From Field to Fork
We put together this dynamic guide to help you find and engage with the region’s sustainable producers of meat, honey, alcohol, fruits and vegetables.
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
An ever-growing number of people are learning about, supporting and celebrating Pittsburgh’s local food systems. Newcomers are stopping by a farmers market or neighborhood butcher shop for the first time. Backyard veterans are pulling their own carrots from the soil and growing arbors of grapes, processing the fruit into jam that they’ll share
with friends new and old.
Whether you’re an old (farm) hand or just getting off the processed-food train, it can be challenging to navigate all the buzzwords and businesses that claim to embrace the local food movement. Farm-to-table is a phrase so common that it’s slipping off the tongue like ice on a hot summer day. So we put together this dynamic guide to help you find and engage with the region’s sustainable producers of meat, honey, alcohol, fruits and vegetables.
Savor their bounty at your own table.
The Future of Food
Hal B. Klein asks six Pittsburgh chefs: How would you like local food to look five years from now?
Executive Chef, Bar Marco
I think Pittsburgh’s best restaurants will be in [the] hands of pretty capable people. There’s a lot of young talent in Pittsburgh, and they are finding their voice and their niche. I would hate to see our chefs follow trends that don’t represent our region. Create food, drinks and ambience that can only happen here.
Executive Chef/Co-owner, Legume
I’d like to see more casual restaurants and cafes that cook real food but aren’t necessarily high-end either. Just good, simple cooking that doesn’t break the bank. In my neighborhood [Squirrel Hill], I’d like to see a proper Jewish deli and a moratorium on any new frozen-dessert shops — except for ones serving real ice cream.
Executive Chef/Owner, E2
I am meeting new farmers every day and am excited that there is opportunity for them here. I hope to see Pittsburgh chefs and consumers continue to foster this type of growth. We are building an intimate, community-minded land- and health-conscious food community here. This community will be a big voice as Pittsburgh continues its renaissance.
Executive Chef, Tamari
I would like to see more authentic cuisine in Pittsburgh, such as a real Japanese restaurant or izakaya [pub]. I think restaurants tend to “Americanize” authentic dishes instead of serving Pittsburghers “the real thing.” I believe in five years Pittsburgh’s dining scene will be elevated to the next level if we educate our diners and serve them the best food.
Executive Chef, Soba
I’d like to see the Pittsburgh food scene stop being [regarded as a]
“secret-food-getaway” location and get the admiration it deserves. I want people to notice not just the chefs but the farmers and purveyors who are helping to make it all happen in this beautiful city.
There will be a continued push toward collaboration with other chefs but also with farmers or cheese makers. I also see easier access to ethically sourced goods. I feel that a large part of Pittsburgh in the future includes urban agriculture.
(Townsend is former Executive Chef at Salt of the Earth)
Want to start your own community garden? The National Gardening Association says that one in three American households grows food, an increase of roughly 17 percent throughout the past five years. Pittsburgh is experiencing comparable growth, led by several organizations.
Nonprofit Grow Pittsburgh is leading the charge and confirms that there are more than 60 active community gardens in the city. Last year the organization helped to create more than 5,000 square feet of space to grow food. Those wishing to start an urban garden should consider attending one of Grow Pittsburgh’s GardenPrimers and setting up a time for soil testing by Penn State Extension, “an educational network that gives people in Pennsylvania’s 67 counties access to [Penn State] University’s resources and expertise” related to agriculture.
Once the Extension checks for lead and nutrients, join the MeetUp group Pittsburgh Garden Experiment for ongoing support. With 100 square feet of space producing an average of $700 of produce in season, it makes sense to convert that lawn to a nutritious resource. —LL
Savor the Flavor
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Don’t know if you’ll be able to use all of your summer crops? Consider preserving the harvest with the help of local experts.
The newfound popularity of farmers markets, gardens and CSA boxes has sparked a challenge for industrious shoppers and growers: “What am I going to do with everything?”
