate by leveraging their contributions for a 50% to 130% return.

This proposal and its matching feature is modeled after Northampton’s successful municipal farmland preservation partnership program.

Why is this vote so important? According to the Assessment Report: Lehigh Valley Food Economy, “The biggest challenge facing the Lehigh Valley’s local food economy is the loss of farmland to development.”  According to the Census of Agriculture, between 2002 and 2012 the Lehigh and Northampton counties lost 26,785 acres of farmland to development.  Lehigh County alone lost 14,973 acres.  Additionally, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission in their Profile and Trends report from 2014 projects growth of 146,000 people in the next 20 years, a 22% increase, creating even more pressure to develop farmland. The farms, farmers, and the local food economy are at risk of being destroyed by development.

Living in Pennsylvania, the stories about California’s record drought and the plight of their farmers seem far away,   But what happens there affects us here.  A significant percentage of the food we eat in the Lehigh Valley comes from California.  With California struggling with a massive water crisis, it’s time for the Lehigh Valley to take an important look at farmland preservation – for a very practical reason – it is critical for us to source more of our food closer to home.

The Assessment Report also highlights opportunities for the Lehigh Valley.  “The local food economy generates $17 million in economic activity for the Lehigh Valley annually and has the potential to contribute much more.  If residents spent just $10/week on locally grown food, nearly $100 million in economic activity would be generated annually, providing jobs, business incubation and expansion, and economic growth for our local farms, businesses and service providers,” (page 1).
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has a goal of preserving approximately 25% of the land in Lehigh and Northampton County for agriculture.   In Lehigh County, 25% equals 55,743 acres.   34,328 acres have already been saved.  With current funding levels it won’t happen.  In Lehigh County, approximately 375 acres are currently being preserved per year versus between 1000 and 1,500 acres per year being developed.   In order to meet LVPC’s 25% goal we need funding increases now.
This is how preservation funding works:  The preservation of farmland is accomplished through the purchase of agricultural easements (also known as purchase of development rights) on eligible Lehigh County farm properties.  The state matches every local dollar.  For example, in 2015 Lehigh County allocated $250,000 to farmland preservation.  Subsequently, Lehigh County received a match from the state of $1, 250,000, allowing for a total of $1,509,090 to be directed toward preserving approximately 375 acres of farmland.

Although this is a move in the right direction, with the present rate of development, if we expect to reach the Lehigh Valley Planning Commissions regional goal of preserving 25% of land for agriculture as stated in the region’s comprehensive plan, we must ramp up direct funding for farmland preservation.

We think this is a smart way to do it…leveraging state dollars with county and local dollars.

We may not be facing a crisis on the scale of California’s drought.  But unlike a drought, the threats to our local farmland are things we have the power to control.  Let’s ensure that the Lehigh Valley is as food self-sufficient as possible.

Farmland Preservation is important to RenewLV; it is one of our four initiatives.  We will be keeping a farmland preservation candidate scorecard which we will distribute before the election.  But, it’s not only important to us but the entire region.  Farmland Preservation is an important driver of farm and food-based businesses and economic development.

The Lehigh County commissioners’ meeting on Wednesday will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Public Hearing Room of the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 South Seventh Street, Allentown, PA,

Parking is available in the Walnut and Church Streets Lot.  See you there!

As a Region, Are We Leaving Money on the Table?

Food Policy Meeting Oct 29 2015 REV 

As a Region, Are We Leaving Money on the Table?

At least 8.4 million people live 90 miles east of the Lehigh Valley in New York City. Yet produce is transported right by us from communities as far west of us as California and as close as Lancaster County. This food is headed to what might be the most lucrative market in the country and we should be capitalizing on our proximity to it.  A friend of RenewLV who works with a large food service company, believes that $200 million of what his firm spends on food could be sourced locally.  Another friend of ours who runs an organic catering business claims that there isn’t enough organic product for her to buy, even though organic produce would garner a premium price for the farmers or producers.

