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Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry celebrates successful garden harvest

With the summer season coming to a close, Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry (SHCFP) is enjoying the peak harvests of its Squirrel Hill volunteer garden before it winds down for the fall. The garden was launched in the spring through a collaboration with Repair the World: Pittsburgh and has helped provide food pantry clients with fresh produce options in addition to traditional pantry staples.

“Part of SHCFP’s mission is to ensure our clients have access to fresh, nutritious healthy foods, and the new garden is a wonderful way of continuing and sustaining our efforts,” says Matthew Bolton, director of SHCFP. “Even though individuals in our community may be food-insecure and rely on our services for help, we make sure they don’t have to make nutritional sacrifices.”

The volunteer garden, located on Murray Avenue broke ground in early spring and throughout the summer the garden has been providing SHCFP with fresh produce to distribute to the more than 1,700 clients utilizing the pantry. Vegetables reaped from the garden include green beans, beats, tomatoes and other seasonal vegetables.

Everything from general garden operations to coordinating volunteers for ongoing garden care and harvests was done by SHCFP and Repair the World: Pittsburgh, a local non-profit dedicated to organizing one-time and ongoing service opportunities around the issues of education, food access, senior services and refugee resettlement.

Many low-income families struggle to have access to general food stuffs and its especially difficult for these families to access healthy foods that typically run a higher cost. This is why SCHFP has had the ongoing mission of providing healthy options to its clients like fruits and vegetables in addition to the traditional pantry staples of non-perishable food items.

While the garden was established by SCHFP and Repair the World: Pittsburgh, its ongoing successful harvesting is all thanks to dedicated volunteers who donate their time to maintain the garden, take care of the plants and harvest ripened vegetables.

"The Squirrel Hill volunteer garden truly showcases the tremendous spirt of volunteerism in Pittsburgh," Bolten says. "Our overall goal is to ensure food security for everyone and we can only fully do so with the support of our entire community."

For more information visit www.sqfoodpantry.org
 

Just Harvest wins national farmers market poster contest

Just Harvest won first place in the Farmers Market Coalition’s first-ever nationwide farmers market poster contest, beating out more than 160 entries for a prize of $1,000.

Just Harvest will use the funds to support their mission of educating, empowering and mobilizing people to eliminate hunger, poverty and economic injustice in our communities by influencing public policy, engaging in advocacy, and connecting people to public benefits.

"We are also enormously gratified by the national recognition of our efforts—that we are seen as the best in the country in creatively promoting this type of program,” says Emily Schmidlapp, Just Harvest's Fresh Access coordinator.

Just Harvest’s poster for Fresh Access won in the Best EBT and/or Incentive Program poster category of the contest. The designer of the poster was Doug Dean, Art Director of Wall-to-Wall.

Fresh Access enables the use of food stamp/electronic benefits transfer (EBT), credit and debit cards with participating vendors at these markets. At the Just Harvest tent, shoppers swipe their card and receive tokens, which can be used as cash to purchase food.

Use of the program has grown rapidly. Last market season, total sales topped $42,000 that benefited local farmers and communities. As of June 30 this year, sales have quadrupled since the same time last year.

Since its inception, the Fresh Access Program has grown from being in two Citiparks farmers markets in 2013 to seven markets in 2014, as well as the Swissvale Farmers Market and the Market Square Farmers Market operated by Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership. Fresh Access will also be available at the Bloomfield Farmers Market and Lawrenceville Farmers Market before the close of summer.

"We are thrilled by the success of this program, but not surprised," Schmidlapp says. "The nearly one in four Pittsburghers who live in poverty are literally hungry for fresh food options. Half of all Pittsburgh residents live in neighborhoods that lack access to nutritious food. This program helps address that problem while putting money in the pockets of local farmers and contributing to healthy, vibrant communities. It's a win-win-win."

Anyone interested in posting one of the award-winning posters to help promote Fresh Access can contact Katie Mahoney at Just Harvest via katiem@justharvest.org.

