Author Archives: Nathaniel

Gardening and Food

What do we learn and achieve from gardening?

Exuberant butternut squash vines

Many of us in Chester County celebrate Earth Day every day. Earth herself is being mistreated, but we can work hard to mend our human ways toward her, and at the same time mend our own life styles and diets.

One way of making things better between ourselves and Earth is enjoying the thrill of seeing seeds wend their way into flowers, vegetables and fruits… and healthy food on the table.

If squash wants to grow twenty-foot vines, should we interfere? It’s a question of philosophy: some of us would give it free rein, even at the expense of other plantings being submerged; others of us would severely restrict it to its appointed space.

Flower or vegetable?

Sometimes the distinction between the esthetic and the edible isn’t clear. The tomato, imported to Europe in the 16th century, was originally grown there for decorative use and the fruit was considered toxic!

When we garden, we install plants in a hybrid environment, neither in the state of nature nor protected by four walls and a roof; and in return, they enter into a state of symbiosis with us: we give them a place to grow; and they offer us satisfaction, beauty, and food.

It is a particular pleasure when we see desirable plants seed themselves or resprout another year. Many flowers do this, of course, from one year to the next, such as the invincible annual cleome; and some, like foxgloves, are on a savvy two-year cycle (with perennial tendencies). The attractive white and yellow flowers and glossy leaves grew from a potato that lurked in the ground over the winter.

Gardening also teaches us some valuable life lessons:

Bloody sorrel, a distinctive chard-like plant

• It takes time for plants to grow, and like people they go through recognizable stages. Pea or squash vines, starting as small seeds, develop fast in their infancy, move along to maturity, weather permitting, and produce what can be, if we save seeds, the next generation.

• Consider remaining open to surprise and giving unknown plants a chance to declare themselves before we weed. Plants can unexpectedly overwinter or self-seed, or appear from unknown sources. This bloody sorrel, a red-veined spinach-like leaf crop with an unfortunate name, must have been carried into the vegetable garden by a passing bird.

• Good results depend on patience and continuous effort. If we stop weeding for a few weeks we will spend more time repairing the damage than we saved by taking a vacation; if we stop watering when our plants are drying up, they will not come back.

• Let’s learn our limits! We can collaborate with plants but we can’t control them, or their needs, or the weather; we can amend the soil, but only within limits: it would take generations for clay to become loam and lawn will always be reluctant to grow under trees.

• We need to pay attention, look for facts and evidence about what is going right and wrong, and remain in touch with something outside ourselves: the reality of the garden.

Kitchencycling made easy

• There are no good shortcuts; compost and mulch, our friends, take time to produce. To the right: unusable organic matter from the kitchen returning rapidly and aerobically to nature, under a strong wire mesh, bordered with stones to keep rodents from feasting.

• But pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers destroy soil organisms, beneficial insects and worms, and ultimately the soil itself.

• Peace of mind and inner relaxation — qualities not easily acquired in today’s busy life — do dwell in the garden for us to gather in to ourselves along with what grows there.

Gardening also fosters a whole consciousness and understanding about the Earth and how we relate to it:

• The climate is changing; many areas are more subject to drought and floods, heat and cold, than they have been for many centuries. Large areas in Australia and California have been burning due to record hot and dry weather; the prospective 2021 grape harvest was destroyed in France by hot weather followed by freezing; one of the prime wine regions, the Jura, is becoming inhospitable to the grape. We can think “It can’t happen here,” but it will.

Honey bee, West Chester

• Because native plants have adjusted their needs to our climate and soil, they do a lot better than exotics when adverse weather strikes. And, of course, they evolved in symbiosis with native pollinators, which depend on them.

• The amount of water that soil can hold depends largely on the amount of organic material in the soil. This would be a good time for American gardeners and farmers to depend less on chemical fertilizers and more on treating soil as a living organism that also takes carbon out of circulation.

• Nature has evolved as one great system in each location. When we add in chemicals, we are not only changing plant and animal life but subverting the natural order with consequences we can’t foresee. But we do know that if we want to eat healthy food, it must be grown in healthy soil.

By gardening in our own yards, we show our appreciation of nature; and also we can give away some of our produce to those who need it, and we can encourage others to garden… and in turn to spread the satisfaction and knowledge of feeling in harmony with nature.

Many of our neighbors have been working hard to bring us programming, both online and in person, about how we live on and with the Earth. Please find the large array of locally accessible events in our calendar at the bottom of our home page; and join in!

Panel with local leaders on achieving environmental victories

DEC 7 at 7 pm panel discussion on achieving environmental victories with State Sen Carolyn Comitta, State Rep Dianne Herrin, Chester County Commissioner Josh Maxwell and Delaware River Keeper Maya van Rossum. Panel moderator: Dr. John Jackson.