How can we fill the gaps in the regional food system so that producers make more money and farmland is preserved?

We would like to help local food and beverage entrepreneurs and the farmers who support them make more money, in other words, “grow the local food economy.”  We believe that if we are smarter about growing our local food economy, then more farmers will improve profits and keep their land in production, thus preserving farmland!

Join us for a lunch/discussion from noon to 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 29th. The event is titled “Making Connections.” We’ll be delving into another facet of supporting food and beverage entrepreneurship and the ways that area farmers, food and beverage entrepreneurs and local producers can scale up their businesses by understanding the perspectives of distributors and institutional buyers.

This event has been especially designed for farmers and food producers.  So if this is you, please clear your calendar and plan to come!  There is no cost to attend, thanks to the sponsorship of Samuel Adams, Brewing the American Dream.  Space is limited, so reserve your spot early!

We hope to see you at noon the Fowler Center on Bethlehem’s South Side, 511 East Third Street, 6th Floor. Scroll down for more information about the luncheon.

Meet the Panelists for “Making Connections”

Jon Middleton, director of culinary operations at Muhlenberg College Dining Services

Middleton, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, has used local, seasonal, sustainable and natural ingredients in his restaurants since the late 1970’s. He now grows his own on his 13 acre farm in southeastern Pennsylvania. He is interested in increasing the use of locally grown food in large institutions.

Food prepared by Middleton and his team, GrowLV, will be featured at the The Seed Farm’s 5th annual Farm-to-Table Dinner and Auction, Sunday, Oct. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. which supports the Seed Farm‘s programs to “grow new farmers.” Grow LV is a consortium of Sodexo culinary teams in the Lehigh Valley sourcing fresh, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients.

Frank J. Baldassarre, owner Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC

Baldassarre has extensive entrepreneurial experience as an owner and principal in Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters and Artisan Exchange West Chester LLC. He brings more than 30 years of experience in the financial services sector, including executive level experience at a number of the regions’ banks. He possesses extensive managerial, lending, accounting and regulatory knowledge that has been instrumental in the success of both projects.

Golden Valley is a family-owned and operated artisan coffee roaster in West Chester, Pa. They specialize in roasting a large variety of organic, shade-grown, bird-friendly, and fair trade coffees.

Artisan Exchange, which operates out of the same building as Golden Valley Farms Coffee Roasters, offers small-scale dedicated manufacturing space to food entrepreneurs in a fully-equipped 27,000 square foot manufacturing and distribution center. The Exchange was a finalist for the PA Governor’s Small Business Impact Award this year. Baldassarre is interested in bringing a similar turn-key operation to the Lehigh Valley, so if you are a small-scale prepared food business operator — or want to be — and need legal prep space you will want to come to the event to meet Frank.

Andrew Puglia, procurement manager for the Farmer Outreach program at Common Market based in Philadelphia

Common Market works to build strong relationships with farmers and producers in our region to ensure that they procure the highest quality local farm food available. The Farmer Outreach team coordinates with farmers on crop planning based on customer’s needs and conducts annual audits of our farmers’ growing practices.

Common Market connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware by marketing and distributing good food to schools, hospitals, grocers and workplaces. They aggregate food in our warehouse from about 75 regional producers and deliver six days a week to almost 150 public and private schools, colleges and universities, hospitals, workplaces, grocery stores, nonprofits and faith institutions throughout the Delaware Valley.

Cynthia James, Rodale Institute – Training a new generation of organic farmers

Cynthia, from Rodale Institute, will be available to answer questions about how farmers, even small-scale hobby farmers, can get organic certification.  Come hear how they are available to hold your hand through the organic certification process.

Cynthia James is the Program Manager for the Agriculture Supported Communities (ASC) Program at the Rodale Institute.

The Rodale Institute is a 501 c(3) non-profit organization dedicated to improving the health and well-being of people and the planet through organic leadership, specifically through research and education programming.  Started by J.I. Rodale in 1947, the Rodale Institute is considered the birthplace of organic agriculture in this country.