Vintage school bus turned fermentation lab rolls into town

Fermentation on Wheels will be rolling into Pittsburgh this month with a variety of free workshops to bridge communities and restore a genuine fascination and interest in local, traditionally preserved foods.

Fermentation on Wheels is a creative education and food-preservation project founded in Oregon by culinary artist Tara Whitsitt who converted a 1986 International Harvester school bus into a fermentation lab and workshop space in the summer of 2013. In October that year, she hit the road and has since made more than 100 stops in 23 states and traveled more than 7,000 miles in her bus.

While in Pittsburgh, Whitsitt will be incorporating regional produce that she acquires from local farms and farmer’s markets into her fermentation workshops being held Aug.15 through Aug. 23.

“Each workshop presents something new and surprising as farms are growing different vegetable varieties,” says Whitsitt. “The produce available at the farm or farmer’s market I visit will determine what I bring to each workshop. Given that it’s summer, I might ferment cucumbers or zucchini, but honestly it’s going to be what inspires or excites me in the moment.”

Whitsitt’s first event will be at Chatham University where she’ll hold a community potluck and culture share. on Aug. 15 from 4PM to 7PM

For the culture share, attendees are encouraged to bring starter cultures of their own for exchange and discussion as well as bring an empty jar to take a culture home. Cultures are a key component to the fermentation process and are used to help inhibit the growth of undesirable microorganisms and promote the growth of desired bacteria.

The potluck at Chatham will feature a fermented-food theme and a 30- to 45-minute talk about fermentation.

“The potluck is open to all who are interested in fermentation and my project,” she says. “It’s meant to bridge the community of fermenters—beginners and experts alike—so that they can teach and learn from one another. It’s an exercise in community building and attendees are encouraged to bring all types of foods, fermented or non-fermented. “

An additional vegetable fermentation workshop for adults is in the works at Wigle Whiskey on Aug. 23.

Whitsitt will also be hosting educational workshops for children and youth while she's in town. She’ll be participating in Children Museum of Pittsburgh’s “Pickle Day” on Aug. 16 from 11AM to 3PM and will also hold a fermentation workshop for ages 10 and older at the museum on Aug. 20 from 5PM to 6:30PM.

“It’s important to educate our youth about food since they will be managing and participating in our future food system,” she says. “This system plays a huge role in our environmental impact, which will ultimately decide how long we can happily live here on Earth. It’s so important that we learn to consume food and other resources more thoughtfully.”

With all of her workshops, Whitsitt hopes participants walk away with a better understanding of our food system and the confidence to begin fermenting in their own home kitchens.

“I hope participants leave with a sense of being able to comfortably and fearlessly ferment in their own kitchens and that they’ll think twice about the foods they consume,” she says. “I also want participants to gain a new perspective on bacteria and its importance to our eco-system and how we tie into the greater world of living things. My project is a way to display a sustainable and simple lifestyle that encourages people to use energy more efficiently and intentionally.”

For more information and the full workshop schedule visit www.fermentationonwheels.com

Pittsburgh Public Market launches Kickstarter for a shared use kitchen

Pittsburgh Public Market, a non-profit founded by Neighbors in the Strip, launched a Kickstarter campaign to garner the last bit of funds needed to launch The Market Kitchen, a commercial kitchen space to help local food businesses grow at their own pace.

Approximately $600,000 has already been secured for the project thanks to the Mary Hillman Jennings Foundation, the Allegheny County Development Community Infrastructure and Tourism Fund, and the US Department of Health and Human Services Office of Community Service. With the help of the Kickstarter campaign, Pittsburgh Public Market hopes to raise an additional $10,000 for the project. The campaign will end on July 31 and this last bit of funding will be used for construction necessary to finish the space.

Plans for the kitchen have been a long time coming according to Kelly James, Kitchen Manager at the Pittsburgh Public Market.

“Neighbors in the Strip recognized the impact that The Market Kitchen project would have on Pittsburgh Public Market and began planning the shared use kitchen in 2005,” she says. “Like starting any other business, feasibility and funding had to be considered from every angle. We also obtained the ideal space for the project when Pittsburgh Public Market moved to 2401 Penn Avenue.”

