Teen volunteers and their plants both grow in Germantown

by Gregory Starks
Posted 9/1/21

Grumblethorpe offers opportunities for young people to get involved with programs that local schools can participate in.

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Teen volunteers and their plants both grow in Germantown


Grumblethorpe House and Gardens has been in Germantown since the 1740s. The house was home to Sally Wister, who wrote a diary about life during the Revolutionary War, and her brother Charles Wister Sr., known for his weather journal and building his own observatory on the property.

It’s part of the Philadelphia Society of Preservation of Landmarks. “It’s not hard to maintain,” said Architectural Conservator Kelly Altrichter last week. “The whole thing about maintaining a house is that you jump on the problem when it starts. You don’t wait and let it fester.”

With a house filled with such rich history, there are many things that will catch one’s eye upon entering. For Altrichter, the house’s library stands out most for her. “I like the library because I like all the scientific instruments in there,” said Altrichter. “Architecturally, it’s just a beautiful house with the Wissahickon schist that was quarried all around here.”

The man in charge of keeping the property up and running is Michael Muehlbauer. Six years ago he started out as the farmer educator, and four years ago he moved into site and operations management as well as overseeing the farm program.

“We’re lucky to have the great staff that we do,” said Muehlbauer. “Everybody is great to work with. Coming out of the pandemic, we’re getting into a groove again where things are running pretty smoothly, so it’s enjoyable.”

COVID slowed down a lot of businesses, but for Grumblethorpe it was just business as usual but with some minor changes to the typical day-to-day work. “We kept gardening because landscaping and growing food was deemed essential and permitted. We got funding to do the farm stand and hired kids. So we came up with new safety protocols and never skipped a beat.”

Grumblethorpe offers opportunities for young people to get involved with programs that local schools can participate in. “We have a lot of youth programming,” said Muehlbauer. “We have an educational program where local grade schools visit and do lessons based on the history of the house, gardening and farming outdoors and nature.”

After being volunteers and helping out the community, the young volunteers can then be hired as workers for Grumblethorpe. “It’s kinda like an extracurricular club for teens,” said Muehlbauer. “[The teens] have their own board and have an adult mentor who sort of facilitates their self-guided process. Sometimes they are making jams out of our grapes or other fruits. Sometimes they elect service projects to do together around historic Germantown, sometimes Fairhill.”

High school junior, Assad Hadeed-Moore, is a youth volunteer at Grumblethorpe who joined because he saw it as a way to give back to his community. “I didn’t even know it was here, honestly,” said Assad. “But once I heard it was in Germantown, I live in Germantown, so I wanted to do something for my community.”

For high school sophomore Hanirah Dolan, the teamwork aspect is what she enjoys most about working at Grumblethorpe. “My favorite thing is when we females work as a group,” said Hanirah, “because I feel we can learn from one another. I usually like to keep to myself, so the fact that I get to meet new people is very good for me.”

High school junior Anwar Alcide enjoys the process of harvesting foods that he planted. Working at Grumblethorpe also gave him a newfound passion for gardening. “This is a completely new experience for me,” said Anwar. “I’ve done gardening before but not really for money, just kinda like weeding. It’s like harvesting the food you grew from when they were seeds, so that’s really cool to see.”

For funding, Grumblethorpe has received grants to keep their farm stand up and running. They also received a financial award, and they do make some money from the food they manage to sell as well as from donations.

To learn more about Grumblethorpe and its history, visit www.philalandmarks.org/grumblethorpe or call 215-843-4820. You can also visit Grumblethorpe at 5267 Germantown Ave.