Assuming you reap a solid harvest, you’ll likely end up with more produce than you can consume. Even if you tend to use every tomato and blueberry, tasting summer in the form of a jam in mid-February is such a beautiful experience that you should consider setting aside some of your bounty.
Although canning, pickling and fermenting never went out of style in many households, some of us could use a little help.
“We were ahead of the curve on this one,” says Slow Food Pittsburgh co-leader Susan Barclay. The organization started a series of canning, jarring and pickling workshops six years ago. Tomatoes remain an annual draw — but so are cucumbers; one of the organization’s most popular pickling sessions spotlights local food writer Miriam Rubin’s “Grandma Rubin’s Dill Pickles.”
Friends Sara Blumenstein, Chelsea Burket, Rob Burrows and Gabe Tilove last year founded the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange. The original intent was as straightforward as the group’s name: Folks come together to fill jars with delicious creations.
“There’s an economy of scale with preservation. You almost always make more than you need,” says Blumenstein. The founders realized they could move beyond their initial goal by teaching people how to preserve.
“We wanted to expand the circle of people who do this,” says Blumenstein. The foursome offers hands-on monthly workshops. In November, they hope to schedule a big canning swap that’ll provide community members with a stockpile of tasty winter preserves.
Area farms, bars and restaurants also offer classes. Blackberry Meadows Farm in Natrona Heights has offered a series of homesteading workshops for its CSA members. Will Groves, the bar manager at Butterjoint in Oakland, has held a workshop on how to make shrubs, a sweet-tart colonial-era drink that again is popular with bartenders and drinkers.
With all these options, it’s easy to be canny about saving this season’s produce. -HBK
Foray into the Wild
The Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club is all about “fungi, fun and friends.”
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Want to learn some fungi fundamentals or meet enoki enthusiasts? The Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club is your ticket (right after you fill out a membership application, of course). Established 14 years ago, the club’s mission is “to promote the enjoyment, study and exchange of information about wild mushrooms.”
WPMC President Todd Kauffman says the group has about 500 members who take part in meetings, wild mushroom walks called “forays” and other projects. The club’s annual Gary Lincoff Mid-Atlantic Mushroom Foray, set for Sept. 13, involves a day of guided and self-guided mushroom walks, lectures and a mushroom feast.
Studying to become a mycology meister? The club this year launched a scholarship/grant program, which awards as much as $2,000 annually to those seeking support for projects with objectives that align with WPMC’s mission. The club also has an ongoing DNA barcoding project, with a goal to “sample, identify, describe, DNA barcode and voucher (wild mushroom) species in the local area.” —LL
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Whether you’re in need of nourishment, a premade meal to reheat later or groceries for the week, Marty’s Market in the Strip District has it covered. The grocery stocks produce, plus dry and frozen goods, and often displays tags throughout the store showing food sources. Swing past the deli counter if you’re craving a good cut of meat or hunk of cheese.
As its website states, East End Food Co-op is open to everyone, every day. The city’s only member-based store, located in Point Breeze, stocks health foods and runs a cafe. It encourages shoppers to pay a one-time fee of $100 for an opportunity to vote for board leaders and enjoy certain perks and discounts.
The Farmers Market Cooperative of East Liberty is a one-stop shop for anyone in need of such disparate items as fresh doughnuts and handmade textiles. The indoor Saturday market, open from 5 a.m. to noon, has been going strong for more than 70 years and continues to add new vendors.
The King family — known now for starring in Great American Country’s “Farm Kings” television program — operates two Freedom Farms markets in different pockets of the region. The Butler County shop is on the site of the clan’s farm, while the storefront in New Kensington recently shifted focus to become more of a sandwich shop. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to snag a jar of Lisa King’s pickled cauliflower.
Speaking of family affairs: The second and third generations of the McGinnis clan run three area McGinnis Sisters Special Food Stores. From fresh produce to cooking demos, these markets offer something for novice and experienced cooks.
