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If it was up to you to help young adults in Philly feel better and healthier, what would you do?
The five finalists in the Economy League’s Well City Challenge social impact incubator have ideas on how to use food and nutrition to achieve that goal.
That could mean teaching people how to cultivate land and use it for survival, helping folks learn how to get deliciousness out of nutritious greens, working with people to explore the different pulls of their own body, or simply bringing people together to enjoy meals while talking about spirituality.
After working with advisors to hone their idea, the entrepreneurs and activists behind these ideas will come together at a pitch competition on Wednesday, March 3, to make their case to a panel of judges as to why they should win $10,000 in seed funding. They can score an additional $7,500 for their project by getting the most votes from the audience.
Meet the folks behind the projects below.
For months after Ashley Gripper attended an annual National Black Food and Justice Alliance retreat, the phrase “land based” swirled through her mind. “I’m a jawn by birth,” the Philadelphia native explained. “My friends are jawns. and many of us want to be or are land based.”
From there came Land-Based Jawns, a new program to offer education and training to BIPOC women about natural agriculture, survival, food sovereignty, and carpentry, and community healing — all skills expressed as essential in Octavia Butler’s “Parable of the Sower” series. The novels were an inspiration, Gripper said, as were the violent responses to the 2020 racial justice protests, and the lives of her parents, Dawn Kipkin and Paul Gripper III.
The first LBJ workshop took place last Saturday, with Gripper and her partner Laquanda Dobson and Desiree Thompson running an online discussion about “the connections between land, agriculture, spirituality, and Black liberation.” While balancing this project, Gripper is a farmer-in-training at Sankofa Community Farm and a full-time Ph.D. candidate in Environmental Health.
Advisor: Hermant Ramachandra, Principal of Deloitte
For chef and aspiring writer Joshua Bullock, who runs Farmer’s Keep restaurant in Rittenhouse, food has always been a form of therapy. He uses cooking as a salve for anxiety and panic attacks, and to allow him to reconnect with surroundings, including his family. “When my wife and I are having issues we get in the kitchen together and cook, which opens up the lines of communication,” he said.
He envisions bringing that connection to other millennials with Philly Food Therapy. The envisioned “healthy holistic food experience” will help people use healthy ingredients and get physical while creating delicious meals.
Advisor: Jared Ranere, Partner at THRV
As a graduate student at Jefferson, where he studies mental health and trauma counseling, Jie Bin Chen has been intrigued by the role of food in creating identity and overall wellbeing. “They’re not as separate as we might think,” he said. His studies have covered the three “brains” that help direct human behavior: the one in your head, your gut and your heart, which led to his idea to combine them into one therapeutic program.
Before moving to Cape May County, New Jersey, Chen was born and raised in China. Now a South Philly resident, he brings to the project a background in social work, having helped people battling substance abuse, experiencing homelessness, and Holocaust survivors.
Advisor: Dan Rhoton, Executive Director of Hopeworks
During the height of last summer’s pandemic and protests, Mt. Airy resident Jiana Murdic worried that food deliveries were becoming sporadic. She redirected grant funds to make sure neighbors got fresh produce via her Get Fresh Daily boxes — and then realized she could also help them turn the veggies into delicious meals. She launched virtual cooking classes, and has been running them for 40 weeks straight.
Murdic also runs an after-school program, spring and summer camps, virtual events focused on plant based cooking, and a support group for Black moms. With Freedom Greens and Gardens, she hopes to cultivate an appreciation for ancestors who leaned heavily on the healing power of plants and herbs by teaching people how to plant, grow and use them. They’re useful “in every facet of our lives,” she said, “from foods and teas to skincare and aromatherapy.”
Advisor: Donavan West, Founder of Black Business Accelerator
A trio from South Philadelphia Shtiebel, a small synagogue opened a little over a year ago, envisions bringing millennials together through food, coffee, and religion. “We wanted to create a warm and welcoming environment for people of different faiths to connect, and what better way to do that than through food?” said co-organizer Rena Pressman.
The model was proven before the pandemic, she said, when Shtiebel Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter used to host several dozen people in her home every Friday night for dinner. The meals drew people from the congregation, but also neighbors and friends, who would all connect over the meal, enjoy great conversation, and walk away with some new friends.
Advisor: Sally Guzik, General Manager of CIC Philadelphia