In today's episode, we really bet the farm on talking some shizzle and learning some shizzle, while talking to our dear friend Nic Esposito. Nic is on the leadership team of Circular Economy Philadelphia, an accomplished manager, civic leader, public speaker, published writer, entrepreneur and waste management professional with a deep understanding of the circular economy. The goal of circular economy is to no longer rely on incinerators or landfills to manage our waste. This is done by recycling, reusing, and reducing waste. Zero waste is a goal to strive for in order to build a circular economy. We dive deep and learn more about what we can do to help, to better change our habits, and build awareness for others while doing so.
Nic, and we, also believe that Philadelphia can be a world-class city for each one of its residents. Listen in and you'll be able to tell that Nic is proud to be a native of Philadelphia, a family man, and ecstatic to be doing social work and creating impact.
We chat extensively about these topics, plus many more!
And just remember, "It doesn't matter if you're feeding three people or 3000 people if you're growing food to feed people, you're farming." So - keep up the great work! We will get to our goals of zero waste, if we work together as a community and use some of these teachings that Nic has passed on in this episode.
Shout Outs from Nic:
The Omnivores Dilemma: https://www.amazon.com/Omnivores-Dilemma-Natural-History-Meals/dp/0143038583
Taylor Shanklin 0:01
Hey hail you lovely people out there. You've got a lot going on in your day with big dreams and big goals for your world. Are you ready to talk some shizzle and learn some shizzle from leading entrepreneurs, changemakers coaches, and overall interesting people who like to shake things up. I'm your host Taylor Shanklin, CEO and founder of creative shizzle and I am stoked to bring you a fresh episode of talking shizzle today, this show is all about helping you think differently so that you can grow. Talking chisel is brought to you by our team at Creative shizzle where we help businesses, entrepreneurs, and social good innovators make amazing marketing shizzle happen. Check us out on the web at Creative shizzle.com Now, let's talk some shizzle Welcome, welcome back, folks, we are here on a new episode of talking shizzle What's up, we've got sidekick. Well also now known as sidekick, Billy, as of today,
William Novelli 1:14
That, or Robin?!
Taylor Shanklin 1:15
and Robin, we're working out the nicknames.
William Novelli 1:19
My names just keep growing-
Taylor Shanklin 1:21
Well. He's the number one teller of dad jokes on this show. And we're gonna expect one by the end of the conversation today. But today, we're on the line with Nick Esposito. He is really a social entrepreneur. He's done a lot of things in Philadelphia and the social good space in sustainability and urban farming. So I'm excited to get into that with you today, Nick, how's it going?
Nic Esposito 1:49
Oh, that's really good. Thanks for having me. Taylor, excited to be here.
Taylor Shanklin 1:52
It's good to have you on. And I'm really curious to ask you more about urban farming. You mentioned that to me offline. I don't really know much about it. So we'll get into that. But tell us a bit about who you are your background and what you are.
Nic Esposito 2:07
Sure. So I've done some urban farming in the city. That's kind of where the journey really began after I got out of doing AmeriCorps service. So I was an AmeriCorps reliever right after Katrina, and ended up down in Louisiana. Learning a lot of things down there, again, just you know, what happened, post the storm, you know, thinking about just you know, a lot of the impact that like, especially the fossil fuel industry, the oil industry had and kind of, you know, exacerbating the storm in many ways. At that time that people in Louisiana were starting to kind of really rethink their economy and the way their lives were live, they really, you know, to use a pun to kind of bet the farm on an oil. And they came from a very agrarian people, the Creoles the cages. And so there was a big revival down there. And this is the same time that like Michael Pollan had written on the words dilemma, and I just started thinking like, wow, you know, there are a lot of things wrong with our food system, you know, how can I get involved and I started working on some urban farms down in Louisiana, that's traveling around the world, and then ended up back in Philly, where there's this incredible urban farm scene, which I'm excited to talk about more and worked on a lot of projects. I worked for the urban nutrition initiative out of the University of Pennsylvania I worked, started my own organization fulfilling rooted and we built a couple of farms, not my wife and I, she had already started an urban farm. That's how we met and now we live on an urban farm in Kensington, Fishtown neighborhood, and Philly, so kind of started there and was really involved in land management ended up getting a job at parks and recreation in Philadelphia, just telling the story that as I was teaching, our grounds, maintenance people, all these really great techniques around more sustainable land care, and all these cool things, I found out that although all the things that we were doing, were really great, these guys just are really just picking up trash all day. And at the time, I had an opportunity to join what's called the zero waste and litter cabinet that was started in Philadelphia as part of the Kenny administration. I was really wrestling with wanting to make that move. I know it was a big, gonna be a bigger job becoming a director, all these different things in city government. And yeah, I talked to a one of the grounds maintenance guys and kind of told them about my dilemma about leaving the department. And he was like, yeah, all we do is pick up trash man, like, you got to solve this, you seemed like a kind of guy who could do this. So I joined the administration started working in there. And even though I left during the pandemic, it put me on this path of what I'm doing now working in circular economy, which I'm excited to talk about a little bit more. And that's what I'm doing today.