Additionally, Rodale Institute’s hands-on educational programs are ideal for aspiring organic farmers and food-systems advocates. They provide experiential, skills-based education in organic farming. Students get a unique and comprehensive education by participating in all aspects of Rodale Institute’s diverse farm operation, learning from educators in the classroom and in the field alongside our team of experts.

RenewLV has a Farmland Preservation Committee, a Food Sustainability Committee and a Smart Transportation Committee. If you’d like to support our efforts, please reach out to us at  We also work on food issues together with our food policy partners under the larger umbrella of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council.  If you’d like to support these efforts, please let us know. 

Renew Lehigh Valley is a non-profit organization committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance in order to revitalize our core communities, preserve open space, and establish an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for our region’s future growth.

If you have attended one of our events and appreciate the work we do,  please support RenewLV financially with a donation by clicking here for online donations, or send a check to RenewLV at 1337 East Fifth Street, Bethlehem, PA 18015.  In order to continue to engage the public in our important work, we need your help.

Thank you for your interest and involvement in our cause.  I’m looking forward to continuing to work together with you to be a catalyst for action!

We maintain social media to keep you informed of the latest opportunities and issues related to our work. We invite you to connect with RenewLV through:

A copy of the official registration and financial information for Renew Lehigh Valley may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling, toll-free within Pennsylvania 1-800-732-0999.  Registration does not imply endorsement.

Is Passenger Rail to Eastern PA Dead or Alive?

Passenger Rail Forum


Today I received a notice from April Niver the economic development coordinator from Congressman Cartwright’s office inviting me and others to a forum with PA Secretary of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Administrator next Tuesday.  The topic?  Commuter Rail.

“Hmmm,” I thought. Just last week I heard that someone in a leadership position in the region had declared passenger rail dead in the Lehigh Valley.  Yet, the mayors of the cities periodically come out and support it.  So what is it…dead or alive?

Apparently, alive.   And, if the Poconos are exploring this idea, doesn’t it make sense that the Lehigh Valley actively be exploring it, too?  Commuter rail could be an economic driver to the region, supporting investment in our cities and boroughs.  It’s Smart Growth.

Forum On Bringing Commuter Rail Service to Northeastern Pennsylvania via the New Jersey Transit System

Tuesday, October 13, from 1:00 – 3:15 p.m.

The Horizon  Ballroom at the Inn at Pocono Manor

1 Manor Drive (off of Route 314), Pocono Manor, PA 18349

Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Transportation, the Honorable Leslie Richards; the Federal Transit Administration’s Acting Administrator, the Honorable Therese McMillan; and representatives from New Jersey Transit will be on hand to listen to community leaders and commuter rail advocates from Monroe County and surrounding northeastern Pennsylvania make the case for extending commuter rail service to Monroe County, connecting northeastern Pennsylvania with the New Jersey rail transit system.

The public is invited to view the proceedings, which begin at 2:00 p.m. and run until 3:13 p.m.  The Horizon Ballroom will feature a 150-seat audience section.

There will be a reception prior to the formal presentations from 1:00 – 2:00 p.m., also in the Horizon Ballroom.

On the docket is a long-standing proposal to extend the western end of NJ Transit’s Morristown/Montclair-Boonton commuter line by way of the 28-mile stretch of existing rail track bed known as the Lackawanna Cut-Off.  In the early part of the 20th century, the Delaware Lackawanna and Western Railroad constructed a level-graded route from Roxbury, NJ to just over the Delaware River in order to serve as a faster, more direct route between existing rail lines in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  The Lackawanna Cut-Off, as it became known, was unfortunately abandoned in the 1970s, and 28 miles of track were removed.