This panel discussion in the Fall Film and Forum Series is sponsored by the West Chester Green Team, the WCU Office of Sustainability, the Unitarian Congregation of West Chester, and the West Chester Co-op.

In person only: Room 101, Business & Public Management Building, 50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383. Doors open at 6:00 pm. Come early for information tables in the LEED-certified BPMG building at 6:30.

SEPTA’s 104 bus stops one block away from the BPMC building and the University has ample bicycle parking available, including in front of the building. If you choose to drive, for this event you may park in B Lot (enter via Reynolds Alley just east of the Business and Public Management Building; first come first served). Or pay to use the Sharpless Street Garage (ground level) or street parking on Sharpless or Church St.

Download pdf of flyer here.

Panel with local leaders 12/7/21

Retrospective: 6 years ago, West Chester voters approved a Community Bill of Rights

As the world struggles to salvage its environment, let’s remember that in November 2015, West Chester voters amended their Home Rule Charter by adding a new section, #904, under the heading of Community Bill of Rights.

The added wording asserts the people’s Right of Local Community Self-Government, Right to Assert the Right of Self-Government, Right to Water, Right to Clean Air, Right to Peaceful Enjoyment of Home, and Right to a Sustainable Energy Future, and furthermore the Rights of Ecosystems and Natural Communities. Ecosystems and natural communities.

It goes on to ban, in West Chester Borough, extracting natural gas, depositing any fracking wastewater or other fracking product, and creating fossil fuel, nuclear, or other non-sustainable energy production and delivery infrastructures.

The effort, involving also the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) and a group of local residents, was led by environmentalist Dianne Herrin, who went on to be elected Mayor and now represents the 156th district in the Pennsylvania House.

From the November 2015 press release by CELDF, headquartered in western PA and a leader in the Community Rights and Rights of Nature (or environmental personhood) movement:

West Chester Voters Adopt Community Rights Charter Amendment Banning Frack Wastewater, Pipelines, and Drilling

Join growing numbers of municipalities across the U.S. that are prohibiting fossil fuel activities by asserting community rights

West Chester Borough, Chester County, Pennsylvania — November 4, 2015

With over 73% of the vote, the people of West Chester Borough adopted an amendment to their home rule charter, constitutionalizing a Community Bill of Rights, and protecting those rights by prohibiting fracking and its associated activities – including pipelines and wastewater disposal. They join the growing numbers of communities across Pennsylvania and the U.S. that are codifying their rights to clean air, water, and local self-government, and are banning fracking activities as a violation of those rights.

The amendment was proposed through a petitioning process conducted by residents of the Borough, and led by West Chester Community Rights Alliance (WCCRA). The local group requested educational and legal assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund in grassroots organizing and drafting the charter initiative….

keep reading at CELDF

Invisible Hand film / Sustainable Storefronts awards ceremony Nov. 16

Awards Ceremony for Sustainable Storefronts program, Tuesday, November 16⋅7:00 – 8:00pm, recognizing businesses that have joined West Chester’s Sustainable Storefronts program and send a representative (approx. 15-20 min.). Location: Room 101, Business & Public Management Building, 50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383.

Then, we will show the Sustainable Storefronts interview film created by WCU students (approx. 15-25 min). Finally, we will open up the discussion to the attendees, covering the central topics of the film Invisible Hand (approx. 20-25 min). Moderator: Prof. Megan Schraedley, WCU Department of Communication & Media.

Register at to view the film “Invisible Hand” about the rights of nature movement online in advance (see trailer here) and to attend the event.

This event is sponsored by the WC Green Team and the WCU Office of Sustainability. Come any time after 6:30 for information tables in the LEED-certified BPMG building. Metered parking on Sharpless or Church St. Room 101, Business & Public Management Building, 50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383. Come any time after 6:30 for information tables and a tour of the LEED-certified BPMG building led by Dr. Bradley Flamm, Director of the WCU Office of Sustainability.

The 17 businesses (so far) that, in anticipation of West Chester Borough’s ban on single-use plastic bags and straws going into effect on 1/1/22, have voluntarily joined the Sustainable Storefronts program are:

Roots Cafe
Kaly Clothing
Gryphon Cafe
D’Ascenzo’s Gelato
The Shop on Market St
Kildare’s Pub
Meatball U
Dia Doce
Bryn Mawr Running Company
Dolce Zola
The 5 Senses
Gemelli Gelato
West Chester Co-Op
Eclat Chocolate
Malena’s Vintage Boutique

“Nature’s Best Hope”: Doug Tallamy’s visit, Sept. 13, 2021


Doug Tallamy, a widely acclaimed professor in the Dept. of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware, gave a talk at West Chester University on Sept. 13, 2021, to an in-person and online audience of over 200. (See the video here, and don’t miss our board member Courtney Finneran’s preceding 10-minute illustrated introduction to our work; Closed Captioning recommended).