Taylor Shanklin 4:30
So you're now with an organization, you do a couple of different things, but you're now with an organization called circular Philadelphia. Tell us a little bit more about what that is and the work that you do. And yeah, I'm curious how that big job got you into this nonprofit and you are one of the founders of it, right?
Nic Esposito 4:52
Yeah, I found that it with my co founder and co director, Samantha Wichman, who's our Director of PA programs and operations. I am the director of PA policy engagement. And the reason do policy and engagement was the work that I did in government. You know, I have a lot of government contacts. I also know a lot of people within the sector. So it kind of fits me perfectly to do that. Where it really comes from is, you know, when I was zero waste, and litter director setting a goal of zero waste is great. Basically, the goal is as simple as no longer relying on incinerators or landfills to manage our waste. So you're finding ways to recycle better reuse, reduce designing waste out of systems, all these different things. So setting the Zero Waste goal is great, but it's like, how do you get there. And as I started to kind of really unpack over the three and a half years that I did the work, it's building a circular economy is how you get there. So basically, what a circular economy means is rather than what we call this, like linear kind of take making trash model, so you take things out of the ground, you make something with it, and then you just throw it in a landfill never to be used again. Now on a planet with obviously finite resources. Like I always joke like if the aliens came down, and just we explained how we did things to them, they would be like, are you people crazy, like what is wrong? Like, you have all these really great resources, you're exhausting them, and then you're just not doing anything with them. Right. So the circular economy reimagines, that's how do we look at it as a cycle? If you take something out of the ground? How can you use it as long as possible? How can you reuse it? And then how do you kind of replenish that source that it came from? That's anywhere from wood to metal to textiles? I joke that I feel like I'm just playing one big game of Settlers of Catan. Basically, that's like, what we who has the wood? Who has the metal? Who has the or who has the wall? So it's how do you kind of work that into the economy and just really rethink how we make our economy. That's the work that we do with circular Philadelphia. And it's a kind of progression of the work that I had started as the zero waste and litter director.
Taylor Shanklin 6:41
Well, what's a common example of that?
Nic Esposito 6:43
Give me a product, any product, literally,
Taylor Shanklin 6:45
if I have my garbage, I throw my garbage out. What's a common use case that all of us can relate to? In which case you're like, Okay, this is how you would make it fit into that circular economy.