According to Kelly, the food industry can be extremely challenging for entrepreneurs and often requires substantial loans and a brick and mortar location to retail from. Other than La Dorita’s shared use kitchen in Sharpsburg, food entrepreneurs who can’t afford their own private space are left scrambling for rental spaces in local churches or community centers and these types of rentals are often unpredictable in scheduling.

“The Market Kitchen offers an alternative to sky high rent and utility bills,” she says. “Kitchen members will also have the opportunity to benefit from being able to utilize Pittsburgh Public Market to retail and market their product. They will be able to build their brand at their own pace. Personal chefs and cake decorators will have a home to base their business from, food trucks can use the kitchen as their commissary kitchen, and even existing businesses that have the need for more prep space can benefit. Best of all, the members of The Market Kitchen will be part of a supportive community of chefs.”

Groundbreaking for the kitchen will happen in the next couple of weeks and it's hoped the kitchen will be ready for use in late August or early September. Once completed, the fully licensed commercial kitchen will include brand new, high quality equipment, onsite cold and dry storage, and loading dock access.

The Market Kitchen will be able to accommodate four users at a time and will be available to rent 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bookings are already being made for the space and several businesses already have permanent schedules in place.

“I will be curious to see how many businesses we will be able to support,” James says. “At this stage we are seeing so many differing needs and schedules and we will continue to plug in users until the schedule is completely full.”

For more information about The Market Kitchen project and Kickstarter campaign, visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1607216439/the-market-kitchen-is-a-food-entrepreneurs-dream-c
 

Summer Food Service Program helps prevent child hunger once school ends

More than 40,000 children in Allegheny County public schools get free lunches through the National School Lunch Program, leaving a large swath of county children vulnerable to hunger once the school year ends.

To help prevent children from suffering from hunger during the summer months, Allegheny County Department of Human Services is sponsoring more than 80 sites throughout the county to participate in the Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program that provides free breakfast and lunch to children under 18 years of age as well as eligible individuals with disabilities. The sites opened for the summer on June 9 and will provide free meals through Aug.15, 2014.

“Summer Food is food that’s in when school is out. It ensures a nutritious meal can be served when school cafeterias are closed for the summer,” says Sally Petrilli, service administrator for DHS Office of Community Services.

Petrilli adds that while many low-income families also receive food assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), these benefits “can only be stretched so far for some families and Summer Food allows those families in need to focus on dinner and weekend meals, easing the burden a bit.”

Last year, 137,000 meals were served through Summer Food. To help encourage higher participation, Petrilli says the DHS-sponsored sites also offer recreational activities. This effort is especially important in light of a recent report from the Food Research and Action Center that shows only 18.7 percent of students who received free lunches in 2013 also participated in free summer meal programs.  

“Recreation options bring more children to participate and receive a meal,” she says. “This year Allegheny County Parks will host basketball mini camps at some of the sites. Allegheny County Department of Human Services will also provide arts and crafts materials and sports equipment like soccer balls.”

More information about the DHS-sponsored Summer Food Service Program sites can be found at www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/food.aspx

New Pittsburgh tour series helps support non-profits

Pittsburgh Transportation Group has launched a new group tour division with a focus on giving back to the community called “Pittsburgh Tours & More.” This new division features a series of specialized Pittsburgh tours that are teamed with participating nonprofit organizations that will receive a portion of each tour’s proceeds.

“Giving back to the community has been a longstanding tradition of our company and we wanted to continue that tradition with our new tour division,” says Jamie Campolongo, president of Pittsburgh Transportation Group (PTG). “We’re creating another way to put the fun in fundraising for a number of Pittsburgh nonprofit groups.”

Current non-profit partners include Pittsburgh Film Office, Josh Gibson Foundation, Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and Animal Rescue League & Wildlife Center. Ticket prices for the tours range from $30 to $85 and run anywhere from 2.5 hours to 6 hours in length. Public tours run Fridays and Saturdays. Each tour also includes a food element such as a treat, lunch or sampling.

