A Philadelphia story

The organic gardening workshop at Awbury Arboretum in Germantown on Saturday was terrific. Presenter Eva Monheim, who teaches at Temple Ambler, reminded us all that truth in advertising is as much a problem with "natural" and "organic" products as it is in any other area of American consumer life. Despite the hype, many of these products remain quite toxic, requiring that you wear goggles and gloves and keep pets and children away.

She also recommended compost as a good way to keep soil healthy. Lots of townships, and the city of Philadelphia, provide free compost (and wood chips) to residents. I think this is a wonderful idea. Gardeners have told me they load up every spring - one woman puts a tarp down in the back of her car and shovels the compost in.

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Unfortunately, at least in Philadelphia, the Recycling Center in Fairmount Park, where you can get this nutrient-rich compost, is only open Monday through Friday, from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. No evenings, no Saturdays, not even in prime planting season in spring.

So I called the Recycling Center, which is in West Fairmount Park, on Ford Road, and asked why the hours don't take into account that most of us work for a living. Antoinette Redman, an administrative assistant, said she understands the frustration. "But we're already doing the public a favor by offering this."

Excuse me?

"People do find a way to get out here," she continued, acknowledging that many people have complained about the inconvenient hours, "but it's not going to change anything. These are just the hours we have."

Excuse me?

Next I called Chris Palmer, Fairmount Park's director of operations and landscape management. He's a grad of Saul High School and Templer Ambler's horticulture program. He's a gardener, in other words. Chris was very understanding, but cited budget cuts and staff cutbacks in Fairmount Park. "I used to have three people working there (at the Recycling Center). Now I have one," he said.

Can't you juggle the work schedule so this person, even occasionally in the spring, works Tuesday through Saturday? or has a later schedule, to accommodate working folks? Chris said that the Fairmount Park budget is up this year for the first time in a long time (thank you, new Mayor Nutter) and that the Recycling Center's hours "may be revisited."

Even with the unfriendly hours, gardeners cart away 3,000 tons of compost, which is made from leaves collected by the city and manure from plant-eating animals at the zoo. It's a great idea. It's a fantastic service, especially considering that more gardeners are looking to solve problems with organic matter rather than synthetic chemicals. This is good for the earth.

Too bad the city can't find a way to be more creative about connecting service to consumer.

Mayor Nutter has vowed to make the city more responsive. No better place to start, seems to me, than from the ground up. Literally.