Over the last couple of decades, however, as commuter traffic from northeastern Pennsylvania to northern New Jersey has increased, leaders in northeastern Pennsylvania have worked on a commuter/passenger rail service restoration initiative.  Each day, tens of thousands of people commute east from Monroe and surrounding counties over congested Pennsylvania and New Jersey highways, and this will only grow worse with the widening of the Panama Canal, population growth in northeastern Pennsylvania, and increases in population and job opportunities in New Jersey and New York.  With the simultaneous increases in truck traffic that the Interstate 80 areas will inevitably face as a major trucking corridor, an investment in re-completing the former passenger rail line as a commuter route could represent an effective way for both Pennsylvania and New Jersey to meet their surface transportation needs.

Parties interested in this topic are encouraged to attend the 1:00 – 2:00 p.m. reception and to view the 2:00 – 3:15 p.m. presentations on October 13.

If you plan on attending, space is limited, so reach out to April Niver at and let her know you’ll be there, or call her at 484-546-0776.

RenewLV has a Smart Transportation Committee that is supportive of transportation choice, of us getting around on foot, in a wheelchair, by bike, by bus, by car, by light rail between our cities and by passenger rail.  If you’d like to support our efforts, please reach out to me.

Be a Part of the New Food Revolution in the Lehigh Valley

Be a Part of the New Food Revolution in the Lehigh Valley

Flyer Food Policy Council September 2015 6Aug15
75,000 people are food insecure in the Lehigh Valley, more than one in ten of the total population across Lehigh and Northampton Counties. Food security is a term that means more than hunger: it also means regular access to nutritious food. If a family chronically skips a meal, or is under-nourished, they are food insecure. Our region is the home to eight low food access areas, all of which are low-income, with low-access to a grocery store.

Since the release of the EnvisionLV assessment report: Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy, produced by Buy Fresh Buy Local of the Greater Lehigh Valley, stakeholders in the form of a Founders Team have been gathering and organizing through public engagement events organized by RenewLV. In 2014, The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission produced “1LV” report which included four goals for building a sustainable local food economy. The Founders Team are ready to announce a formal Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council launch and invite others to populate nine working groups.

Any person, organization or company can be a member of the Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council. This council will continue work on food access and food economy issues in the form of ten working groups of the council to convene at this event:

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 and Organic Agriculture – community gardens, urban farms, alternative food resources, transitioning to organic
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
This is a collaboration of seventeen founding partners that 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.
Click to RSVP or call 484-893-1060.
***Please bring a non-perishable food item***

RenewLV Executive Director to Present at TEDxLehighRiver Event 9/18

RenewLV Executive Director to Present at Upcoming TEDx-LehighRiver Event


Sept. 8, 2015 – (Bethlehem,PA) Organizers at TEDx-LehighRiver recently announced that Joyce Marin, executive director of RenewLV – the region’s voice for smart growth and governmental cooperation – will be one of the six speakers for the Sept. 19th event at Miller Symphony Hall.

Marin’s talk Our Lives Depend On It will highlight the need for smart transportation or more robust “multi-modal” transportation planning in the Lehigh Valley. Marin’s passion stems from her professional experience in downtown revitalization and traditional neighborhoods gained from her education and service in government. Her academiccredentials include the Knight Fellowship in Community Building 2001, University of Miami School of Architecture, considered the center of New Urbanism. There, Marin toured many new urbanist traditional neighborhood developments and met the many of the leading thinkers and practitioners in smart growth today.

All presentations will follow a theme that revolves around a well-known George Bernard Shaw quote: “You see things and say, why? But I dream things that never were and say, why not?”

“I am honored and inspired by this opportunity,” said Marin. “Transportation planning is critical and touches our lives in so many ways. I’m dedicated to pedestrian safety and every aspect of multi-modal transportation fascinates me – walking, biking, transit and the potential for light rail and passenger rail in our region.”  Marin is also interested in how transportation systems interconnect in the region, creating a network of mobility and economic opportunity for communities.

TEDx programs are the localized version of TED Talks and are designed to help people and organizations spark conversation and connection within their community. The presentations are a combination of technology, entertainment and design and are limited to between three to 18 minutes.

Other speakers include:

Lauren Villaverde: an engineer and entrepreneur from Bethlehem. Villaverde is fusing her technical background with entrepreneurial studies to answer the nation’s call for more science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers.

