Why Urban Farming?
Pittsburgh, like lots of industrial cities, has undergone a lot of contraction in the last 30-40 years. It’s done a pretty swell job at reinventing itself focusing around new industries like healthcare and education rather than steel and glass — there’s a reason we keep winning all those “most livable city” awards, after all.
But part of the transition was that Pittsburgh lost a lot of people. It’s now about half the size it once was, and that means a lot of empty space in the city. A compact urban core is great, but realistically, infill of housing can’t fill all that space. So what can we do with it? Some of it will go to parks and other greenspace, which is great. But there’s another greenspace-oriented use that also productively employs land and people: farming.
The local food movement has led to lots of local food options. Having grown up in the country, where you can find farmstands along the road with fresh produce all summer long, we’re in love with that. We subscribe to a CSA, we try to eat seasonal foods for this region of the country, and we grow our own.
But flowers… do you realize that the vast majority of cut flowers sold and delivered in the United States come from places like Ecuador and Colombia? They have perfect flower-growing climates to grow things like roses year-round, and they all get shipped overseas and assembled into the bouquets and arrangements you get from your local flower shop. As a result, they’re also not particularly fresh, and they’re covered with chemical preservatives and fungicides and all sorts of things like that.
We’d like to do our little part to change that. (Plus, Jimmy says he can’t cook, so I have to give him something to do, and flowers are right up his alley.) There’s a growing local flowers movement, and if you look, you can find locally-grown flowers in lots of places. We’ll talk more about this issue in some future posts, but start by simply asking your local florist, or looking for flowers at stores like Whole Foods, which sources locally. You can look for suppliers near you that belong to the American Society of Cut Flower Growers (we’re a member!) and they even have a Buyer’s Guide to help you out. Not only are local flowers better because they don’t have to be shipped as far, but they’re also far fresher, and can often last much longer.
We also think this is a great fit for Pittsburgh in particular, which is turning into a real green city: a LEED-certified convention center, the Fairmont hotel, and lots of other initiatives going on.
What’s greenSinner about this?
Well, local cut flowers are a little bit green, a little bit sin. You do cut them and keep them around for a few weeks, then throw them away, after all. But they provide such beauty to our lives, especially to special days like weddings and parties, we think it’s worth it. But while we’re at it, let’s use flowers from local farms, not from halfway around the world, covered with chemical preservatives.
What Are We Doing?
- We’re starting a farm. We’re currently working with the city and the URA to understand the options and secure a place to grow for the long-term (and that’s why we were so interested in the new Pittsburgh agriculture ordinance). In the meantime, we’re doing some guerilla farming: a few plots here and there in our own backyards and those of our friends and neighbors. My position in this enterprise is Farmer-General.
- We’re opening a stall at the Pittsburgh Public Market. We’ll be selling our own flowers and arrangements (made by Jimmy, our Chief Eccentric Officer), as well as a variety of containers, live plants, seeds, and other related stuff. We’re planning on being open by Mother’s Day, so come on down to the market and see us! You can also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.