The reception before Dr. Tallamy’s talk was attended by Chester County political and business leaders, and the dinner following allowed Green Team and WCU leaders to network about ways to spread Doug’s message and work throughout the County.

Nature’s best hope, he explained, is at this point… ourselves! We, the human race, have disturbed the symbiotic balance between insects and plants, between those and birds and all other vertebrates. We destroy inter-species interactions at our peril, and if we continue to impoverish the living earth, our own food supply will perish.

What can we do as individuals? Welcome biodiversity to our own properties, by turning lawns into meadows, choosing native plants, shunning pesticides and herbicides, and nurturing organically rich soils.

The Green Team, through our Living Landscapes project, strongly supports Dr. Tallamy’s call for a “Homegrown National Park” in our collective back yards (and, of course, in the properties of businesses, non-profits, schools, and municipalities). We can all be part of restoring nature to the healthy, symbiotic state that evolved into the world around us.

In a promising sign of forward movement, the Environmental Advisory Committees of northern Chester County have been conferring with each other on such initiatives and will be meeting next week at the Welkinweir preserve with Chair of the Chesco Board of Commissioners Marian Moskowitz. The WC Green Team will also be represented there and it is hoped that countywide networking of all Chesco EACs will ensue.

As an organization determined to reassert the essential importance of nature and environment, the WC Green Team will strongly support a countywide initiative to reclaim natural areas, plant native pollinators, and create… a “Homegrown Chester County Park”!

History of the West Chester Area Green Team

The West Chester Green Team (WCGT) was formed in January 2019 as an alliance of four local environmental groups: Don’t Spray Me!, Plastic-Free Please, Ready for 100, and Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection.

Don’t Spray Me! originated in 2015 in response to the threat of pesticides being sprayed in West Chester Borough by the Chester County Health Department. Mayor Carolyn Comitta encouraged residents under the leadership of Graham Hudgings to gather signatures objecting to pesticides being sprayed. Volunteers went door to door, obtaining over 400 signatures and informing residents of the threat from pesticides. Overwhelmingly, people were in support of preventing pesticides being sprayed in their home area. DSM in its first year signed up 120 block captains throughout the Borough, who educated the community on the dangers of pesticides and other chemicals and worked alongside local government to avoid the spraying of pesticides.

Plastic-Free Please was created in 2017 in alliance with West Chester Mayor Dianne Herrin, who worked with local students to bring forward an ordinance to ban plastic straws and bags in the Borough. In a historic moment, on July 17, 2019, in a packed room after a public hearing with numerous residents speaking in support, Borough Council passed the ban by a vote of 4-3. See more on that event here. State legislators snuck a “ban on bans” into a budget bill, and for the duration West Chester promoted a voluntary Sustainable Storefronts program, signing up businesses to voluntarily adopt green practices. With help from WCU students in Professor Megan Schraedley’s communications class, as of November 2021, 17 businesses had signed on. The ordinance finally will go into effect on January 2 2022. Plastic-Free Please hopes that many other municipalities and the County will now follow suit!

Ready for 100 (RF100) Chester County, a committee of the Southeastern PA Group of The Sierra Club, is part of a national, grassroots movement of people working to inspire our leaders to fight climate change and embrace a vision of healthier communities powered with 100% clean, renewable energy. RF1009 seeks to create safe, livable communities that protect and bolster public health, improve air and water quality, and foster sustainability, equity and resilience in the face of climate-related disruptions. RF100 has set community goals for transitioning to 100% renewable energy and urges all Chester County officials to set a 100% clean energy goal.

Chester County Citizens for Climate Protection (4CP) was founded in 2008 to further community education on climate change and green energy solutions. Over the years, 4CP held a stimulating series of lecture/discussions in WC Borough Hall, maintained a web site, and published a newsletter. In 2021, 4CP decided to disband and pass its role over to the WC Green Team


“Healthy Soil, Healthy Planet: discussion on “Kiss the Ground”

Fall Film & Forum Series panel discussion hosted by WCU Office of Sustainability and WC Green Team in Room 101, Business & Public Management Building, 50 Sharpless St, West Chester, PA 19383. Doors open at 6:00 pm. Sign up in advance at wcupa/sustainability to view the film online; the evening event will be panel discussions only. Come early for information tables, refreshments and a tour of the LEED-certified BPMG building at 6:30. Metered parking on Sharpless or Church St. 

Tuesday October 12 discussion theme “Healthy Soil, Healthy Planet: Act locally to improve the dirt in your own backyard and help avert climate crisis,” based on the film “Kiss the Ground.” Panelists:

Dr. Joan Welch (moderator), professor in the WCU Department of Geography and Planning, a leader in WCU’s campus gardens, and dedicated environmentalist.