Patty’s Farm Market in Aspinwall operates 10 months of the year, taking a break in January and February. The corner spot offers everything from hanging flower plants to Amish preserves to peppers, all at a fair price. —KM
7 Essential Farm-Sourced Gifts
➊ Apothecary Muse’s gardener and chef soaps and other handmade natural care products feature herbs from local farms. For example, you’ll find Quiet Creek Herb Farms essential oils in the chef soap and gardener soap. Other products, such as tinctures, can incorporate Healcrest Urban Farm herbs. [Sold at East End Food Co-Op, 7516 Meade St., Point Breeze, 412/242-3598, eastendfood.coop; or online at etsy.com/shop/apothecarymuse]
➋ When summer ends and you miss the iconic flavors, Wild Purveyors will help to bring back those gastronomic highs with its line of finishing salts. Wild ramp, chanterelle mushroom, morel mushroom and wild sumac are some of the great salt options. [5308 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/206-9453, wildpurveyors.com]
➌ The Berry Patch Café & Country Gift Shoppe produces luscious jellies and jams. The company sells products with and without added sugar. These crowd favorites will take you back to sweet summer. [cafe: 110 N. Fairfield St., Ligonier, 724/238-4714; also sold at Ligonier Country Market on Saturdays, May-October, 8 a.m. to noon: 110 Andi Lane, ligoniercountrymarket.org]
➍ There are dilly beans, and then there are dilly beans with jalapeños. This jar from Clarion River Organics takes pickles to another level — it’s not for the faint of heart. Despite the burn, you’ll keep coming back for more. [Pittsburgh Public Market, 2401 Penn Ave., Strip District; 412/589-9276, clarionriverorganics.com]
➎ There are only a handful of true from-scratch, grain-to-barrel spirits producers in the world. One of them is Wigle Whiskey. What better way to support local farms than to raise a glass to the makers? [2401 Smallman St., Strip District; 412/224-2827, wiglewhiskey.com]
➏ The Braddock Apiary at the Propel School’s Andrew Street High School won the Governor’s Award for Environmental Stewardship. There, high-school students learn how to keep bees and harvest. Only a few hundred bottles of their limited-edition honey are available each season. Want to know when they plan to release their fall harvest? Email instructor Brandon Keat, who oversees the program, or stop by Tin Front Cafe (216 E. Eighth Ave., Homestead) to see if it’s in stock. [school: 605 E. 10th Ave., Munhall; email@example.com, propelschools.org]
➐ Ready to begin gardening? Sign up for Blackberry Meadows’ Garden Share CSA. The farm sends groupings of ready-to-plant seedlings. Now’s the perfect time to plant fall veggies. [7115 Ridge Road, Natrona Heights; 724/226-3939, blackberrymeadows.com] —LL
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Cavan and Tom Patterson came up with the idea to open Wild Purveyors after a fruitful foraging trip. Now they dedicate countless hours to collecting in-demand crops.
In 2001, Tom Patterson invited his brother Cavan to go foraging in the North Hills. That’s all it took to hook the Indiana Township natives.
In 2002, the brothers ended up with 100 pounds of chanterelles. To get rid of their mushroom surplus, Cavan contacted connections from a catering stint and sold the whole lot in two days. The idea to establish Wild Purveyors was born. The brothers debuted their wholesale business in 2009 and officially launched their store, which specializes in foraged goods, in 2012; since then they’ve garnered coverage in The New York Times and on the TV show “Bizarre Foods USA.”
They’re a perfect team: Cavan’s background in finance and marketing is an ideal foil for Tom’s experience in horticulture and mycology. The two go all over Pennsylvania to collect berries, fruits, herbs and more during growing season (late March to late November). They’ve been pleased to locate such treasures as the hard-to-find gooseberry on land maintained at a central Pennsylvania farm. They’ve had luck finding treasures in the forests of the Appalachian mountains, and the farthest plots they visit are in Berks County, where they can get mushrooms.
Word has spread far and wide about Wild Purveyors; now owners of large tracts of property call to ask Cavan and Tom, of Blawnox, if they’d like to forage there. Oftentimes, callers expect nothing more than a small share of what the duo finds.
