|Posted by Elwin Green on June 8, 2016 at 10:05 AM|
Homewood resident Celeste Taylor (r), chats with YMCA garden program director Hanna Mosca (l) and Shiloh Farm manager Nick Lubecki of Grow PIttsburgh (c).
In a January post titled, "A New Script for Homewood," I wrote, “An alternative way of developing both people and land would be through urban agriculture.... Residents of a neighborhood with as much vacant land as Homewood has should never go hungry. Period.”
The movement to make agriculture a significant part of Homewood's economy made a step forward Saturday, with the grand opening of the Homewood Community Farmers Market.
The open-air market, conducted on the parking lot of House of Manna Worship Center on Frankstown Avenue, was presented by the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-operative.
A banner stretched across one of House of Manna’s windows proclaimed the group's mission: “to establish, educate and assist Black people for sustainability and food sovereignty.”
“Our people getting together to start urban agricultural groups is nothing new,” said organizer Raqueeb Bey. “Even after slavery, sharecroppers had to do it.”
The 25-member group was formed in June 2015, and is itself a member of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Co-operatives, an advocacy and networking group for worker-owned and member-owned businesses.
Bey said they decided to conduct the farmers market in Homewood because the neighborhood is a food desert, which she defined as “an underserved neighborhood where community residents don't have access to inexpensive, affordable, fresh groceries.”
“A lot of times their options are to go outside the neighborhood to a major grocery store. Sometimes even at the corner stores the prices are very high. And a lot of times the faces of corner store owners don’t look like us.”
Consistent with the group's ethnic focus, during an opening ceremony storyteller and master gardener Amir Rashidd of the Hill District offered libations in accordance with African tradition, pouring water onto the earth of a potted plant in honor of both ancestors and future descendants.
After that, it was time to shop among the small group of vendors, whose tents offered shade on a day that had turned sunny after raining earlier.
Grow Pittsburgh was there with a table that offered collard greens, kale (which sold out), and swiss chard, among other items, grown from two local gardens: one at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA , the other (Shiloh Farm) at Homewood Avenue and Thomas Boulevard.
“All this stuff was grown within a half a mile of here,” Shiloh Farm manager Nick Lubecki boasted.
I ran into Demi Kolke of Operation Better Block. During the organization's community planning process, urban agriculture emerged as a potential use for the vacant lots that make up nearly half of Homewood’s land parcels, a fact reflected in the final consensus vision plan unvelied last November. Kolke reminded me that OBB operates agricultural space in the 7300 block of Frankstown Avenue, a block away from House of Manna — a set of four lots on which Homewood youth have begun growing corn, peppers and greens. So they may show up as vendors in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, Louis Smith was already there, vending under the name, “King of Spices.’ His setup offered dozens of family-sized containers of all-natural spices —- and caps, ties and purses on the side.
After 25 years of operating stores and restaurants, Smith, of Wilkinsburg, said he has focused on selling his wares at farmers markets for the past four years.
Republic Food Enterprise Center came the longest distance to be there, from the town of Republic, Fayette County. It offered an assortment of vegetables and packaged goods with names like "Grandma’s Old Fashioned Buttermilk Flannel Cake Mix" and "Ernie’s World Famous Chipotle Wing Sauce."
Being around food can make a person hungry, so culinary student Essence Muhammed-Howze was offering free samples of cornbread and vegan chili (which was better than it sounds).
There were non-food vendors as well.
Bey's Temple of Natural Products had a table set up to offer natural soaps, skin butters and bath teas — large bags of herbs to be placed into a hot bath. Owner Jean Felisor Bey, of Duquesne, said that he and his wife began creating the products because “we didn't want use the harsh chemicals” in commercial soaps to bathe their four children. They have been in business since Februrary 2015.
And there was a raffle for small prizes, including artwork and bottles of wine.
When I first learned about the market, I was afraid that it would be a one-time event, or that it might happen just a couple of times before fizzling out. So I was delighted to learn from Ms. Bey that the organization plans to hold the market every other Saturday through the end of October, and one day each in November and December inside the worship center.
The next market, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on June 18 will be followed by the group’s monthly meeting at 3:30 p.m.
The Homewood Community Farmers Market is a practical example of “ujamaa,” or cooperative economics, one of the seven principles of Kwanzaa. It’s good see that principle being practiced beyond the holidays, just as it would be amazing to see “good will toward men” practiced beyond Christmas.
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A print version of this piece appears in the June 9 - 15 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy Friday at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!