(Please be aware that this and all future blogs concerning what is happening in the world of Conscious Confections, will now have it's own blog, which my business partner and I will both contribute to. You can check my links, or visit directly at www.consciousconfections.blogspot.com)
Okay, so we were ecstatic to hear The South Philly Review, a local paper, wanted to do an article on our Wellness Workshops, but when we heard we got the cover story, the feeling was totally surreal! It's so exciting to know that there is such a genuine interest in the work we are doing and lives we are changing. I think that this really shows that we can make a real difference not only here in Philadelphia, but in the world. Our mission from day one was to create an example of total wellness and sustainability both in individuals and communities. This article has turned that idea into a reality, as a group of individuals all focused on one common goal, we now serve as an example to the rest of our city who now have a window to look in and see what we're all about. Thanks to everyone who has and continues to influence these workshops and put this plan into action! Thoughts really do become things.
Enjoy the article:
A bold, new look
A local woman and her business partner are holding workshops to promote community wellness and sustainability.
By Caitlin Meals
Leslianna Federici and Ed Coffin helmed the third wellness workshop at DiSilvestro Recreation Center Tuesday night, giving participants an outlet to discuss topics like healthy eating and food co-ops. Photo by Greg Bezanis
Leslianna Federici’s first taste of baby food didn’t come from Gerber or Beech-Nut. It came from her parents’ plates when they’d puree leftovers her toothless mouth could gum.
“My parents were ‘back to the land’ people,” she said of growing up on a farm in Mays Landing, N.J. “They’d grow their own food, kill their own chickens to support the family. I grew up having a lot of fresh foods.”
It seemed, then, eating healthy and local was in her blood, but there was a time she “moved away” from this. Her parents divorced and married others and Federici began using drugs. By the time she was 20, she decided to turn her life around. Since then, the 32-year-old has been cross country and back, learning and teaching personal wellness and community sustainability while focusing on using resources so they are now depleted or permanently damaged — a concept she is not taking to residents through workshops tailored to their environment.
Two years ago, she “fell in love” with a house at 15th and Morris streets and has called South Philly home ever since. Federici began to get involved with her Newbold neighborhood, which runs from Washington to Passyunk avenues and West Broad to East 18th streets, including participating in small cleanups and improving the DiSilvestro Playground. She took note of her forward-thinking, open neighbors.
Having lived her life believing she could help those around her, Federici embarked on an idea she and former student Ed Coffin had. Focused on leading a life conscious of how their choices affected the world, Federici and Coffin, 21, looked for local space for a wellness café.
“It was to be a place where the community could connect,” Federici said of Conscious Confections, which was to feature vegan treats. “The concept of wellness when creating the café was to identify the neighborhood it was in and identify what they needed for wellness.”
But deals fell through and the pair were left without a space for its healthy foods, yoga studio and wellness education. Federici was distraught, but Coffin saw past it all.
“He said, ‘Why not do Conscious Confections as an umbrella business?’” Federici recalled, adding her business partner pointed out there were places like DiSilvestro Rec Center that would provide space for workshops.
After all, the most important thing to both wasn’t the where or how, but that they got in touch with the community.
The first wellness workshop was Feb. 2 at the rec center at 15th and Morris. The co-founders explained their intention, provided vegan food and talked with the community about how it could learn about its impact on the environment, either by way of guest speakers, literature, healthy recipes or information.
The second workshop March 4 drew a more diverse, substantial group. Sara Selepouchin, of Morris and Bancroft streets, along with Federici, is a member of the Newbold Neighbors Association. Selepouchin said the workshops have been successful in educating people who already have an interest in health and wellness.
“It’s really nice to see such an active group, especially since Philadelphia is constantly ranked one of the least healthy cities in the country,” Selepouchin said. “There’s definitely a core group in the neighborhood expressing [interest], and I think it’s only going to get stronger as we get more neighbors onboard. I don’t think there’s any resistance to this.”
“Kids from the after-school program [at the rec center] stayed and participated. The coolest thing was watching them eat whole, healthy and natural foods and loving them,” Federici said of the coleslaw made with kale she served. “Seeing the kids get involved really made a huge difference for me in realizing how much of an impact we can have if we get the whole community involved — kids, adults, families, like a ‘it takes a village’ kind of idea.”