“They don’t ask us for anything — they just get excited that we are finding these wonderful things in their property and that it’s not going to waste,” says Cavan, who dwells in the same neighborhood as the shop.
Wild Purveyors works with a number of local businesses — including some of our 2014 Best Restaurants: Dish Osteria and Bar, Spoon and Grit & Grace.
Their shop now carries Pennsylvania pastured meats and cheeses as well as housemade goods such as pickled knotweed. The brothers, both beer enthusiasts, also have started working with local brewers to make “wild beer” — the local outpost of Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery produces a knotweed saison. This fall, Full Pint Brewing Co. will take over the space next door and collaborate with Wild Purveyors on such beers as Spruce Tip Ale and Elderflower Saison. —LL
A Growing Connection
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
It’s reassuring to know that many western Pennsylvania ranchers are fostering a deep connection with the animals they raise and the land on which those animals live. Although it can be challenging to find locally raised meat that’s not sold in vacuum-sealed freezer packs, the region’s butcher shops are growing in their commitment to sourcing meat from the area.
The rolling hills, abundant rain and lush grasslands make the area “a perfect natural environment for sheep,” says Keith Martin of Elysian Fields Farm in Greene County.
Martin takes a philosophical, holistic approach to caring for his flock. He’s partnered with world-renowned chef Thomas Keller to create the Pure Bred brand of lambs, which are raised on seven regional farms.
If you’d like the lamb, which is a fixture at higher-end Pittsburgh restaurants, they’ll ship select cuts to your front door.
In Latrobe, John and Sukey Jamison raise lambs on 210 acres. The Jamisons are pioneers of the sustainability movement, and the flavor of their lamb is held in high esteem by chefs and connoisseurs.
The couple started ranching in 1977, when animal rearing was becoming more consolidated. In the early age of factory farming, the couple persisted with a grass-fed and -finished philosophy, and when culinary legend Jean-Louis Palladin discovered their lamb in the 1980s, it was a game changer for Jamison Farm.
“One of [Palladin’s] most-lasting and least-heralded legacies,” Blue Hill at Stone Barns chef Dan Barber writes in his book “The Third Plate,” “might be helping to ensure the success of the Jamisons, who have gone on to inspire a small network of livestock farmers who wean their animals off grain.”
Newcomers Oliver and Jodi Griswold are using Berkshire hogs and long-coated Scottish Highland cattle to reclaim land that was exhausted by years of high-impact dairy cattle and horse rearing. The 90 acres of pasture and 90 acres of woods in Warrendale could have become another subdivision, but instead it’s North Woods Ranch.
Oliver Griswold spent 22 years working in information technology, but after reading Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and learning about the work of farmer-author Joel Salatin, he decided to apply the principles of progressive grazing to his own landscape.
“We’re trying to mimic nature,” he says.
In a nutshell, the pigs forage, play and break up the compacted soil. Grass begins to grow. The cows follow through and eat the grass, and their manure decomposes to nurture the soil. Eventually — and this will take years — the land damaged by humans to raise animals will be repaired by humans who are . . . raising animals.
The members of Clarion River Organics, a 10-farm cooperative based in Sligo, Pa., raise cattle, hogs, chickens, rabbits, lamb, turkey, duck and goats that — as Clarion River’s Nathan Holmes says — “complement the farm as a whole.” This practice harkens back to a time when animals providing manure, milk and meat were part of the full circle of a diversified landscape.
For Pittsburghers, all of this means a steady supply of ethically raised meat. That may help to end the era of freezer packs, but it also could foster a deeper connection with the animals we’re eating.
“We should all understand that while it’s fine to consume meat, we’re connected philosophically and responsibly,” says Martin of Elysian Fields Farm, “even if you’re not a farmer, to these animals.” -HBK
Cream of the Crop
Photo provided by Brunton Dairy
Improve your next cake, dip or baked potato by using sour cream from the decades-old Schneider’s Dairy in the South Hills. Turner Dairy Farms in Penn Hills also sells milks and the like from local farms — but the brand also is sought out for its iced teas and other flavored drinks.