George Hrab: an accomplished musician from Bethlehem and drummer for The Philadelphia Funk Authority. Hrab has traveled to four continents, promoting critical thinking, science and skepticism through story and song.

Liz Jordon: an Emmaus yoga instructor who owns Clear Path Wellness of the Lehigh Valley.

Michael Brolly: a Bethlehem wood-turning artist, teacher and environmentalist.

Katherine Moore: a Bethlehem professor at Moravian Academy who will talk about an experiential class concept.

To pick the speakers, it was “a rigorous process,” said TedXLehighRiver Organizer David Willard on the event’s website. “The committee for TEDxLehighRiver used social media to request applicants to speak. More than 40 people applied.”

The website goes on to report that Willard, who is retired after a 31-year career at Olympus Corp. of the Americas based in Center Valley, said the theme for this year’s event was chosen to promote creative ideas.

A six-person team for TEDxLehighRiver reviewed the applicants’ ideas, along with a two-minute audio segment from each.

The event will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19 at Miller Symphony Hall, 23 N. 6th St., in Allentown. Tickets cost $40 (student price: $15) and are available online. For more information, visit

Tickets can be purchased at

Breaking RenewLV News: Board Members Now on LVPC and Lehigh County Farmland Preservation Board

Two RenewLV Board Members Appointed to Planning Positions in the Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem, PA (Sept. 1, 2015) – RenewLV is pleased to announce that recently board members Julie Thomases and Ron Beitler were appointed to two important planning boards. Thomases, an Allentown native, was appointed to the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission, and Beitler, a Lower Macungie Township commissioner, was appointed to Lehigh County’s Sterling Raber Farmland Preservation Board.

Lehigh County Commissioners recently voted unanimously to appoint both board members. Thomases joins about 30 planners from Lehigh and Northampton counties on the LVPC and Beitler is one of nine members of the  preservation board.

Referencing Thomases’ appointment, Lehigh Valley Commissioner Dr. Percy Dougherty said, “I think she’s a really great addition to the LVPC. We need someone to represent the interests of the city. She’s been very active in several different organizations, not only in terms of benefiting the city but also as a major advocate of farmland preservation.

Thomases represents the fourth district, which includes the western part of Allentown.

Beitler will work with the Bureau of Agricultural Land Preservation to preserve farmland within Lehigh County as a member of the Sterling Raber Farmland Preservation Board. Permanent preservation of farmland is accomplished through the purchase of conservation easements on eligible county farm properties. As of January 2015, the county has protected 257 farms covering 21,240 acres with perpetual agricultural easements.

Julie Thomases

Thomases retired in 2014 from her fourteen-year position as executive director of Embrace Your Dreams, a local youth development organization that served more than 10,000 Lehigh Valley children.

“I now have more time to dedicate to community service. I can think of no better way to ensure that our future generations experience a high quality of life than by participating in the regional planning process,” said Thomases.

Thomases currently serves on the newly formed Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council (LVFPC) that was a recommendation of the EnvisionLV process. Part of her interest in serving on the LVPC is related to her desire to implement the ideas put forth in the EnvisionLV Assessment Report: The Lehigh Valley Local Food Economy. These include growing our local food economy and reducing food insecurity.

“These goals are critically important now, as currently more than 10 percent of the region’s citizens are relying monthly on the region’s food banks to meet their food needs,” said Thomases.  In addition, 50 percent of the region’s food comes from California, underscoring the need for the area to be more food self-sufficient.

Joyce Marin, executive director of RenewLV said, “I’ve known Julie Thomases for many years and she cares deeply about the quality of life of Lehigh Valley residents.  She is knowledgeable about many issues that are important to residents, RenewLV and LVPC – from transportation and air quality to creating a more self-sufficient economy, and ensuring that the region’s natural resources are protected.  Julie is committed to understanding the complexities of the issues and doing the research needed to make an informed decision.