Mike Dunn, contract arborist for West Chester Borough and Sustainable Landscapes Specialist

Nur Ritter, Stewardship Manager, Robert B. Gordon Natural Area for Environmental Studies at West Chester University, botanist, biochar enthusiast, friend of fungi

From “‘Kiss the Ground’ reveals that, by regenerating the world’s soils, we can completely and rapidly stabilize Earth’s climate, restore lost ecosystems and create abundant food supplies. Using compelling graphics and visuals, along with striking NASA and NOAA footage, the film artfully illustrates how, by drawing down atmospheric carbon, soil is the missing piece of the climate puzzle. This movie is positioned to catalyze a movement to accomplish the impossible  to solve humanity’s greatest challenge, to balance the climate and secure our species’ future.”

Later in this series:
November 16 film- “Invisible Hand” (this forum will include interviews of 2021 Green Award winners)
December 7 film–“Thirsty for Justice”

Sites Posted on Chester County Clean Tour 2021

See the CCEA calendar for details of the tour, Oct. 2-3, and how to take it virtually.

Name of SiteName of SubmitterFeatures
Hillside Elementary School Green Roof
Berwyn, PA
Jennifer Cox/ Conestoga High School studentsSustainable Features: Green Roof Site Type School Organization: Hillside Elementary School, in the Tredyffrin-Eastown School District
West Chester University Geothermal Exchange System
West Chester, PA
Brad Flamm, Director, Office of Sustainability, WCU
Sustainable Features Geothermal Site Type University Organization: West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Haaf Home Energy Tour
Kennett Square, PA
Bill Haaf
Sustainable Features Composting, Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Geothermal, Heat Pump(s), Passive Solar, Other Other Sustainable Features: • Advanced lighting (LEDs), programmable thermostats, native plants/water-retentive plantings, spray PU foam insulation, strategies for energy efficiency in existing home. System Size (in kW): 6.7 Solar Site Type Home
Energy Efficiency Beats S&P
West Chester, PA
Bryan Hutchinson
Sustainable Features Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Heat Pump(s), Solar PV – Rooftop System Size (in kW): 7.14 Solar Site Type Home
Solar Stone Barn
Chadds Ford, PA
Richard Leff
Sustainable Features Battery Storage, Electric Vehicle(s), Geothermal System Size (in kW): 10 Solar Site Type Home
Central Baptist Church, Wayne, Gets to Zero Net Emissions
Wayne, {A
Chuck Marshall
Sustainable Features Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Net zero, Solar PV – Rooftop Solar Site Type Religious Institution
Rooftop Made for Solar
Chester Springs, PA
Kathy McDevitt
Sustainable Features Electric Vehicle(s), Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Solar PV – Rooftop System Size (in kW): 13.26 kW Solar Site Type Home
The McGowan Home
Coatesville, PA
Brian McGowan
Sustainable Features Battery Storage, Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Solar Thermal, Wind Turbine(s) System Size (in kW): 3.96 kW Solar Site Type : Home
Stroud Water Research Center’s Moorhead Environmental Complex

Avondale, PA
Jessica Provinski, Stroud Development Department
Sustainable Features Composting, Electric Vehicle(s), Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Geothermal, Grey Water System, Heat Pump(s), Integrated Systems System Size (in kW): 17.860 kW Solar Site Type Nonprofit Organization
Geothermal Township Building /West Bradford
Downingtown, PA
Cheryl Wanko

Sustainable Features Geothermal Solar Site Type Government Building Organization: West Bradford Township
Geothermal Home
West Bradford, PA
Cheryl Wanko
Sustainable Features Geothermal Site Type Home
Nature Farm Solar Home
Chester Springs, PA
Dave Weber
Sustainable Features Composting, Electric Vehicle(s), Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Heat Pump(s), Passive Solar, Solar PV – Rooftop, Other Other Sustainable Features: Electric mower, on-demand electric hot water heater System Size (in kW): 10+ Solar Site Type Home
West Chester Borough Chestnut Street Garage Solar Canopy (drone video)
West Chester, PA
Jim Wylie,  the chair of the Southeastern PA Group, Sierra ClubSustainable Features Solar PV – Rooftop Other Sustainable Features: System Size (in kW): 79 Solar Site Type Government Building Organization: Solarize Greater West Chester
Strategies for a More Sustainable Home
Wayne, PA
Rutger Boerema
Sustainable Features Battery Storage, Composting, Electric Vehicle(s), Heat Pump(s) System Size (in kW): 8.16 Solar Site Type Home
Speksnijder Solar Site
West Chester, PA
Will ClaudioSustainable Features Battery Storage, Energy Efficiency Upgrades, Net zero, Solar PV – Rooftop Solar Site Type Home