4/14–4/15: More Observations & Interviews

4/14: John Creasy — Founder Garfield Community Farms/Pastor at The Open Door Church

We attended the weekly, Thursday volunteer night at Garfield Community Farms. The farm operates on 2 acres of property in Garfield and is operated by John’s church. The farm grows fruit, vegetables, and flowers, which are sold via a farm stand at an adjacent church (not John’s church) and soon-to-be mobile farm stand. The farm historically operated a CSA, but has stopped that this year.

At the volunteer night, there were two high school students completing community service hours for their AP Environmental Science class, a group of young men on probation (along with two supervisors), and a few families from John’s church. This is the second year that the farm has worked with youth on probation. In addition to John, we met the farm’s Community Outreach coordinator (AJ) who works at the farm part-time. She also works part-time for Grow Pittsburgh.

Most of the farm is composed of open plots. Additionally, there is a grow tunnel (a semi-enclosed greenhouse structure), a bio-house (a fully enclosed grow-house), a prayer labyrinth, and a chicken coop, and a community space (pizza oven, grill, tables, and soon-to-be a pavilion). While giving us the tour AJ talked a lot about their business, which restaurants procure from them, and how they make their money. An issue that came up in discussion was the lack of transparency around locally sourced, organic food at restaurants in Pittsburgh. Some restaurants, they explained, have Garfield Farms listed as a supplier when they haven’t procured from them in years. The area of transparency around locally procured food emerged as an area of interest we might explore in our design concepts.

While there, we also met a member of John’s congregation who also happens to be a PhD student in Rhetoric at CMU. He is currently doing his dissertation on diversity, or lack thereof, at the church and farm, and we spent a good deal of time discussion how and why that is the case. Promoting diversity among local food organization emerged as another interesting area for concepting around.

Work for an average volunteer on the farm can vary greatly. We started out doing some basic weeding, and then move onto transplanting seedlings into individual pots for sale. The group was given the more serious tasks, and while we were there they cut down a few trees where a community pavilion space is planned. While talking, AJ mentioned that this group of men was older and than the last group, and she was excited that they’d be able to do some big projects with them.

We spent a good amount of time talking with John about how he ended up on the farm and what his challenges are. Organizing volunteering came up as a big struggle for him. He didn’t seem to have trouble finding volunteers, his church congregation is active on the farm, but rather had trouble finding work to do when too many volunteers showed up. He said it was hard to find work for 30 people, and explained that it would help to have a few skilled volunteers that could manage the others.

"What I need are a few committed volunteers that come back week after week. I need skilled people that can manage the rest of the volunteers that show up.”

John has just hired three new farm managers, one who will be exclusively responsible for managing volunteers. The other two will manage farm operations. He hopes this will help keep things going as he steps back a bit from his farm duties this season to take on more responsibilities at his church.

4/15: Justin Pizzella — General Manager East End Food Co-Op

The following day, we interviewed the General Manager of East End Food Co-op to get an understanding of what community means for a membership based, co-operative. Though we didn’t have very much time to spend with Justin, he shared an interesting perspective. Though membership based, the Co-op is a for profit business. They operate on tight margins, and need to be careful about where and how they spend money. Community building for them is mostly around building a robust membership and hosting the occasional event.

The most interesting thing he emphasized was that while his members, and members of other similar food organizations might be interested, they simply don’t have the time to commit to events, volunteering, or other things. Though the Co-op has more than 12,000 members, a well attended event for them would be 25 people. From his perspective, the problem isn’t connection, the problem is time. People are busy. While talking with Justin, we began thinking about who might have time to give to a local food community. Retired people and high school students during the summer emerged as an interesting target audience and we’re considering developing a concept around how to utilize these otherwise “under utilized” resources in building community.

When the Co-op does run events, the people who manage the events are local entrepreneurs who are eager to get visibility for their company or their product. They offer their time to run the free events in exchange for the Co-op’s membership base to market to. As mentioned above, a good turnout for one of these events might be 25 people. If they could get more people to come, Justin said they would be happy to find a space to accommodate a larger group. To market the events, and other Co-op related initiatives, they use primarily social media as well as a paper newsletter, which appeals to their older members.