Ron Beitler

Beitler is a Lower Macungie Commissioner and farmland preservation advocate. According to Beitler’s Facebook pages, he said, “While the (Lehigh County farmland preservation) program remains funded currently at some level, a few years ago it was slashed substantially. We believe if a community truly values preservation the only way to do so permanently is to step up and purchase development rights. This is also the only fair way to treat landowners. Preservation by zoning is both political (therefore not permanent) and unfair.”

He went on to say in his Facebook post that he plans to push for a fully funded farmland preservation program by encouraging Lehigh County Commissioners to cash in on matching funds from the state. He added, “Along with our friends at RenewLV we hope to follow this issue closely in the upcoming Lehigh County Commissioner Election. They are the decision makers in terms of restoring funding to the program through the County budget process.”

Joyce Marin stated, “Ron has done a great job of understanding farmland preservation issues as they relate to local zoning and the county program. He is knowledgeable about the issues, and understands how to move the process forward to create change.  He is committed to improving preserving the quality of life in this region. He will be an asset to the farmland preservation board.”

Renew Lehigh Valley is a non-profit organization committed to promoting smart growth and smart governance in order to revitalize our core communities, preserve open space, and establish an economically and environmentally sustainable foundation for our region’s future growth.

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


Lehigh Valley Food Policy Council

Invites YOU to its

 Inaugural Meeting

 September 24th

4-6 p.m.


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:

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.

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

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 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.”


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?


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.


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.


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 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!

No loss of life from traffic fatalities is acceptable


What Does This Sign and What Do These Shoes Have in Common?  

No Loss of Life from Traffic Deaths is Acceptable 

A traffic safety campaign called Vision Zero, now adopted by Mayors around the world, and a flash mob of dancers dressed in yellow (stay with me…the entertaining video is at the end of this message) at Johns Hopkins are trying to tell us something:  We need to work harder for safer travel.

A new study, Cities Safer by Design by World Resources Institute and the WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities cites seven compelling suggestions to increase travel safety.  

Globally, 1.2 million people are killed in traffic crashes every year.  That’s a tough number to get one’s mind around.   According the WRI study, that number is expected to rise as vehicle fleets grow, to become the 5th largest cause of death by 2030. In the US almost 40,000 people die in car crashes annually, a Vietnam War on our streets and highways each year.

Regionally, there were 66 people who died in traffic-related deaths in the Lehigh Valley, 37 in Lehigh County and 29 in Northampton County in 2014, according to Penn DOT.

We think that even one is too many.  

Too many of us have lost someone we love to a tragic accident.  Just this week a motorcyclist fatality occurred in Emmaus when the motorcyclist collided with a dump truck.

Penn DOT officials say traffic fatalities are down.  That’s good.  They’ve invested $50 million over the past five years for road safety improvements like rumble strips.  But while statistics show that while overall crashes are down, there is still room for improvement. Crashes involving heavy trucks, for instance, increased in Lehigh and Northampton counties from 385 in 2013 to 403 in 2014. This number could prove even more troubling given the fact that the area’s freight economy is expected to double by the year 2040.

What can we do?

The WRI study has seven recommendations to improve safety:

  1. Tap into the expertise of all road users. To build a successful safe and friendly city, consultations with all the road users are imperative. Different users are the experts on their own needs.

Given the fact that pedestrian traffic-related deaths increased in Lehigh County in 2014 – we should be talking to area walkers/runners. PennDOT reports that “pedestrian-related crashes represent 3.3 percent of total reported crashes but account for 13.9 percent of all traffic crash deaths. Bicycle crashes represent 1.1 percent of the total reported crashes and 1.6 percent of all traffic deaths. Although these percentages are small, they still represent  19 bicyclist deaths and 1,298 injuries in 2014.”

  1. Engage multiple sectors. Government cannot do it alone. Encourage public and private partners from multiple sectors to take part in the effort to be more inclusive of all road users, both as a business opportunity and a moral imperative. Museums, theaters, grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, churches, and block associations can all be leaders in creating safe and friendly cities.

