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
Liaison, Philadelphia Committee of the Garden Club of America
Executive Secretary, CATCH, Inc.
Committee Person, 44th Ward-Div 18
Block Captain 5200 Block Pennsgrove Street
Marketing and Communications Consultant
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
Executive Director, Urban Tree Connection
Skip Wiener, Executive Director
With masters’ degrees both in Science and Landscape Architecture, Mr Wiener has worked in the public and private sectors as a landscape architect since the 1970s. In 1989 he started the Urban Tree Connection and worked with children in the Chester and Philadelphia School Districts, developing environmental community service-learning projects.
Lisa Barkley, Program Assistant
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.
Karen Bustard, Youth Program Coordinator
Ms. Bustard studied International Relations at Tufts University, focusing on global health, nutrition, and the environment. At UTC, she coordinates the Teen Apprentice Program with Mr. McCall, and leads a Garden and Cooking Program at Ward AME church with Mr. McCall and block captain Angela Beckett.
Dorothy Ann Buttz, Farm Marketing Manager
While at Syracuse University, Ms. Buttz completed her B. Arch and Honors Capstone project titled "Fast/Fresh/Food: Urban Mycology for the Restoration and Rehabilitation of Impoverished Urban Environments." Since graduating, she has worked with various farms and food outlets across the country learning the ins and outs of the food system while working on ways to facilitate food access in cities.
Tiffany Cheng, Program Coordinator
Ms. Cheng has a BA in Sociology from Rutgers University, where she also worked on the Cook Student Organic Farm. She worked at Morris Arboretum for two years as an Education Assistant and previously taught piano and violin to private students.
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 organizations including Children's Literacy Initiative, the Welcoming Center for New Pennsylvanians, and Philabundance.
Rachel deVitry, Farm Manager
Ms. de Vitry has a BA in English from Messiah College and has been working on organic vegetable farms since graduating in 2005. A native of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, she started Ornery Ladybug Farm, LLC on family land in 2012. She is also a founding board member of East Side Market in Lancaster, PA.
Lily Hughes, Interim Program Director
Ms. Hughes has a BA degree from Goddard College, with a focus on Dance Movement Therapy and Community Psychology. She has worked as a community organizer and youth educator for the last nine years. Ms. Hughes co-founded the Civilian Soldier Alliance, a national organization committed to advocating for the rights of veterans and service members and has served as the director of the Better Waverly Community Arts Center in Baltimore MD. At UTC, she coordinates garden & arts programs and community outreach efforts in the Haddington neighborhood.
Quinzell McCall, Program Assistant
Mr. McCall holds certifications in Landscape Design and OSHA Training from the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Technology. At UTC, he has served as an Agricultural Assistant, helping to develop our central farm site, and now helps to deliver educational, arts, and gardening programs to children and teens.
Awinda Otieno-Pala, Nursery/Site Manager
Ms. Otieno‐Pala was raised in Nairobi, Kenya and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Temple University in 2005 with dual degrees in Horticulture and Business Administration. Ms. Otieno‐Pala has worked as an intern at Bartram’s Garden and taught a summer Philadelphia Youth Network Work Ready program in Southwest Philadelphia. She also helped design and teach a landscape design program for the Green Jobs Training Program funded by Foundations Inc.
Misako Scott, Office Manager
Ms. Scott has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of the Arts and has worked as a cabinetmaker, director of Small Computers in the Arts Network, and as an assistant both to physicians and educators.
Sue Witte, Volunteer Coordinator
Ms. Witte attended Vassar College, is a graduate of the Barnes Foundation Horticulture School, and as a professional gardener, she designs and maintains small gardens. She is also a part time children’s librarian at the Bala Cynwyd Library and a member of the Philadelphia Reading Olympics Book Selection Committee.