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Local food and civil disobedience: Judy Wicks’ journey to a completely sustainable lifestyle

Judy Wicks and her...ahem...white dog. April 13, 2018 Category: FeatureFeaturedLongPeople


Correction: The air date and full title of "Judy Wicks: The Me to We Story" have been updated. (9:30 a.m.)
WHYY’s April episode of “Friday Arts” featuring sustainability pioneer Judy Wicks was meant to be like any other: The culture-focused show usually highlights three different arts-related stories focused on the Philadelphia area.

But soon after producer Monica Rogozinski began her interview with Wicks — and with Earth Day soon approaching — she felt a special edition of “Friday Arts” that focused entirely on Wicks’ personal farm-to-table ethos and sustainable lifestyle seemed more fitting.

And thus, “Judy Wicks: The Me to We Story” story was born.

In the episode, premiering Sunday, April 22, “I talk about my commitment to lowering my carbon footprint in face of climate change,” said Wicks, the beloved founder of Philly’s Sustainable Business Network. “Cutting off my natural gas supply, converting my house to 100 percent renewable electricity — all from local sources.”

Wicks shared with producer Rogozinski the specifics of those conversions — installing solar panels on her roof, installing an induction stove top and converting her furnace to an electric heat pump.

“I did it because of the damage fracking has done to communities, blighting the landscape in Lancaster County,” said Wicks.

The last thing she remembers discussing for the episode was her March 10 arrest during the protest of a drilling rig in Lancaster County. (Wicks is familiar with civil disobedience, including via an arrest for staging a sit-in near the White House in 2011 and leading a Philadelphia delegation to Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in 2016.)

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“We have a legitimized greed in this country,” said Wicks. “[Martin Luther] King [Jr.] warned us of the triple evils: racism, militarism and materialism. We value material goods more than we do people.”

Judy Wicks.

Judy Wicks. (Courtesy photo)

The “Friday Arts” episode zeroes in on the ways in which Wicks personally exemplifies her belief in sustainability, and encourages her values in others.

For instance, in it, Ann Karlen, founding executive director of local nonprofit Fair Food, tells Rogozinski the story of how Wicks turned over the list of local farmer suppliers from Wicks’ previously owned White Dog Café to rival restaurants.

The end game? To incite the beginnings of a holistic local society.

“I call that my transition from me to we,” said Wicks — hence, of course, the episode’s title. “That transformation moment, when I realized that, if I did care about those things — and the health of consumers in that industrial system, antibiotics and hormones and all that — that I would share what I know with my competitors. We need to cooperate with each other to build whole systems, a system that serves our whole region.”

(Wicks said as much when Generocity profiled her back in February 2016, tracing her upbringing the suburbs of Pittsburgh and her arrival in Philadelphia, her entrance into the restaurant business and subsequent local food initiatives, and her founding of funding network Circle of Aunts and Uncles.)

She also told Rogozinski that sustainability had always been of interest to her, but that her time spent living for nearly a year after college in the secluded Alaskan village of Chefornak as a VISTA volunteer changed her life.

“I witnessed a culture that was based on cooperation and sharing,” said Wicks. “They think that hoarding more than you need is immoral and antisocial. I realized that [people] could measure success in different ways.”

The things Judy Wicks is passionate about seem to pour forth as easily and abundantly as breathing.

The episode doesn’t get into her politics, said Wicks. But during our conversation, she just couldn’t help herself. The things she’s passionate about seem to pour forth as easily and abundantly as breathing.

“Trump and his allies, most of the Republican party, has an attitude of ‘every man for himself,'” said Wicks. “If you don’t have money, and you’re not white, than you don’t matter, is what Trump advocates, with his dog whistles and everything. He doesn’t come right out and say it.”

For now, Wicks plans to focus on the continued success of the Circle of Aunts and Uncles — which has contributed roughly $100,000 in low-interest loans to 12 small businesses since its founding two years ago — as well as a relatively new devotion: state elections. She’s been directing her attention mainly toward resisting climate change, advocating for renewable energy and supporting progressive political candidates who do the same. She’s even planning a fundraising event for races in the near future.

“I think we need to resist, and we also nee d to build the alternative,” said Wicks. “Sometimes it costs money, so I feel like people who have money, it’s our obligation to use our money in that way, instead of going on vacations.”

Wicks is hoping to discuss more of her political beliefs, and anything else the audience is curious about, at the episode’s screening and Q&A event on Tuesday, April 17 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at WHYY. Register to attend here. The episode premieres on WHYY TV channel 12 on Sunday, April 22, at 11:30 a.m.


Circle of Aunts and Uncles

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