Don’t miss opportunities to comment on regional planners’ comprehensive transportation plans.  The Draft LVPC Freight Plan is available for review and comment until Aug. 2nd. 

  1. Recognize that a safe travel environment is a contributor to the economy.

Take a walk down any Main Street and this point becomes crystal clear.  Emmaus, Hellertown, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Macungie and Alburtis all have Main Streets where economic vitality has been demonstrated through improved and safer pedestrian environments.  If you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands when you get out of your car, you’re probably not going to support the businesses on that street.

  1. Ensure that pedestrians, bicyclists, transit and bus passengers know about existing opportunities and resources.

One tool available is The Federal Highway Association’s  The Road Diet Guide.  “Road Diets will be one of FHWA’s 2015 Every Day Counts (EDC) Initiatives, in which FHWA works with state, local, and industry partners to deploy new innovations. Road diets help balance street space between vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit, and they can improve mobility and access for all road users, reduce crashes and injuries, and improve quality of life.”

  1. Adopt a “safe-in-everything” approach to community planning and the design process. Redesign street intersections with the safety of all road users in mind. Focus on areas near shops and services and on areas with high rates of pedestrian injuries. Add public seating on streets in accordance with location recommendations from pedestrians.

In 2014,  The U.S. Department of Transportation presented a report titled, Safer People, Safer Streets: Summary of U.S. Department of Transportation Action Plan to Increase Walking and Biking and Reduce Pedestrian and Bicyclist Fatalities. The report states: “With the increase in biking and walking, the potential for conflict between motorized and nonmotorized travelers has also increased. Since 2009, fatalities have been increasing for bicyclists and pedestrians. In 2012, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities were over 16 percent of all traffic-related fatalities.”

  1. Advocate for improvements in public transportation. Focus on making transportation safe, accessible, and welcoming to all users. Good lighting, clear signage, and courteous drivers can be just as important as having an appropriate infrastructure in place.

In the Lehigh Valley, we could do more to “Love the LANta bus” and to advocate for the pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to link to the transit system.  “Streetscaping” or outfitting commercial “Main Street” communities with decorative street lights, benches, banners, street trees, planters and patterned crosswalks provide traffic calming visual cues that communicate to motorists that they are in a district where they may encounter pedestrians.   Understanding the concept of “complete streets” and encouraging your municipality to join the Complete Streets Coalition and adopt complete street policies will go a long way toward these goals.

  1. Increase accessibility to opportunities that promote health and socialization. Expand efforts to make parks, walking trails, swimming pools, beaches, recreation centers, and public events accessible and welcoming to all groups. Offer fitness and recreational programming designed for and of interest to all users.

The City of Allentown has provided leadership in the Lehigh Valley on this topic with its Connecting Our Community Plan.  More people will use recreational facilities or support the corner store if they can walk or ride their bikes to them.  It’s the interconnectivity of all transportation systems from those at the most local neighborhood level, to the regional level that will increase our quality of life and our mobility.

And, last but not least, plan for safety through mobility plans, city plans, traffic safety action plans, and other plans to prioritize safety in city designs.   

Lower Macungie Township has done some commendable work in that regard that could be emulated with their Hamilton Cooridor Study.

Join with us in support of that radical idea being adopted by Mayors all across the world:  Vision Zero.  It basically says,

No loss of life is acceptable.

Kudos to the good planning work done around the region from the local to the regional level.  However, until we have zero deaths, we need more bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, more connectivity of transportation systems, more education, advocacy, communication and cooperation.  

Let’s work better together until our no one is hurt or killed getting around the Lehigh Valley.  If you want to join forces with others to tackle this issue regionally, contact me at  We have a Smart Transportation Committee that is organizing to make a difference.

Warm regards,

Joyce Marin

Executive Director


P.S.  To see the yellow-clad dancers at Johns Hopkins drawing attention to pedestrian safety:  Check out this Fun Video of their Road Scholar flash mob!


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