Home Grown Happiness

A urban farm brings people together in Pittsburgh.

Posted in , May 1, 2007

Barb Kline and Randa Shannon hadn't planned on becoming farmers. They were nurses who wanted a home within Pittsburgh's city limits with enough room for the dogs to run around. What they got in 1999 was all of the above and then some: a fixer-upper and five acres of land that had been farmed since the 1800s.

"We saw the land and knew we had to preserve it," says Barb. She and Randa named their new venture in honor of their mothers, who had the same first name: Mildred's Daughters.

They had everything to learn about farming, so they interned with an organic gardening expert before starting to work their land. Still, they were a couple of farm hands short until they got a call from Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Service Experience, offering them interns.

Working with enthusiastic young people and meeting more of their neighbors (both buying and selling) at local farmers' markets, Randa and Barb began to see they could grow more than beets, blueberries, leeks and lima beans. They could grow a community.

So they hosted a weekly Weed and Feed, rewarding garden volunteers with a dinner made of homegrown food. More people wanted to see the farm, learn and volunteer. "And not just environmentalists," Randa says. "Church groups, schools, singles, mothers pushing strollers." In 2003, Barb and Randa started Grow Pittsburgh to promote sustainable urban agriculture, joining other farmers in the area to offer produce subscriptions, farm tours, classes (Barb loves to talk about heirloom tomatoes) and of course, the chance to pitch in.

"What's happened is different than our original vision, to make our concern for the environment and quality of life real," says Randa. "Now we're saying let's create a space and a means for people to connect and see what happens."

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