Who Says There Are No New Ideas?

The grassroots revolution that's happening in Philly

Not long ago, a young pair of urban farm activists named Nic Esposito and Erica Smith had an idea: They wanted to fill some of West Philly’s empty lots up with gardens. And they would grow food in them. And they would teach kids from local high schools to grow food in them. And they would teach the kids how to sell the food in local co-ops. And through tall this? They’d be planting seeds for a future—our future—in urban sustainability.

Today, through their nonprofit Philly Rooted, Nic and Erica are doing all of that in two thriving (well, thriving in better weather, anyway) community gardens in West Philly, with plans in place a sustainable irrigation system using water from Septa’s storm drain system. It’s incredibly cool.

This past Sunday, a benefit organization called Philly Stake hosted its second-ever dinner, looking for the next Nic and Erica. Diners who attended paid $10 to $20 to raise money for a Philly Stake grant, which would go toward someone else with a great idea. While attendees ate their locally sourced dinner (prepared by organizers and volunteers), they heard a presentation from Philly Roots’s Erica, who won the first Philly Stake grant ($900) from the first-ever Philly Stake dinner, held back in September. Then they listened to other young activists with other great ideas, in order to vote on the “winner” of this year’s grant. Among the 10 ideas presented: a clothing-production company sourcing local materials and employing Philly craftspeople; a pollination project teaching low-income high school students how to keep bees; an urban farm for Bhutanese and Burmese refugees; an “Operation Recovery Campaign” that encourages self-expression amongst war vets through writing and art.

One of the lead organizers, Kate Strathmann, 27, says she was blown away by the number of ideas they’ve gotten (for time reasons, they limit the list of presenters to 10—but nearly 30 ideas were submitted), as well as by the generosity of the attendees. On Sunday, 200 diners managed to raise enough money to give a $1000 grant to one winner—the refugee garden project—as well as $400 to the war veteran project and another $400 to an initiative encouraging collaboration between artists and industrial designers, to divert waste from landfills and turn it into art.

Not a bad investment for $20, is it.

The next dinner will be sometime in April, Strathmann says—but already, they’re gearing up to collect more good ideas.