Miss the days when dairy home delivery was the norm? Look to Brunton Dairy in Independence Township — producer of chocolate milk that’s a regional favorite — to get that going again. The Bruntons’ son Jeff, aka The Milkman, refills and delivers glass bottles to loyal patrons. Marburger Farm Dairy in Evans City, which schedules on-site tours regularly, also can make special drop-off arrangements to residences. —KM
The Buzz on Beekeeping
An update on the protocol for locals who keep hives.
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Did you know that the first U.S. community apiary is in Homewood? ’Burgh Bees now has 26 hives — four for educational use and 22 that are owned by individual beekeepers. Since the first class in 2009, the organization has trained about 500 individuals on beekeeping, and President Stephen Repasky estimates that there are roughly 75-150 hives in the city. ’Burgh Bees also maintains hives for Whole Foods in East Liberty and The Porch at Schenley in Oakland. Even Google Pittsburgh has a rooftop hive, managed by a ’Burgh Bees member.
The growth of beekeeping locally can be limited by startup costs and Pittsburgh’s permit process: Those interested in getting started need between $700-$1,000 to establish two hives in the city; plus they must pay the city’s permit fee of $275 before going through the hearing process to obtain approval. ’Burgh Bees has banded together with Grow Pittsburgh and others to advocate for changing regulations.
As do community gardens, the community apiary affords enthusiasts a chance to keep bees if they can’t do so in their backyards. — LL
Photo by Renee Rosensteel
Many accounts note the beginning of Community Supported Agriculture in the 1960s concurrently in Japan and Europe as a response to changing agricultural practices. In Japan, the teikei (roughly translated as “food with a farmer’s face”) sprung out of the desire to stem unsustainable farming practices and connect consumers with local farmers. In Europe, it stemmed from the beginnings of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic farming philosophy. This biodynamic movement also influenced the rise of CSA groups in the United States, beginning in the 1980s in New England.
Almost 35 years later, the country is home to between 4,000 and 6,000 CSAs — in which members support a farm or farms — with the Pittsburgh region claiming more than 12. Today’s CSAs maintain the same spirit as the earliest ones, with a mutual desire for members and farmers to connect as well as steward the land with sustainable practices.
Support for local agriculture continues to evolve. New initiatives increasingly focus on giving access and allowing consumers to tailor what they get to their own preferences — unlike some past options in which consumers received a mix of goods they had not chosen. CSAs and farmers markets now participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to provide access to quality food for those of all income levels. Isidore Foods, a pioneer in Web-based ordering, launched in April 2008 with traditional and a la carte options. This March, Isidore again led the movement with home delivery of CSAs and produce; there’s a $40 minimum per order, and the organization delivers to those in Allegheny County and parts of Butler and Washington counties.
Taking that notion a step further, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance launched a feature-rich phone app version of its online farm stand. Lydia Vanderhill, Penn’s Corner farm stand coordinator, says that, “Many of our customers find it much more convenient to order from their phones because it allows them to place an order when they are out and about. It seems especially helpful for folks [who are] busy with little kids or folks [who] travel a lot.”
Others offering custom food orders include LocalGoodness.com and Fittsburgh.
Food deserts, defined as areas without ready access to quality food, present a pressing food-access issue. Those who live in food deserts have difficulty accessing fresh fruits and vegetables and as a result generally consume processed food.
Three locals — Michelle Lagree, Meredith Neel and Landon DePaulo — have made it their mission to change this by working to establish Farm Truck Foods. The truck team, which is trying to secure necessary funding, aims to deliver produce to area food deserts and explain to residents the advantages of eating more fruits and vegetables. The truck will accept SNAP benefits as payment, ensuring everyone can have access to fresh food. —LL
Get your fill of seasonal crops at regular festivals.
