Pittsburgh is a city, but almost as soon as you leave the city limits, the area becomes farmland. This is one of the unsung wonders of our city, supplying our farmer's markets with plentiful and reasonable fruits and vegetables all summer long. This weekend as part of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) annual farm tour, over 20 farm opened their doors to visitors. I managed to visit 5 of those farms.
At Shenot Farm on a quintessential hay ride, I learned they are collaborating with Penn State to practice mating disruption throughout their farm. This is a method of reducing insects without pesticides. They hang little pheromone tags on peach trees and apple trees to confuse the insects while saving money and our fragile environment at the same time. Soergel's mega-orchard is also using this method.
At Pound's Turkey Farm, I was surprised to learn that not only do they raise turkeys and cows, but they also grow most of the feed that these animals consume. I learned first-hand that turkeys are curious creatures that follow people around and like to play with toys, and I even got to hold a baby turkey in my hand. Maybe it will be my Thanksgiving dinner?
Over at Jamison Farms, I was transported to Ireland. Sheep roam the hillsides, and John Jamison will talk your ear off about his lamb and why Americans tend to reject this delicious meat. He's convinced many chefs of the greatness of his lamb including the ones at Legume and Sonoma Grille locally. You can also buy direct from the source and try your hand at cooking this delectable lamb at home.
All of these farms are less than an hour from downtown. Of course, you don't need to leave Pittsburgh's urban environment to see agriculture in action in Pittsburgh. Burgh Bees is a pioneer in urban community apiaries with a test site in progress in Homewood. Recently, Dan Onorato announced "Allegheny Grows," a plan to turn county land into urban farms and community gardens. Even the Pittsburgh Pirates have caught the farming bug. Their Pepsi Refresh Project is to create yet another urban community garden - in Homewood.
You can talk about a lot of great things in Pittsburgh, but this summer, the thing I'm most thankful for is our connection to the earth. Pittsburgh's next #1 ranking should be city with the most opportunity for sustainable urban living.