Growing strong: Carnegie urban farm aiming for sustainability

July 29, 2018

Pam Henderson harvests tomatoes July 19 at her urban farm in the Rosslyn Heights neighborhood of Carnegie.

In terms of crops, the Guild of St. Fiacre doesn’t differ much from other farms. Carrots, squash, beans and other kinds of produce one would expect from a farm all grow there.

In terms of location, it’s a little more unique. It isn’t situated on a field -- or anywhere near the country, for that matter -- but on a formerly vacant lot in Carnegie’s Rosslyn Heights neighborhood.

And in their second year of business, the hands who tend it say they’re aiming to raise even more local produce.

“We’re trying to get a methodology down here,” said Jeremy Vroman, a partner in the farm. “Then hopefully find more either vacant pieces of land in Carnegie or areas of people’s property that they aren’t utilizing so that we can grow food there.”

The farm sprouted from the backyard of its manager, Pam Henderson, eventually taking over the vacant lot next door to her family’s home. Among its goals is growing food for Carnegie residents. The farm this year adopted a community-supported agriculture model, which lets customers pay into the operation in exchange for a portion of its harvests.

The group currently has 19 CSA customers, Henderson said. Most customers live in Carnegie. Some produce from the farm is sold to restaurants, such as the PGH Taco Truck.

“There’s enough people in Carnegie for us to be able to feed them with our produce,” Henderson said.

The group, Henderson said, strives to be “friendly to all taste buds,” growing familiar fruits and vegetables in addition to unique heirloom crops like purple carrots. Henderson said the group learned farming practices by conferencing with other urban farmers as well as through programs offered by the Penn State Cooperative Extension.

The farm, Vroman said, is still a work in progress: Advice that works for one urban farmer might not necessarily transfer to another in a different climate. But the hope moving forward, he said, is to refine a way of growing fresh food that suits the area.

“It’s not feasible forever to continue to truck the foods the distances that we do. And the other thing is, we give up a lot in terms of taste and nutrition when we do,” Vroman said.

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