Health Beat: People Helping People Get Fit

Tracy Benson sits in her office after a nutrition session

In a city crawling with food trucks and fast food restaurants there exists an active, bustling community of health and wellness practitioners working towards changing social attitudes and health patterns in Philadelphia. Nutritionists, activist filmmakers, herbalists, fitness teachers and member-owned grocery stores are aiding Philly by providing wholesome products and offering knowledge, help and services for people that seek healthier lifestyles.

1. As the owner of Lighten Up Nutrition Counseling Services, Tracy Benson (pictured above) has been offering her health services for 19 years. Benson built her business as a nutrition counselor, founding Lighten Up Nutrition which focuses on helping people achieve healthier lifestyles and overcome diseases by limiting medication intake and applying healthy eating habits.

“I could show you over 100 clients who have completely come off their medications just by changing their diet,” Benson said.

Benson conducts wellness programs throughout Pennsylvania and has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pepperidge Farms Inc.

Christina Stoltz is the owner of Ploome Fitness studio near the Piazza in Northern Liberties.
Christina Stoltz is the owner of Ploome Fitness studio near the Piazza in Northern Liberties.

2. Christina Stoltz, founder of Ploome Fitness Studio and REQ.1, is an educator who promotes self-expression along with a sense of community. Stoltz’s goal is to unite people while sharing her passions for healing and creating social and personal transformations. Stoltz teaches a range of classes from Piloxing to Hoopnotica, a class using hula-hoops. Stoltz is also a Beyond Barre master trainer and is a strong supporter of the outreach movement on gender-based violence.

A woman reaches for a sack of herbs in Maia Toll's apothecary called The Herbiary in Chestnut Hill.
A woman reached for a sack of herbs in Maia Toll’s apothecary, called The Herbiary, in Chestnut Hill.

3. Maia Toll, owner of The Herbiary, an organic apothecary with locations in Chestnut Hill and Reading Terminal Market, is a natural wellness practitioner with methods extending beyond conventional norms. The founder of Witch Camp and teacher of a clinical herbalist certification course, Toll provides Philly with a chance to pursue a holistic lifestyle.

“Maia is helping to make herbalism accessible to people in a mainstream fashion but with an innovative (and yet simultaneously traditional) focus, a vision of the urban kitchen as the place where everyone can easily and enjoyably enter into the world of herbs,” said Jessica Lambert, Toll’s client and student coordinator.

“Maia doesn’t fall into one category. Her knowledge is a cultivation from many different teachings and knowledge,” said John Muraco, a student of Toll’s clinical herbalist certification course.

“Her best quality is that she is a really dynamic person and teacher,” Muraco said.

Bunch stands behind the counter at Weaver's Way Co-op on Carpenter Lane.
Bunch worked behind the counter at Weaver’s Way Co-op on Carpenter Lane.

4. Since 1974, Weaver’s Way Co-op has been dedicated to supporting the local community by providing wholesome products. Now with multiple locations across Philly, Weaver’s Way is not just known for the organic produce but also for customer service. “We are community oriented and member-owned,” said Erin Harrington, an employee of four years and assistant manager of the grocery store in Germantown.

“We go above and beyond. Your opinions and thoughts count and they’re appreciated,” Harrington said.

“This community is the best place,” said Sarah Bunch, cashier for over a year at the Chestnut Hill location. “Everyone here is kind and like-minded.”

Zofia Hausman poses on the red carpet at a radio event.
Zofia Hausman posed on the red carpet at a radio event.

5. Activist and filmmaker Zofia Hausman created GMO Free Pa, an organization that supports GMO food labeling, and co-founded the nonprofit organization Citizens for GMO Labeling, a national movement dedicated to ensuring proper food labeling. Hausman fuses her passion for food rights with activism to give knowledge to the public on GMOs and their effects on human health. She’s a contributor to Neviah Film’s recent feature length documentary The Agtivist, the filmmakers’ term for “one who fights for food freedom.” The documentary follows four Americans who investigate genetically modified organisms and fight what they perceive as corporate control of food.

“Anyone can do something to make a difference,” said Hausman. “It really does start in your own area and in your own community.”

– Text and images by Kelsey Kondraski and Shayna Kleinberg

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