"We tried to cover a wide swath of needs and interests in our choices of tour partnered nonprofits," says Group Tours Director Sherris Moreira. "The tours already help spotlight and promote Pittsburgh, but by partnering the tours with nonprofits, it’s another great way to spotlight and promote the city. We chose to support nonprofits that also give back to the community at large, so to us, it’s a complete win-win."

The tours benefiting the partnering non-profits include the following:

Lights, Camera, Pittsburgh: The Official Film Office Movie Tour (2.5 hours) benefiting the Pittsburgh Film Office features an interactive tour through the city backdrops of such movies as The Dark Knight Rises, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Flashdance, Inspector Gadget, Jack Reacher and dozens more created in partnership with The Pittsburgh Film Office. Chateau Café & Cakery will also provide treats on the tour.

City of Champions: The Pittsburgh Sports History Tour (2.5 hours) benefits the Josh Gibson Foundation and explores the sports history of Pittsburgh and includes tours of former football fields like Forbes Field, the “Cradle of Quarterbacks” legend, and the stomping grounds of famous Pittsburgh athletes like Johnny Unitas. Treats will also be provided on the tour by Chateau Café & Cakery.

Flavor of Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh’s Popular Food Culture Tour (3 hours) benefits the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank and will give tour-goers the chance to taste their way through Pittsburgh with bites from popular food destinations featured in Huffington Post, Man Vs Food, Drive-Ins and Dives, Undercover Boss, The Food Network, The Travel Channel and more. The food samplings included in this tour are enough for a meal.

The Amish Experience: Country Living at its Best Tour (6 hours) benefiting the Animal Rescue League & Wild Life Center goes beyond the city limits and explores the countryside and shops of Old Order Amish in the heart of Western Pennsylvania. A homestyle lunch is provided on the tour by Tavern on the Square in New Wilmington.

In addition to these offerings, Pittsburgh Transportation Group has also been partnering with other non-profits to help them develop their own fundraising tours.

"We’ve been approached by nonprofits that are developing tours of their own and we are just putting the wheels under their tours, so to speak," says Moreira. "This way, we can partner and promote to interested constituents. So far, these encompass public art, business incubators and historical churches. It’s actually very exciting to be able to provide another means of fundraising to a variety of nonprofits and charitable organizations."

Moreira adds that the tours are a great opportunity to do something fun and also contribute to a good cause.

"We all need to do fun things for ourselves, but sometimes it’s hard to do so with other pressing matters in our lives," she says. "Tours that give back to good causes help alleviate the guilt of taking time for ourselves and people have responded well to that concept."

Learn more about Pittsburgh Transportation Group’s fundraising tourism at http://www.pghtoursandmore.net/

PETA names Pittsburgher 'Sexiest Vegan Next Door'

Ashley Frohnert beat hundreds of contestants from around the country to win the title of “Sexiest Vegan Next Door.” The online competition was run by animal rights organization PETA and with the help of her newfound title, she hopes to become a more prominent and recognized voice for animal rights in western Pennsylvania.

 “I was surprised, excited and shocked when PETA told me I won,” says Frohnert. “This contest has definitely been on a lot of my friends', family, co-workers' and acquaintances' radar and I couldn't wait to let everyone know I had won.”

Frohnert, who currently lives in Garfield, became a vegetarian in 2008 when she learned of the harsh treatment of animals in routine factory farming. Shortly after, she decided to go vegan.

“I went fully vegan after learning how the egg industry violently disposes of male chicks as well as learning of the awful lives female dairy cows live and the fate of their babies,” says Frohnert.

She hopes her newfound fame as PETA’s “Sexiest Vegan Next Door” will aid in her pursuit of helping animals.
“I have been getting many questions and inquiries about my vegan lifestyle during my quest for the Sexiest Vegan title,” Frohnert says. “I feel that winning has made even more people interested in learning more about veganism.”

Frohnert currently volunteers with local animal shelters and recently raised $1,200 for the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society by completing a half-marathon. Her latest project is working with the Mayor Bill Peduto to launch a “Meatless Monday” program in Pittsburgh Public Schools cafeterias. She’s also organizing the Pittsburgh Walk for Farm Animals, is involved with the Foie Gras Free Pittsburgh campaign organized by Voices for Animals, and wants to make Pittsburgh a no-kill city for animal shelters.

