Alums bring local food to community

Their nonprofit, Preston's Paradise has created nine self sustaining gardens

· December 8, 2013, 7:26 pm   ·  Updated December 8, 2013, 9:34 pm

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2003 College graduate Ryan Kuck, and his wife Suzanna, a 2001 College graduate, started Preston’s Paradise, an all-volunteer project that provides fresh produce for the West Philadelphia community.

The quickest way to a community’s heart is through their stomachs.

Ryan Kuck, a 2003 College graduate, and his wife Suzanna, a 2001 College graduate, started an all-volunteer project that focuses on building local food and health sustainability in West Philadelphia — which they called Preston’s Paradise — six years ago. They recently created a food truck that stops at 37th and Lancaster streets to serve produce to the local community.

The Kucks, who live on N. Preston Street in Philadelphia, created Preston’s Paradise as a way for their local community to use underdeveloped land to produce food after neighborhood residents began to take notice of the vegetables they were growing in their home. Some of the residents called the improved neighborhood a “paradise,” which eventually led to the name “Preston’s Paradise.”

Currently, the nonprofit has built partnerships with a senior center, two churches and two schools to create nine gardens that are self-sustaining, as community members volunteer to tend to these gardens and ensure their proper growth.

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In 2011, Preston’s Paradise partnered with Greensgrow Philadelphia, an urban agricultural project, to create a larger supply of organic products.

The Kucks then started a food truck in 2012 called West Philly Fresh Food Hub to replace a pushcart that could no longer carry enough of the fresh food products. The new food truck moves around various senior centers in Philadelphia during the day and rests at 37th and Lancaster Ave. in the afternoon.

“We’ve taken the role of providing a healthy corner store from the ground up,” Kuck said. The hub services more than just local residents — college students around the area frequent the truck to buy fresh fruits and vegetables as well.

As a Penn undergraduate, Kuck was heavily involved with Penn’s Urban Nutrition Initiative. “I worked for UNI for about five to six years and it activated my interest in West Philadelphia,” Kuck said. “It was a bridge between the theoretical environment created by Penn [and] practical education.”

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Preston’s Paradise has shifted its work from creating gardens to producing orchards that mimic the natural environment of a forest. According to Kuck, these orchards are easier for senior citizens who participate in their upkeep. Over 50 fruit trees have also been planted throughout the neighborhood and local residents can simply walk by and grab fruit off trees.

Other projects that Preston’s Paradise has organized include a community meal series that features a guest chef and locally grown produce.

“Food is a common denominator between people,” Kuck said. “Get food into bellies and then get into a conversation about the neighborhood.”

Related: West Philly food co-op continues to expand

Kuck has plans of expanding on the projects that his nonprofit currently offers. In April, the hub will begin offering a delivery service to both low-income residents and college students in order to “put healthy eating into center of culture and people’s routines.” Other future plans include working with Bon Appétit, the company which provides food for Penn dining halls, to create more prepared foods for West Philadelphia families.

However, Kuck said that the purpose of the project isn’t just to provide food to the community,but to teach others ways of providing food for themselves.

“It’s a shared project [with the community] — not a charity,” Kuck said.

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