Nic Esposito 6:58
Sure. So everyone is familiar with recycling, right. And that's they get excited, they put the things in their blue bin, and it gets taken away. So I'll use glass is a great example. Glass is the first thing you think about, right? When you think of recycling. It's the poster material. Sadly enough, in this country, our glass does not get recycled. So what should happen is you take all this glass together, you mix it up, it gets a little crushed, and then it can be put back in, they call it call it the call, it gets melted back down into something that they can reuse. And we need to do this because we're like running out of sand, in some cases to make glass right. But what happens in the streams that we have, because you mix everything into that one bin, which is way more convenient for us. But for the system, when it all gets jumbled up. Basically what happens when it goes to we call the murse, the Material Recovery Facility, the glass goes into the facility, it gets crushed, and it falls to these grades, and it gets mixed with all the other stuff that's gone through little bits of plastic little bits of paper, so it's so dirty, the best thing that they can use that glass for is covering landfills with it. It's crazy. I was explaining it to my colleagues, I was on a learning tour in Rotterdam in the Netherlands and I and they again, were they're not aliens, they're people just from over in Europe. And they were shocked that this is how we manage our glass. So a better glass system is you know, getting it separate and segregated. And as we call it, so you can kind of crush it up and use it. Or even just reuse those bottles. Like there was a time back in the day where when you got done, Germany still does this. After you get done with a case of beer, you put all the bottles back in, you bring the case back to the supermarket, they take those bottles back, refill them, and you have this cycle of endless glass, because glass is an amazing, amazing product. So that's kind of what we're reimagining, we're just like recycling was kind of like a BandAid on a pretty deep wound. And now that wound is really bleeding because of this crazy consumption that we have of single use products. So that's just one example. But I can talk any product, electronics, clothes, metal, all similar issues and similar ways that we can rethink the process.
Taylor Shanklin 8:56
That's fascinating. You know, it's like, as someone who has sat there and spent a lot of this time sorting my recycled goods, thinking through it thinking I'm doing the right thing, and then you're like, actually, the system doesn't really support it that well. Like what do you recommend to every day, people who are trying to do the right thing with recycling or using less?
Nic Esposito 9:25
The first thing I'll say is that what we're trying to do and again, we're not trying to lose community focus or circular Philadelphia's a membership based organization. We have organizational members everywhere from like Turner Construction, which is one of the biggest construction firms in the world to like little mom and pop stores in Philadelphia that do like refillable things to larger subscription services for refillable products. There's this great company in Philadelphia called the rounds that they're going to pick him up pick up today. They call him and they deliver all the things I need with no packaging, so paper towels toilet paper, it just comes in a bag, but they reuse all the tote bags, and they're constantly in this reuse system. So you What I like to see is entrepreneurs that are creating these businesses that are kind of alleviating the burden off of the person. And that was the lie of the 20th century it was. So those bottles I talked about back in the day, Coca Cola, the bottles would actually say, this is property of Coca Cola, like they wanted that glass back. But now the materials got so cheap, and we just thought, it doesn't matter. Who cares about the sand 20 years from now, we'll just keep pulling, like and doing the single use bottles, they shifted the burden on to the taxpayer. So it's on you to have to figure out what to do with your waste. It's on you to pay taxes to your you know, your municipality, so they can handle your waste. And now you're starting to see that burden shift, there's a thing in Europe called extended producer responsibility, that's putting fees on the businesses, the packaging companies that are making all this packaging that they have to figure something better out. So I mean, the first thing I would say is, you know, that's you need more options in your area. And the easy one would just be composting, right? Like not throwing food in the in the trash and most, it's across the board, usually about 20 to 25% of waste in most people's households are organic wastes. So composting is one you know, you're down in North Carolina in the mountains, I'm sure you got some of their land to, to compost. So you can do that. Personally,
Taylor Shanklin 11:12
I just throw banana peels out in my yard because I live in a forest and I'm just like, man, it just go south.
Nic Esposito 11:21
Yeah, it's a little more challenging. And not to say people don't throw stuff all over the ground and Philadelphia but but that's the challenge. But yeah, you're starting to see these entrepreneurs where they're so I would say like really see it like it's circular Philadelphia, we have this whole we call it the zero waste at home guide. It's thankfully we have a lot of businesses emerging in Philadelphia that do this. So like the rounds I was telling you about. That's an option you can use. There's places where you can take your clothes back, like all these things that if you know about utilize the services, and that's what we're trying to really build here in Philly.
Taylor Shanklin 11:48
That's awesome. Yeah, that's really cool. Something we started buying is the compostable like forks and spoons and knives, you know, like that. That's one way that we found. Sometimes you see it at restaurants now we'll leave it there have paper straws, or they'll have something that is a compostable material. So we even like instead of buying plastic cutlery there, stop made potatoes or whatever. So it like it just the premise is that when it gets tossed out of actually decomposes, so I was sometimes using my backyard as a compost. And then my husband was like, the problem with that is we live in an area with bears, and then you're just throwing food out in our yard, and then it attracts the bears, like front of our house. And like, that's maybe Will's got like a glass half full joke.
