BUSINESS Feed

Landscaper continues family tradition

Fifty years ago, when John Antonucci’s grandfather, Frank, immigrated from Italy and established his masonry business in North Wales, Pa outside Philadelphia, there was just a stop sign outside at the now busy intersection of Stump Road and Route 309. Frank’s son Salvatore expanded the business and now Sal’s Nursery and Landscaping has nineteen acres of nursery which is mainly a source of plant material for the company’s landscaping operation. Customers can also walk in and buy plants at retail. Sal’s specializes in upscale projects like in-ground pool, pool houses and patio installations. And, unlike the big-box stores, it offers rare varieties and very large specimens so that customers who have lost shrubs or trees say, during the recent rough winter, can match and fill in the gaps in their landscapes. On a crisp spring day, John spoke proudly about the family operation and pointed out several beautiful plants like the cluster of dark red-leafed and flowering ninebarks. (Physocarpus opulifolius)

Watch video and tour here


Eating energy bars made from crickets

Weavers Way Food Coop has introduced a new line of energy bars  - ones made with crickets.

On Tuesday, staff members at the Chestnut Hill store sampled Chapul’s Thai Cricket Bar.

Jon Roesser and Lara Cantu- Hertzler appeared pleased with the bar’s coconut-ty, gingery taste. Roesser noted that cricket flour was listed as the fourth ingredient and figured (correctly) that it served as the bar’s protein source.  Cantu-Herztler was a little queasy about eating insects but thought it was a good idea.

Rick Neth hadn’t seen the product before but reported that in his native Cambodia, insects are sometimes eaten in certain regions.  Farm raised crickets might be baked, used in stuffed, roasted peanuts, or fire-roasted.

On its website, the Chapul company is asking people to join the other 80% of the world’s population who, it says, regularly consume protein-rich insects as part of their diet, and effect a revolution against traditional land-and-water intensive, polluting agriculture.

At the conclusion of the accompanying video, staffer Joe Stanton is mulling over a mouthful.

Watch video interview here.


Money never sleeps: mining litecoins in basement

A father and son  "mine" bitcoins and litecoins 24/7 in their unfinished Chestnut Hill basement.

These "coins," son explains, are virtual currencies not under the control of any government.  As such, the world of digital money has attracted illegal activity such as the Silk Road online black market that the U.S. government has shut down for dealings in drugs.

Rocky relates that bitcoins are convertible to dollars and that when China recently clamped down on their use, the price crashed from upwards of $1200 per bitcoin to $700.

These exchanges depend upon an army of computer geeks called miners (like the duo) to verify transactions through the use of computers installed with software that solves complex mathematical formulas. As explained in an Internet video, miners may work together in "pools". 

The son enjoys both the technical challenge of configuring and adding hardware and the money-making aspect of mining.  A friend of theirs, he says, has earned $100,000 with a shed full of equipment. For now, the duo are transitioning from bitcoin to litecoin which uses the same peer-to-peer network protocols as bitcoin but can be mined using consumer level graphics cards. They currently earn about $16 a day from running their set-up around the clock out of which $2.50 a day covers additional electricity charges.

Dad is not new to home industry; he also keeps bees.

Watch video here.


How Lego conquered the toy industry brick by brick

Legos - it's about the brick

The Lego Company has been fantastically successful. In each of the last 5 years sales have risen 24% and profits, 40%. But it was not always so. For most of its 80-year existence, its reach did not extend so far beyond Billun, Denmark, where Ole Kirk Christiansen, a carpenter unable to secure enough wood to build furniture during the 1930s depression, began experimenting building wooden toys.

The company under Christiansen’s progeny soared in the last couple decades but tie-in products to the Star Wars and Harry Potter movies nearly doomed the company in 2003; sales of those products crashed when the movie franchises hadn’t yet come out with new films.

This, according to Wharton Professor Dave Robertson and former LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at Switzerland's Institute for Management. Robertson, a Chestnut Hill resident, discussed his new book, “Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote the Rules of Innovation and Conquered the Global Toy Industry” at the William Jeannes Library in Lafayette Hill this past Thursday evening.

He began his slide talk by distributing baggies, each packed with the identical same six logo pieces, and instructed the audience to “Build a duck” and gave us only a minute or two. Participants then brought their “ducks” up to the front table. At the end of the talk, Robertson pointed to the wide variation of these Lego “ducks” as evidence that incredible creativity is possible even when severe constraints are imposed, a major thesis of his book.