“My hope is that bringing attention to these topics will at least get them on the city's radar for now,” she says. “Things may not change overnight, but over the next couple years we may see valuable changes helping animals.”

Awesome Pittsburgh awards Farm Truck Foods $1,000 grant

Awesome Pittsburgh, an organization that awards monthly, $1,000 grants to people or groups with brilliant ideas, has announced its April grantee, Farm Truck Foods, a food truck solution for Pittsburgh’s food desert dilemma.

The USDA defines a food desert as an urban-neighborhood and/or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy and affordable foods. There are seven identified food deserts in the greater Pittsburgh area including Clairton, Millvale, McKees Rocks, Stowe, East End, North Side and Hilltop.

Michelle Lagree, Meredith Neel and Landon DePaulo are the founders of Farm Truck Foods and are bringing their combined experiences in health to launch a food truck program that will travel to these identified desert communities and provide education and easier access to fresh, healthy foods.

“It is an honor to be able to say our business idea is a Pittsburgh Awesome Award winner,” says Lagree. “Our team knows Farm Truck Foods is something that is going to help boost Pittsburgh’s economy and health, and to have further assurance and help from a great organization like Awesome Pittsburgh makes it that much more exciting to get started.”

With the assistance of the Awesome Pittsburgh grant, Lagree says they will be able to make modifications to their truck to make it better suited for the Farm Truck Foods mission. The plan is to have a fully operational truck by this June.

“The money will be utilized for retrofitting our truck,” says Lagree. “This is a costly expense due to needing cooler space added along with storage for our produce and dried products.”

Farm Truck Foods will deliver fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, eggs and canned goods to low-income community members at affordable prices, as well as provide educational resources such as recipes, demonstrations and samples to introduce people to new foods.

“Our model is also different than others because we are not just selling these products to the community members and leaving. We are working hand in hand with the community to provide an educational resource,” says Lagree. “We believe that our food trucks will be one of the many solutions for alleviating the lack of options within food deserts.”

In order to serve each community as effectively as possible, Lagree says Farm Truck Foods will partner with community leadership, stakeholders and members.

“The plan will be to work together with the communities to determine how Farm Truck Foods can most effectively assist the residents,” says Lagree. “The communities will help determine our stop schedules, our stop locations and types of produce we sell.”

What are the best Pittsburgh restaurants using local produce?

Want to taste local produce being prepared in dishes at some of the best Pittsburgh restaurants? A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh, on Sept. 22 at Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, features more than a dozen local restaurants and cafés doing just that, including Salt of the Earth, Avenue B, Square Café, E2, Legume, Root 174, The Porch at Schenley, Cure, Alma, Casbah, Habitat, Industry Public House, Red Oak Café, Whole Foods Market and La Prima Espresso. There's also wine from Engine House 25 and organic and local beers.

The participating restaurants also are part of Grow Pittsburgh's many programs, which promote and teach urban agriculture and gardening. The Edible Schoolyard program brings gardening experts to schools in September and October to work with the kids. The Urban Farmer in Training program at Braddock Farms, the group's largest production site at Braddock Avenue and 10th Street, helps kids learn the value of veggies as they harvest and cook. Grow Pittsburgh also offers an apprentice program for adults wanting to learn to work on small-acre community farms, as well as community gardening lessons.
 
"It's really great to see 12-year-olds wanting their own garden plot, families working together," says Kate Hickey, the organization's director of operations.
 
"All the chefs are very approachable" at A Taste, she adds. "They love talking about what they are creating. New folks are coming into the city every year, and it's a great way to discover these restaurants."
 
This year's event, the largest yet, will raise $25-30,000 for the organization. Tickets may be purchased here. The event includes live music and a silent auction with jewelry from local designer Caesar Azzam of Caesar's Designs and other items.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Kate Hickey, Grow Pittsburgh

What do kids bring to the table for solving childhood hunger?