As time goes on, the workshops — the most recent held Tuesday and the next set for early May — are creating a buzz in the neighborhood and beyond, with participation from Center City where Coffin lives and even South Jersey.
The draw is not surprising, considering who’s at the helm. Federici has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Evergreen State College in Washington State. Prior to that, she worked at a San Antonio, Texas, Whole Foods in the deli, bakery and customer service departments, where she learned about nutrition and healthy lifestyles. When she returned to the East Coast about five years ago, she became certified to teach and was a faculty member at Delsea High School in Franklinville, N.J., instructing 10th- and 11th-graders in biology, chemistry, math and physics. Coffin was one of her students.
“It seemed like she connected more with the students than any other teachers,” Coffin said. “She really has that ability to connect on their level with whomever she’s speaking with. She made [class] interesting and accessible.”
Federici left a lasting impression, so much so that when Coffin received a term paper assignment at Camden County Community College, where he was studying health, he contacted his high school to interview her. Federici had left that job, but Coffin tracked her down 18 months ago through MySpace. They discovered their shared ideas and began brainstorming. Although they did not open the cafe — yet — the workshops provide a teaching vehicle and give them feedback on their vegan recipes they hope will one day be sold under Conscious Confections.
Today, Federici is a personal trainer and wellness educator with the Environmental Protection Agency in Center City. Coffin is working towards becoming a registered dietician at Newark, N.J.-based University of Medicine and Dentistry, where he does most of his coursework online.
The business partners each bring unique elements to their workshops. Coffin has been a vegan (a person who does not eat meat or products containing ingredients produced by animals, like dairy or eggs) for a year and a vegetarian (a person who does not eat meat) since age 10. Federici is a self-described omnivore. She’ll eat meat, dairy and animal products, but is conscious of where her produce is grown and what toll it takes on the environment.
Food is critical to their mission, but the co-founders stress the importance of honing in on other areas. At March’s workshop, Newbold neighbors discussed their interest in a food co-op. Federici said there are two models implemented by neighborhood groups in Mount Airy and Southwest Philadelphia. Both involve buying health food from a retailer, then the food is either paid for and divvied up by the members or inventoried and sold to the public. In the latter, co-op members volunteer to work in exchange for a discount. Right now, Newbold’s co-op plan is in its infancy, but Federici hopes it will amount to something elaborate, like a store.
Selepouchin attended the workshop and is heading the efforts for the Newbold food co-op. The 26-year-old said she has friends who are members of Mariposa Food Co-Op on Baltimore Avenue in Southwest.
“Getting food from responsible sources is something that is important [to our neighbors],” she said of the co-op idea that was brought up during the February and March workshops. “Right now, we have a list of people who are interested. We’re using the wellness workshops as a springboard to get ideas started and we have contacts from existing co-ops in the city we want to get in touch with to learn about how co-ops operate. We’re all interested to have a way to get food and know where it comes from that is a nonprofit, and not have to drive to a big store and park in a big parking lot.”
Future workshops will be dictated by community feedback and Federici and Coffin hope to receive grants to take the message to recreation centers citywide. In May, participants will hear from a yoga instructor who will focus on breathing and what effects the community has on air quality.
As for Conscious Confections, Federici is working on getting zoning to run the business out of her kitchen where she and Coffin modify recipes for a vegan lifestyle.
Everything comes back to connecting the community and showing neighbors how their decisions impact one another.
“This is it — you only get one shot living here and so to really maximize it, to me, that is being at the height of consciousness. Living in a body that’s sustainable and healthy will transfer to the neighborhood and the community. They will actually sustain each other. How different our Philadelphia would look if that were happening,” Federici said, citing a life of less trash, violence and obesity, as well as friendlier people.
Added Coffin, “I would hope anyone who came to one of the workshops would at least walk away with a little more consciousness to their actions. How it’s affecting them from a health standpoint, their overall wellness and how it relates to the wellness of the community.”
For Staff Writer Caitlin Meals, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or ext. 117.