Recently, we made our fourth stop in my Exploring Erie County initiative. We spent some time exploring Edinboro.

Flip Cafe

We started our day at Flip Cafe, a popular breakfast spot in the borough, with Borough Councilman Fred Langill.

Langill had reached out to my office after he first took office in January, and I thought it would be a good opportunity to check in with him.

Though he is new to elected office, Langill is no stranger to community involvement. He was a co-founder of the Flagship Niagara League, and has long been an advocate for his adopted home of Edinboro.

These days, he’s eager to ensure that developments being talked about elsewhere in Erie County – namely in the City of Erie – don’t pass by communities south of Interstate 90.

It was good to meet Councilman Langill and hear his ideas – and enthusiasm – for the borough.

All too soon, however, we were off to our next stop, which was just down the street.

Edinboro Borough Building

Next on our agenda was a conversation with Kevin Opple, the manager for the Borough of Edinboro.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to meet with Opple since he was hired in 2017. It was a good way for me to get to know what is happening in the borough and how the county might be able to assist our local municipalities.

One of the topics that came up in our conversation was the recently formed Erie County Land Bank, which will be used as a tool to fight blight in communities across the county.

Edinboro, as Opple pointed out, might be a unique situation among Erie County municipalities. There are quite a few rental properties in the borough, thanks to the presence of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. And in addition, about 54 percent of property in the borough is tax exempt.

We also discussed the Erie County Public Safety Advisory Board’s newly created subcommittee that aims to address some of the strains on local emergency services, as well as the $5 fee on car registrations that will be used to fund repairs on locally owned bridges and roads.

Opple also gave me a quick peek at the borough’s new water treatment facility, which is taking shape next door to the borough building on Meadville Street.

Lunch at Engine House 39 Social Club

We left Edinboro borough and crossed into neighboring Washington Township for our next appointment – lunch at Engine House 39 Social Club, which opened in April on Route 99 behind the Washington Township building.

Edinboro Volunteer Fire Department’s social club was bustling during lunchtime, which is when it is open to the public. The remaining hours of the day, including dinnertime and late night, the club is for members and their guests. Membership is just $25 per year. Proceeds from the social club benefit the fire department – which, like so many other local emergency operations, is looking for new ways to make ends meet.

The firefighting connection is evident in the restaurant, where helmets and hydrants – along with stunning images of heroic firefighters at work – help to make up the décor.

We were joined at lunch by Mary Jo Campbell, a Washington Township Council member. Washington Township operates with a township manager and a five-member council, and Campbell is in her third term on the council.

As we dined, we discussed the social club, as well as some issues facing Washington Township. Many of those issues are similar to those we discussed earlier in the day with the Edinboro borough manager.

We also touched on the topic of recycling, which has been facing drastic changes nationwide lately. Washington Township hosted a recycling drop-off site for the county recycling program, until a persistent problem with illegal dumping forced the closure of the site last year.

Now, recycling is undergoing more struggles, as waste haulers change their policies for what is accepted and what is not. As consumers, we are left with little recourse, which can be frustrating. All we can do is make sure we are following local guidelines for recycling – and to try to reduce our waste as much as possible. With that idea top of mind, we passed on the plastic straws at the social club. It might be a tiny gesture, but it is one that could add up, since 500 million plastic straws are thrown away every day in the U.S.

With bellies full, we headed back to downtown Edinboro to visit another relatively new enterprise: Edinboro Market

Edinboro Market

Edinboro Market opened in an Erie Street storefront late last year, and it has been making a name for itself in the months since.

The market is a nonprofit that aims to connect residents with locally grown and produced foods. As Marti Martz, president of the nonprofit, showed us around, we could see evidence of that commitment for ourselves: Jars of local honey lined a shelf. Locally grown greens burst from a display. Glass jugs of milk and wrapped packs of beef, all from area farms, filled a wall of coolers. At the front of the store is a counter for the Boro Sweet Shop, a for-profit bakery run by Curtis Hals, Martz’s husband.