Holly McGraw-Turkovic has spent April visiting local schools to teach kids about childhood hunger. As director of youth programs at Pittsburgh Cares, she has been using the national program called What Will You Bring to the Table? to teach them about the food problems they can see around them and those that may be invisible.
 
"They learn that when people depend on food banks they don't get the things we take for granted," she says. She has already taken the program to South Allegheny Middle School, Woodland Hills Junior High and West Mifflin Area Middle School, and is slated to bring it next to Propel Braddock Hills High School and Academy Charter School.
 
Participating kids experience educational games that illustrate how they can their time, talents and money toward the elimination of this problem. Some of the activities are designed to create empathy and illustrate the unequal distribution of wealth in the world, such as one in which one group is given a large bowl overflowing with snacks, another group is given just enough snacks for each person to enjoy a single choice and a third group is not given enough even for that.
 
The kids also hear guest speakers from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, then construct and paint a specially provided picnic table that will serve as a permanent location for, and reminder of, the school's anti-hunger project -- the last step in the program. One group's project is a "Birthday in a bag" drive, creating food-bank packages that contain cake mix and other supplies to help people celebrate family members' special occasions. Another group created "Pie a teacher to feed a child": For the donation of a canned good or a dollar, kids in their school will get to hit a teacher with a pie. Another school's "Can the principal" aims to fill their principal's office with canned goods to donate to their local food pantry, while a fourth group has simply set their collection goal at 1,000 pounds of food for a food bank.
 
McGraw-Turkovic says the program has been effective in bringing the issue of childhood hunger to the fore for these school children. "The kids describe experiences with friends and neighbors who are experiencing hunger," she says, "so they are definitely taking it personally and they are definitely taking it seriously."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Holly McGraw-Turkovic, Pittsburgh Cares

Cooking School heats up as healthy school cafeteria effort

When famed chef Jamie Oliver came to Pittsburgh last fall to start his 10,000 Tables program, aimed at getting more families to enjoy the benefits of home-cooked, television-free meals, Bobby Fry, one of the creators of Bar Marco in the Strip, asked him what local business owners and chefs could do.
 
"Your role is to inspire and empower people," Oliver answered, as Fry recalls.
 
"I likened it to the analogy of young musicians inspired by rock stars and taught by their music teachers," Fry says. So he decided: "Somebody in the community had to be supporting schools and school cafeterias."
 
Fry gathered other local organizations and teamed with Kelsey Weisgerber, food service director at the Environmental Charter School, to start the Cooking School movement. Their goals: "Find a group of kids, give them the tools, knowledge and experience and let them have higher standards for food, and that will change the system" toward healthier school lunches.
 
The group first approached Pittsburgh Obama 6-12. Fry knew the school had its own kitchen, but he found a dormant home-economics classroom. The group cleaned it, bought each student his or her own carving knife, sharpener and cutting board and brought in 120 cookbooks from Bar Marco's kitchen for them to choose among.
 
Lots of kids picked breakfast cookbooks, Fry says. "We realized breakfast is a problem for lots of these kids," who have to leave home too early to get it and pass nowhere along the way even worth shopping for breakfast foods.
 
Fry has been inspired by the level of interest in healthy eating that he found at the school. "I thought I'd have to go in and get the kids excited about cooking. Same with the administration. They were already really on board. Everybody is ready to change school lunches."
 
"We've got to get them skills here that will get them a job," he adds about the Cooking School effort. "For working in a professional kitchen, all you need to start are the proper cutting skills" -- but those are the hardest skills to master, too.
 
Now the Cooking School teaches at the Obama school every Tuesday afternoon and brings a new chef every week. The program is being aided by Andrew T. Stephen, assistant professor of business administration and Katz Fellow in Marketing in Pitt's Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business, whose MBA students are preparing a video promoting it. Their early work is viewable here. Kids from other schools can submit proposals for the Cooking School to teach elsewhere. If applicant schools don't have a kitchen, perhaps the program will try to raise money to install one, Fry says.
 
You can help the Cooking School raise funds for cooking utensils and local produce through crowdrise and a current Facebook fundraiser.
 