William Novelli 12:44
Not a good farm one. Why shouldn't you tell a secret on a farm?
Nic Esposito 12:48
William Novelli 12:48
Because potatoes have eyes and corn heavy years.
Taylor Shanklin 12:52
William Novelli 12:54
I thought that was clever.
Nic Esposito 12:56
Why did the Scarecrow get an award at work?
Nic Esposito 12:58
He was outstanding in his field.
Taylor Shanklin 13:01
Oh, you guys. So let's shift gears a little bit. Tell us about urban farming. And what that is you live on an urban farm? I feel dumb for saying I don't really know what that means.
Nic Esposito 13:17
Yeah, so an urban farm is basically it's just a farm in a city. So it's an it's an urban space. It's as simple as that. But it there's a lot to unpack to it. I mean, again, talking about reimagining our systems, like our food system. While you do have to give credit to it, like the food system that the Western world, particularly United States has created in the 20th century is the most productive, abundant, efficient food system ever created on this planet. Like the concept of famine is like we don't have crop failure where a bunch of people starve to death, right? Like, these are things that are good. And that's the thing like 20th century industrialism brought us a lot of good things, hot showers, indoor plumbing, you know, not going to the outhouse anymore, like, these were good things, right. But we just did them in a wrong way that we need to correct for if we want to continue living this lifestyle. So our food systems, one of them, like sure we have amazing production, but at what expense, right? But they call it monoculture. Corporate farming is heavy on pesticides that are getting into our food. They're heavy on synthetic fertilizers based off of fossil fuels. They're stripping our land away. We're losing an inch of topsoil every year, which is crazy, right? So we just need to reimagine our food system. And I don't know what it's like in North Carolina, but I'd say like in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, luckily, we have a lot of vibrant family farms that still exist that are getting really squeezed out right now. So what we're trying to really do is urban AG is a great vehicle for it's not going to feed everybody in the city, right? But it's a supplement to food definitely for lower income people, right. And it also just shows people where food comes from the biggest cliche when you're in urban farmers when you show a kid who comes to our farm, like this is where a carrot grows like they don't know how Carrots grow. They never seen the little green kind I've saw coming out of the ground and it's a root vegetable and people are so disconnected from their food. So it's a really a way to stay connected to food. It's a way to keep beautiful green spaces in your neighborhood. And it's just, it's a lot of fun. It's like kind of It's a community space slash, you know, a farming space. And, you know, I think back to there's a really famous family in Pennsylvania called the road ales, they created the Rodale Institute, they really taught us them. They're the kind of The Godfather, you know, of organic farming in the United States. And Bob Rodale is one of the kids would say, you know, because we would have people come to our farm in an urban farm, and they were like, This is so small, like, this isn't a farm. This is a glorified car. My backyard garden is bigger than this, you know, people from the country. And Bob Rotella said one time, it doesn't matter if you're feeding three people or 3000 people if you're growing food to feed people you're farming. And that's what you're doing. So the way we run emerald Street Community farm with my wife and I is unlike a traditional community garden where you have to commit to it and tended all year, which people find it hard to do if their renters or their kids are busy schedules and travel in the summer. So we basically created a communal farming situation where we took over this couple lots in the city, it's about a quarter of a city lot. And we've got six farm rows, we've got a whole berry patch with a fake tree, we got chickens, we've got a compost area. And everyone comes and works on a community and we say like you can work as much as you want as little as you want. You can take as much fruit as you want. You can take as little as you want. Just being mindful of it thinking about your neighbors and it all somehow someway works out so you can come and this I was just thinking this one Marisol who was just here, I had her read, plant our beads to space them out a little bit more. And we just got some amazing rain and I went out there the other day and they just look so happy. And I'm like, I can't wait for Marisol to come back in a week or two to be like hey, Marisol, remember those BT transplanted? That's what they look like, now, take a few and a couple, you know, in a month when they're really ready to go, you know, and that's, that's what we do.