Martz described her goal for the market as being almost an incubator of sorts for local growers, helping to connect those local food producers with the people who will buy the products.

The challenge for a lot of local farmers or other growers is the distribution of their products, and the market hopes to be able to address that issue.  In fact, the market’s status as a nonprofit means that income is returned to the growers.

We were joined in our visit to the market by Alex Iorio, of the Erie County Department of Health. The county department has been working hard to connect residents to fresh, local food sources, and the Edinboro Market fits perfectly into that objective.

Martz takes that mission a step further, though, not just offering local food but educating people about their food and where it comes from. To that end, she has been organizing classes at the market, including lessons on making homemade kombucha and yogurt, and one on raising backyard chickens. She also offers locally made soaps as well as products that promote sustainable living, like reusable bags and wraps.

As the market experiences its first summer food bounty, Martz seemed content with the nonprofit’s potential – and eager to find even more ways to help local growers flourish.

Goodell Gardens & Homestead

Our next stop, Goodell Gardens & Homestead, took us a little bit outside of Edinboro’s downtown, but still within the borough boundaries.

The Goodell grounds were quiet on this weekday afternoon, but during special events – like the Homegrown Harvest Festival or Summer Music Festival – the place can be packed with visitors.

In fact, as new executive director Amber Wellington told us, Goodell Gardens drew nearly 20,000 visitors in 2017, more than a 10 percent increase over 2016.

The day we visited was just Wellington’s second day on the job as executive director, but she had been with Goodell Gardens since 2011. She previously handled a variety of tasks – including event planning, development, public relations and membership – as assistant to the longtime executive director Dana Atwood, who passed away in September 2017.

Now she’s leading the tight-knit Goodell crew, which consists of five employees and dozens and dozens of volunteers – which are the lifeblood of the organization, she said.

Wellington spoke enthusiastically about plans for Goodell Gardens, which opened to the public in 2004.

The facility is on land donated by sisters Carrie and Margaret Goodell. The sisters lived in the family home on the land, and arranged for an endowment to help their wish – that their family homestead be turned into a public garden – become reality.

Today, that wish has been realized, with rustic gathering places, peaceful paths, fragrant greenery, and even Carrie’s private cabin open to visitors.

“We’re just trying to make it as beautiful as we can,” Wellington said.

Wellington and the staff have a vision for the future, backed by a master plan, that will create more opportunities for the public to gather and enjoy the gardens and green space. The goals for the future also include enhancing both the botanical and historical importance of Goodell Gardens.

Wellington spoke with enthusiasm about painstakingly restoring historic strucures and working with organizations like Erie Yesterday, and about exploring the idea of creating a network with other nature-focused organizations like Lake Erie Arboretum at Frontier, Tamarack Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center, Environment Erie, Penn State Behrend’s arboretum and more.

“We’re really excited about the future of Goodell Gardens,” she said.

Edinboro Branch Library

Our last stop of the day was an open session with residents, always a highlight of our Exploring Erie County days. This time, we gathered inside the Edinboro Branch Library.

Edinboro’s library is one of the branches that operate as part of the Erie County Public Library. This branch library is unique, however, in that it holds a Literary Landmark designation from the American Library Association. It received the designation in 2017 to recognize Edinboro’s connection to the Newbery Medal-winning book “Miracles on Maple Hill,” by Virginia Sorensen.

On this day, the always-helpful staff at the library set us up in a cozy nook, where I was able to have a wide-ranging conversation with several Erie County residents.

We talked about Edinboro, of course, but also about the other communities that make up our county. One question broached the subject of all the investment and developments going on in downtown Erie, and what that means for the future of the city. I expressed that my vision for the future is that by strengthening the urban core in Erie, we will then be able to strengthen the other Erie County communities – including Edinboro and its neighbors in our southwestern corner.

Before we knew it, our time at the library was up, as was our day in Edinboro – but I couldn’t resist a quick stop back at the Edinboro Market before heading north on the highway back to Erie.