Grab a calendar now and point at random to any forthcoming summer or fall weekend; there’s bound to be at least one regional food festival scheduled. Word of advice: Bring baskets or reusable bags to ensure you’ll be able to lug home your findings.
Phipps’ annual festival does double duty, paying homage to garlic and tomatoes. On Aug. 24, attendees can sample assorted offerings and see the results of a tomato-judging contest.
Nic DiCio may be best known for his pair of Strip District businesses, Reyna’s Foods and Casa Reyna, but he’s also the force behind the third annual Pepper Farm Festival, set to take place in September. Those who like it hot can visit White Oak Farm to purchase, smell and taste various roasted peppers and observe cooking demos.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, berry festivals remain popular. Triple B Farms in Forward Township and Soergel Orchards in Wexford dedicate time to the strawberry every summer, affording attendees a chance to pick their own berries. —KM; photo by Paul g. Wiegand
Art of the Meal
Get an up-close look at agricultural action by attending a farm dinner.
Farm-dinner planners hope their guests will bond over an obvious common interest: food. But diners also get to see daily farm activity — chickens walking around, blossoming plants, equipment — and gain insight on the no-fuss operations. Bonus: Chefs generally explain the makings of each dish.
Tara Rockacy and Kate Romane call Churchview Farm in Baldwin Township home. The pair puts together a number of events each year for their popular dinner series, which brings together cooks, killer ingredients and a melting pot of good stories.
Collaboration is the name of the game at The Farmer’s Table functions. Chef/owner Jacob Mains takes diners to regional farms with each of his thoughtful engagements.
Chef restaurateurs seem to enjoy working together on these kinds of dinners. Chef Justin Severino of Cure has been involved in such events, including the Italian barbecue (pictured) and the traveling series Dinner on the Farm, which set up this summer at Blackberry Meadows in Natrona Heights. —KM; photo by Adam Milliron
In High Spirits
Local makers of beer, cider and gin use farm-sourced crops in their products.
Photo by Chuck Beard
Rebellion Cider Works
Derek Kellogg, a fourth-generation farmer in Slippery Rock, says he knew he found his calling early in life. “I’ve always been interested in the preservation of food, even when I was a kid,” he says. After dabbling in the fermentation of fallen apples found near his parents’ farm, he decided to take matters into his own hands with Rebellion Cider Works. A grove of heirloom apple trees now grows on an outcropping he calls Primordial Hill. A few feet away is a barn that houses a vintage cider press. Though Kellogg’s current ciders contain a blend of Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio apples, he says it won’t be long before all Rebellion creations are from his farm. “I’ll be growing, pressing and fermenting all within eyesight,” he says. “Talk about local.”
Lee Ann Sommerfeld decided to go local when she created PathoGin. Really local. Many of the ingredients for Stay Tuned Distillery’s gin come from her garden, although the Stay Tuned co-owner gets others from Wild Purveyors’ food hunters. Though the base spirit is distilled in Virginia, nearly all of the other PathoGin ingredients come from the region. The resulting gin can vary from batch to batch — because not everything is in season during an infusion run. Plus, unlike most gins, juniper takes a backseat to floral and anise notes. While the constant change in flavor and low hum of juniper might infuriate some purists, Sommerfeld isn’t bothered. “People who say they aren’t really gin people seem to like it,” she says.
Brewmaster Matt Gouwens can obtain grain for Hop Farm Brewing Co. from as far afield as Germany and South America (barley doesn’t grow particularly well in western Pennsylvania). His hops, however, are grown sometimes as close as his backyard; “the Nursery” is a large plot where he’s experimenting with 12 hop varieties. He’s also planted about 1,500 hop rhizomes, which over the next few years will grow hops for his Lawrenceville-produced brews. He is partnering with Noah Petronic of Soergel Orchards to grow even more regionally. All of this is full circle for Gouwens: His great-grandfather and grandfather were farmers, but Gouwens says that his parents rejected the lifestyle. “This is my way of returning to my roots.” —HBK