William Novelli 16:51
I think there's something to be said for like reconnecting with the Earth as well though, because I know for me personally, when I'm gardening or growing things like I, it's like running or just that reconnection, you feel good about it. That's just the way I feel to at least maybe I'm wrong. But it's always a good feeling
Nic Esposito 17:07
Scientifically, like touching dirt, like really especially good, like soil that's rich in nutrients is like beneficial for your body, your body, like you needs those microbes that kind of exchange. So yeah, you got to get your hands in the soil.
Taylor Shanklin 17:19
Well, I think you're right, you said we're so disconnected from our food to the point where kids don't even like understand that a carrot grows in the ground. Like that's, that's not a good place for humanity to be in. So I think it's really awesome that you guys are trying to bring this more to the surface, even in the big city, right? I mean, I It's actually reminded me there is a little kind of community, local or rural, urban farm right down the road from me. And I guess I don't think of myself living in an urban area, because I live in the mountains. So it kind of fits in but I'm like, well, it's right next to a strip mall and Walmart. So it is an urban farm. And I drive by it all the time. And it's just small. It's like a block it takes up about a block of space. And I imagine it's people can go in and can they just set up? Usually like Can you rent a space in an urban farm like that if you want it and you don't have it in your backyard? Or is that usually how they work?
Nic Esposito 18:25
Well comes in all different shapes and models. I mean, there's like that's more of a community garden type thing and they can even go from like a little you know, planter box bed and like a really tight area to like, you know, in Philadelphia, we have bigger tracts of land that you can get like a 30 by 30 plot that's like your community garden space. There's organic for urban farms in Philadelphia, especially that are production farms that actually are producing food. There's a food cooperative called Weaver's way in Philadelphia that they have a farm that supplements like produce that goes into the food coop that people buy. So there's you know, they come in different shapes and sizes. There's this really cool person in Philly Christa Barfield, she runs a thing called Farmer John. And she's really trying to make a real go at making money off of an urban farm, which you could do that you can make money off of an acre of land if you do it right. And you have value added products and things like that. So, you know, it comes in all shapes and sizes. For us. This is a kind of grassroots labor of love. And we were just covering this a grid magazine is another you know, I worked for grid magazine. We've been Philly sustainability magazine for 14 years and we're working on an article right now around a report that came out by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture saying you know, farmers don't make barely any money in our country right? It's crazy. And you know, sometimes you'll hear people be like why farm because it's like my family has been doing and it's in my blood. I gotta keep the farm going. But you hear other people like yeah, I don't make that much money. But like, you know what, I'm home a lot of the day like, I grow food, I can things I build things around my house, like, my life is not just based off of I need this much money to pay all these bills. There's this way that you can kind of create value for yourself and I think that Something I've really learned from the farm is even though we don't make any money off of it, I couldn't imagine living without it both from a food standpoint, and also just from just having the space, it's part of my life. It's like, you know, vocation as a life, right? Instead of just like a job that you go to, that you come home and don't think about anymore. So that's how you're gonna look at it.
Well, and you even see things that have happened in our world in the last couple of years, and the importance of people being more connected to their food sources, you know, like, I mean, in the height of COVID, when none of us really knew what was happening or going to happen. I don't know about you, you probably were less scared than me. But I was like, what if a food supply system completely breaks down, you know, and so you think about that, and just being able to know, I know how to grow food, we have it in my community farm, like communities being able to take care of each other, it seems like such an essential part of our DNA that we have become so disconnected from, I think it's great that you bring it back up to the surface. So you live in this intersection of entrepreneurship and philanthropy or social good, I think we're now starting to see this whole new, you know, I would call it sector of social entrepreneurship or, you know, social impact, whereas it used to be called maybe more traditionally, just nonprofit. What advice would you give someone who's you've been doing it a while? What advice would you give someone who's maybe a young entrepreneur that's like, I'm entrepreneurial, and I want to run a business, but like you said, like, it's not all about the money, it's about purpose and impact and creating a product that gives value to the world. And also just put food on the table. At the end of the day.