Do Good:
Looking for additional ways to find out about local, healthier eating and bring the movement to your community. Check out the programs of Farm to Table Pittsburgh.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Bobby Fry, The Cooking School

Want fresh fruits out of season? Learn canning, preserving, other local food help at Farm to Table

Would you like fresh local produce delivered to your workplace? How about a mid-winter dose of fresh tomatoes or homemade peach jam right from your own shelves?
 
The annual Farm to Table Conference March 22-23 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, with this year's theme of “Do It Yourself,” features demonstrations, speakers, samples and more than 65 exhibitors offering hands-on cooking demos, gardening tips and nutrition, health and wellness information.
 
The event is all about "treading more lightly on the earth and being more self-sufficient," says Erin Hart, director of health benefit services for American HealthCare Group, which runs the event. Local farms, restaurants, breweries, wineries, and personal chefs are attending the food-tasting event, while speakers will take on such topics as "Herbal Soap Making," "Fermentation 101," "Fresh Eggs Daily from your Backyard Chicken Flock," "Mycelium Mayhem: Mushrooms for Hobby, Income and Companion Planting," "Applying Farm to Table to Your Health," and "Food as Medicine: The Power of Food to Heal."
 
"It seems like people are getting more and more interested in canning and preserving" and other ways of providing themselves with food that's fresh and local instead of picked in Peru six months ago, says Hart. And Pittsburgh is getting more programs such as community gardens, schools bringing farm-to-table principles into their cafes and workplaces that are implementing Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) drop sites. CSAs are farms to which you can buy a kind of subscription for a certain amount and variety of produce when it is harvested. Having drop sites in industrial parks and office complexes is "making it easier for community members to buy local and source local," Hart notes. For instance, the Penn Corner Farm Alliance goes to Westinghouse's Cranberry office lobby once a week to sell CSA subscriptions and make deliveries to employees.
 
"Seven years ago, when we started doing this, people had never heard of CSAs," she adds. Now Farm to Table "is a way to get to the masses of people, where public health might be impacted. Every year it grows pretty significantly," from 3,000 people last year to -- she expects -- 3,500 this year.
 
Teachers can get complementary registration and Act 48 credits, and those using the state's WIC benefit can get free admission as well. For tickets, visit Showclix.com and search “Farm to Table."
 
Do Good:
Want to know more and connect with CSAs? Come to the CSA Fair at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh on March 16. Get more information here.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Erin Hart, American HealthCare Group

The family that eats together ... could have 10,000 new friends via Jamie Oliver

The benefits for families who eat home-cooked meals together and actually talk to each other, with the television off, are clear. According to the national Let’s Move! Campaign to decrease childhood obesity -- including Let's Move! Pittsburgh -- Americans already eat 31 percent more calories than we did in 1970, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars or sweeteners. All that fast food is a big contributor to obesity in kids. Eating home-cooked food together, on the other hand, teaches kids what and how to eat.
 
The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (you have their cookbook, don't you?) has found 68 scientific studies that showed “the more a family ate together the less children consumed dietary components thought to be harmful to health."
 
And most home-cooking is simply healthier for you, says Jamie Oliver, famed British chef and television personality. He was in town this month to challenge attendees at the One Young World conference, and the world, to take action on this issue by joining his "Food Revolution." "Inspired by Jamie Oliver," says Liz Fetchin, Let's Move! Pittsburgh created 10,000 Tables, which aims to get 10,000 Pittsburgh families to add one more home-cooked, television-free meal to each week. Fetchin, spokesperson for Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (whose head, Richard V. Piacentini, directs Let's Move! Pittsburgh), says the group wanted to come up with a reasonable initiative that could be accomplished over the next year.

Other local organizations also joined in. The City of Pittsburgh aims to increase farmers markets, bikeways and trails, and to increase participation in its CityFit Wellness at Work initiative for employees. Whole Foods will work through its school garden grant program, while the Eat'n Park Hospitality Group's LifeSmiles program will continue a $1 million/20,000 volunteer-hour investment in health and wellness initiatives for families. UPMC's Dining Smart program in 2013 will seek to bring healthier meal and vending choices to its more than 50,000 employees and promote it to other employers, and Propel Schools will increase its use of healthy food choices and My Plate Guidelines for its students.
 