He credits Lego Company’s resurgence to its imposition of key constraints: drastically reducing the number of parts (about 14000 different ones at peak) that had made the manufacturing process unwieldy, getting back to products that are more “Lego-y” and subjecting product proposals to the approval a committee of 3 seasoned Lego designers. And, ultimately, insisting that projected profitability be a constant constraint.

What Lego pioneered was not just a toy, Robertson maintains, but a system of play. And that system “is about the brick.”

Watch video here.


McDonald's high school worker aims higher

mcdonalds worker

Danielle Taylor of Germantown, a 12th grader home schooled through Agora Cyber Charter School, works 30 hours a week at the Chestnut Hill McDonald’s. She’s paid at the rate of $7.25 an hour which she thinks is OK for someone, like herself, in high school. She gets no benefits; after a year’s work she may be entitled to a raise of 25 cents an hour. Her goal is to attend college, major in business and technology – and it sounds like she wants to stay out of the fast food industry.

Danielle was interviewed on Thursday December 5th, a day when fast food workers in 100 cities across the nation staged walkouts in support of the right to unionize and demands for a more livable wage.

Watch video interview here


Ploughing new ground at urban farm

moldboard plow at HGC farm - 2

Scott Blunk employs a moldboard plow to break new ground at the Henry Got Crops Farm in Roxborough, Philadelphia. Blunk, who worked for the John Deere company at one time, explains that this plow is based on an early Deere design and was known as “self cleaning” because it cuts out slices of turf  and then dumps them  upside down off of the share  or blade. (See Wikipedia for an expanded technical explanation) The newly plowed area, part of the CSA farm’s expansion, will get planted this fall with a cover crop to add nitrogen and nutrients before eventually coming into production the year after next.  IS THERE A PLAN FOR WHAT’S GOING IN HERE? “No. I’d like to plant marijuana. Maybe that’ll be approved by the spring of 2015, whadda you think?” Watch video here.

moldboard plow at HGC farm - 4


New baby, new studio at CH Fall for the Arts Fest

The youngest person at Chestnut Hill’s Fall for the Arts festival Sunday may have been two day-old Xavier Brubaker.  Sleep-deprived but happy parents Japheth and Suzanne recently returned to Chestnut Hill with their 2 year-old daughter, Quinn, to be closer to family. They were the southernmost exhibitors at the festival, promoting their new fitness and personal training studio, "Water and Rock," at 8109 Germantown Avenue. Visit http://waterandrockstudio.com/ for more information.

New baby, new training studio

Watch video interview here.


"Royal" pets get to romp in Wissahickon Park

cu dog walking

The dogs being served by Queenies Pets service ("Treating Your Pets Like Royalty") love romping around the Wissahickon Park (offleash) and swimming in the creek, reports Tim Abrams whom I encountered dropping off home a neighbor’s dog and ushering two others into his car after their outing. Abrams has a full schedule and just yesterday had five compatible dogs on an outing at one time. In addition to excursions in the park, Abrams manages doggie play dates in clients’ back yards.

Watch video interview here.

Read article by Queenies Pets owner Adina Silberstein


Herr's potato chip factory tour

Potato chip tourThe story goes that in 1853, a restaurant patron at a New York resort who complained of a soggy french fry gave rise to the invention of the potato chip. Tori Messaros, a college biology major on summer break, gives five hour long tours a day of the Herr’s Snack Factory in Nottingham, Pennsylvania near the Maryland border. And she is just one of many guides- tours start every 20 minutes 9 to 4 daily except Friday. For Messaros, it’s a family affair: her mother runs the tour center. Large glass windows in corridors above the production floor offer real time views of the different production stages. Our tour started with tortilla chips and then moved on to potato chips. Except for a handful of workers in the box packing area, the factory rooms otherwise appeared eerily empty with only one or two workers making the rounds or attending to a machine. The machines operate around the clock with three shifts of workers a day. Leftover corn kernel and potato peels get recycled to the Herr’s farm and potato starch from the slicing process gets sold. The time it takes a potato to enter the chute, get washed, peeled, sliced, rewashed, fried, seasoned and packaged, takes six minutes, Messaros says. But it took only a couple of minutes for our group to devour just off-the-line hot chips and pick up two small complementary bags of chips before being dropped off in- where else -the factory gift shop!

Watch video interview and Vined tour here

Information about potato chip production