The Urban Tree Connection (UTC) assists low-income urban communities to revitalize their neighborhoods by transforming abandoned open spaces into safe and functional places that inspire and promote positive human interaction.
Founded in 1989 and incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization in 1997, UTC works with residents of West Philadelphia's Haddington neighborhood to develop community-driven greening and gardening projects on vacant land. Through land revitalization, we help residents become strong leaders, foster deep community cohesion, and ultimately, create livable communities.
Over the last 24 years, UTC has transformed the landscape of Haddington, catalyzing residents' demand for locally produced fresh food. Vacant lots, which had been dangerous crime incubators and trash-strewn eyesores for decades, now burst with tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, squash, and chard. To date, we have converted 29 lots into a fully-functional 3/4-acre farm, a series of community green spaces, and three perennial gardens.
Neighbors, once isolated from each other and living in fear, increasingly connect through the gardens created on these formerly abandoned lots, as well as the diverse array of educational and community programs that UTC offers. These personal connections have, in turn, empowered neighbors to continue to transform their community. Today, Haddington residents are increasingly realizing the potential for growing food on abandoned lots in their neighborhood, and are active partners with UTC in developing a food production and distribution cooperative aimed at making affordable, healthy, Haddington-grown food available to every neighbor. This community-driven food system presents a powerful antidote to food insecurity and diet-related illnesses faced by residents of one of Philadelphia's most persistent food deserts.
More recently, we have begun to expand our efforts to nearby sections of West Philadelphia, through partnerships with local churches, and we have also launched an exciting initiative to develop farms and gardens at a public housing development in the City of Chester.
Board of Directors
Rickie Orr Brawer
Associate Director, Office to Advance Population Health, Thomas Jefferson University
Owner, Holistic Business Solutions LLC
Crystal Hardie Langston, UTC Board Chair
Development Director, National Farm to School Network
Executive Secretary, CATCH, Inc.
Committee Person, 44th Ward-Div 18
Block Captain 5200 Block Pennsgrove Street
Joan Stern, UTC Board Emerita
Member, Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, LLC
Harvey B. Swedloff, UTC Board Treasurer
Chief Financial Officer (retired), Ashbridge Investment Management, LLC
Joel E. Tasca
Partner, Ballard Spahr LLP
Founder & Executive Director, Urban Tree Connection
Skip Wiener, Executive Director
Mr. Wiener has a MS degree from Temple University in Plant Physiology, and a MLA degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania. He worked for the NJ Department of Environmental Protection, the National Park Service, the Montgomery County Planning Commission, and John Rahenkamp Consultants as a landscape architect/regional planner. In 1989 he created the Urban Tree Connection.
Lisa Barkley, Community Liaison
Ms. Barkley is a two-time Americorps volunteer, and worked for the Girl Scouts of America delivering after-school programs. She is a 30-year resident of West Philadelphia's Haddington Homes, the locus of UTC's oldest and most successful garden site. Ms. Barkley is also Vice President of Neighborhood Foods Coop, the civic organization birthed out of UTC's work in West Philadelphia.
Dorothy Ann Buttz, Farm Marketing Manager
Ms. Buttz holds a Bachelor of Architecture from Syracuse University, where she completed an honors project titled Fast/Fresh/Food: Urban Mycology for the Restoration and Rehabilitation of Impoverished Urban Environments. Since graduating, she has worked with farms and food outlets across the country while studying ways to facilitate urban food access.
Eliav Decter, Director of Development
Mr. Decter has a BA in Political Science from Brown University. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than a decade, first as a foundation administrator and then as a development officer at Philadelphia human service and educational organizations including Children's Literacy Initiative, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, and Philabundance.
Rachel de Vitry, Agricultural Director
Ms. de Vitry has a BA in English from Messiah College and has been working on organic farms of various sizes since graduating in 2005. A native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she started and ran Ornery Ladybug Farm on family land from 2012 to 2014. She is also a founding board member of East Side Market in Lancaster, PA.
Misako Scott, Office Manager
Ms. Scott has worked at Urban Tree Connection for more than eight years. She holds a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of the Arts and previously worked as a cabinetmaker, director of the Small Computers in the Arts Network, and as an assistant both to physicians and educators.
Terrence Topping-Brown, Chester Farm Manager
Mr. Topping-Brown holds a B.S. in Biology from Shippensburg University. He worked with the USDA Agricultural Research Service on a project studying sustainable biological control of agricultural pests, and then went on to work at Spiral Path Farm, a Certified Organic Farm in Central Pennsylvania, where he did greenhouse management, soil testing, and Integrated Pest Management fieldwork.
Noelle Warford, Programs Director
Ms. Warford holds a BA in Women Studies and Black Studies from Denison University and a Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining UTC, she gained extensive experience managing and evaluating community-based programs at Congreso de Latinos Unidos. Ms. Warford is also an Adjunct Faculty member at Harcum College.
Sue Witte, Volunteer Coordinator
Ms. Witte attended Vassar College and is a graduate of the Barnes Foundation Horticulture School. As a professional gardener, she designs and maintains small gardens. Ms. Witte is also a part-time children’s librarian at the Bala Cynwyd Public Library and a member of the Philadelphia Reading Olympics Book Selection Committee.