"Most families are eating in front of the TV or are eating separately -- it's because they are so busy," Fetchin allows. Let's Move! hopes this movement to cook at home and eat together will encourage families to enjoy the health benefits more often.
 
Is the participation of 10,000 families realistic? "We sure hope so," Fetchin says. "We think that it will really catch on. We hope to do a lot of outreach," including to neighborhoods where fresh food is not as readily available. Let's Move! soon will be handing out recipes and shopping lists at Giant Eagles and other locations throughout the area, and will be offering cooking demonstrations there and elsewhere.
 
Jamie Oliver has not announced plans to come back to Pittsburgh yet, but, says Fetchin, Let's Move! hopes 10,000 Tables will be so successful that Oliver will be inspired to return to celebrate his Food Revolution again in Pittsburgh.
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Liz Fetchin, Let's Move! Pittsburgh

Eat well and often at A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh event

Here's your chance to eat well and eat often, at the third annual A Taste of Grow Pittsburgh this Sunday at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts from 2:00 to 5:00.
 
Featured restaurants at the fundraiser include: Avenue B and Habitat, Salt of the Earth, The Porch at Schenley. E2, Abay, Alma, East End Food Co-op, Legume, Square Café, Root 174, Bar Marco, La Prima Espresso, Habitat, Casbah and Whole Foods.
 
While feasting, guests will be entertained by Chet Vincent and the Big Bend while sipping local wine from Engine House 25 Wines and organic & local brews.
 
The dozen local restaurants at the event have utilized organic produce from Grow Pittsburgh’s urban farming efforts, or fundraising events for the group.
 
Grow Pittsburgh is an urban agriculture organization with "a mission to demonstrate, teach and promote responsible urban food production." The group offers programming and education including the development of community food gardens in the region. It is also known for the Edible Schoolyard program they bring to local elementary schools in Pittsburgh.
 
Tickets are $75 for General Admission and $60 for Members of Grow Pittsburgh available through Showclix or call Grow Pittsburgh at (412) 362-4769.
 

Grant lets North Hills vacant lot garden get heirloom tomatoes, other special veggies to pantries

When food pantry patrons see heirloom tomatoes that aren't quite as perfect looking as the grocery-store variety, they are sometimes reluctant to pick up those veggies -- "even though they taste a lot better," says Rosie Wise, garden and youth coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach's two-vacant-lot garden in Bellevue. "The carrots will still have the greens on them, and people won't take them," she adds. "We really want people to understand what field produce looks like."
 
A new $10,000 grant from Whole Foods will help create an educational component to NCHO's Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, which opened just last year, after several years of clean up and preparation. Besides the heirloom tomatoes and carrots, it delivers kale, herbs, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, swiss chard, lettuce, summer and winter squash, spring peas and broccoli to NHCO's two food pantries in Bellevue and Allison Park and to another pantry in Sewickley.
 
The group is planting a fruit-tree orchard now for peaches, plums, cherries and apples to harvest in a few years, and building permaculture principles into the place -- using the natural insecticide of mint plants, for instance, to keep destructive bugs from the fruit trees. Members are still installing the high tunnel: an unheated greenhouse made from plastic sheeting over hoops that extends the growing season in those 800 square feet of garden from mid-March into December.
 
"What's unique about the garden is that there is no age limit for volunteering," Wise says. Kids help harvest and take ownership of their own area of the garden, and the Whole Foods funding "will be very helpful in getting more youth involved. The kids who come, some of them don't really know what a tomato plant looks like, or how things grow." NHCO plans to use the money to hire another part-time garden worker, buy tools and other supplies, and recruit more volunteers.
 
Whole Foods workers will also help with the garden, and have allowed the NHCO to set up an information table at the store. Overall, says Wise, the Whole Foods help "really gives us a support system -- not just funds but getting the word out about the garden."
 
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rosie Wise, North Hills Community Outreach
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