Nic Esposito 21:55
I think what you just enter with was, I think that's the key, you know, it's you have, you have to just have to be mission driven, right, there's a mission for what you want to do. And really, you know, evaluate, like, your intention, why do you want to do this? You know, what's it for, right? For the fame and the glory? And all that? Or is it for like, you're really trying to make the world a better place. But as you build a business, I think one thing that I see, and I've made these mistakes myself, is really understanding like, what is the pain point that you're trying to solve for? Right? So we look at this and circular economy is that Sure, we need to reduce waste, it's a noble goal, and where I think sustainability really lost its way. And it's in the conversation is, sustainability comes with this message of limit and scarcity. And like, things are harder, right? It's like how many somebody this is not a great business proposition to be like, so I'm gonna just tell you this thing. It's more expensive. It's harder to use, it's more time consuming, but you should get it because this is going to be good for the planet, right? It's like, that's not a way to sell something, it's, you know, you have to really look at, aside from, you know, what do you think the major pain point is right? overproduction or, you know, waste or whatever it may be, what is the need kind of in the market that's going to facilitate that and make it work. So again, I use that the rounds, I think, is a really good example of a great business in Philadelphia that looked at packaging needs to be reduced. But also, when they're getting people their packaging, their customer service is incredible, right? Like I was texting with someone last night, because their website was going really slow. And I couldn't update my cart, because I needed launch, or dishwasher pods, like I needed them. And because I gotta, you know, or I'm gonna go to the store and buy something that's already packaged. They responded to me that night, and were able to update my card, apologize. And they said, We'll do some engineering work, right? Like, that's the kind of thing that really makes a business work. And they're targeting people that aren't even just about just wanting to reduce waste. It's more just like, I live in a small urban environment, like a little row house, I don't have room to go to Costco and buy 50 things of toilet paper in bulk, or like, I want this thing on a weekly basis that you're delivering on E bikes, you're doing all the things right. And you're making my life easier, like that's a good business proposition. So definitely thinking through being able to decouple kind of needs from wants, right? You want everybody to do this certain action, but what did they need to do? I think that's something to really focus on. And also just not letting the mission kind of cloud out just good business practices, like, again, not telling people I know, our customer service is awful, but you know, we're really good company for the planet. So you should just put up with it like that. That doesn't work.
Taylor Shanklin 24:25
That's not a good business model. But no, it's true. And I agree. I've never been someone who goes to Costco and buys a bunch of stuff. So when the whole toilet paper debacle happened, I didn't have a big stack of toilet paper because I don't shop at Costco. And you know, we did, we bought it to a day, we ordered. And I was like, well, well, if we run out then we'll just at least have this you know. Well, Nick, this has been a really great conversation. I've enjoyed your time and I learned a lot of shizzle I wasn't expecting to learn today. So that was I was awesome. Well, any any closing thoughts and he's just all you've picked up on today or closing dad jokes?
William Novelli 25:09
No. - Nic mentioned a lot of awesome companies that are local to us Farmer Jawn, The Rounds. The conversation was awesome. I definitely did not know that about recycled glass in as technical as we went. So I learned a lot.
Taylor Shanklin 25:26
All right, well, thank you Nick Esposito, if people want to get in touch with you. Maybe read grid magazine, learn more about circular Philadelphia, what's the best way to find out more and more get in touch?
Nic Esposito 25:38
Yeah, so definitely go through. Please read grid. Check us out. Any story ideas we always take up you can reach me at Nick at grid philly.com. And then circular Philadelphia, our contact information is on there. And you can find again, it's a one stop shop for all your needs for the circular economy in Philadelphia and I can get in touch through that website.
Taylor Shanklin 25:56
Thanks so much. All right, folks, this has been another episode of talking shizzle. Until next time, we hope you find some sizzle in your day. Well, hey there. That was fun. I love how much mind blowing and mind opening shizzle our guests bring to us with every episode. We hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as we did. Make sure you hit that subscribe button on your favorite podcast player so that you don't miss a beat of the talking shizzle podcast. And if you're listening on Apple, be sure to let us know what you thought and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from my listeners so that we can bring you all the good juicy Business Growth shizzle that you would like to hear about. Get in touch with us and follow along at Creative shizzle.com or email us at podcast at Creative shizzle.com Until next time, keep making your shizzle happen