During the winter of 2008 a group from The Open Door Presbyterian Church, in partnership with Valley View Presbyterian Church, began making plans to do organic gardening on abandoned or unused land in East Liberty and Garfield. Our plans focused on beginning the reclamation of nearly three acres near the water tower in Garfield and small scale food production at two smaller gardens, one in Garfield at Valley View Presbyterian Church and one at the Union Project in Highland Park.
In 2009 we began a small garden, 60′ X 100′ on a few of the 25 abandoned lots at our main site in Garfield. Since then we’ve expanded into a fully operational three acre permaculture farm. The land now includes perennial food systems of fruit and nut trees, berry shrubs, annual gardens, a labyrinth prayer garden, a cob oven and picnic area, a high tunnel and Pittsburgh’s first bioshelter greenhouse. Within our bioshelter is space for rabbits and chickens, micro green production, and deep growing beds for a variety of annual and perennial crops. The bioshelter was designed with passive solar technology and includes a simple water storage system and even generates it’s own electricity using five solar panels.
Our programming at the farm includes a CSA reserved for people living within one mile of the farm. Our CSA members include families that work at the farm, some who pay a market rate for the CSA share and others who pay what they can afford. We also hold a weekly farmer’s market during the growing season at Valley View Church where neighbors can purchase fresh fruit and vegetables using cash, credit, FMNP checks and SNAP. We donate produce once a month to the Valley View Church food pantry which serves around 120 people per on the first Saturday of each month. We hope to expand our food distribution efficiency and effectiveness this year by putting wheels on our market and bringing the food to the people throughout the neighborhood.
Education also plays a key role in the mission of the farm. Each year we conduct dozens of farm tours, field trips and classes at the farm for all ages of students. Through the Saxifrage School the farm teaches a 30 hour course on Organic Agriculture where students use the farm as their laboratory. Our farm director John Creasy instructs the class each year and works to incorporate urban agriculture, permaculture and larger scale organic farming practices into the curriculum.
Over the years the practice of ecological design has made the farm into a more biologically healthy and diverse ecosystem. In 2014 we witnessed the return of many migratory and native birds at the farm including the scarlet tanager, oriels, red tailed hawk, cardinals, and many other small forest dwelling birds that are sustained by the many native and beneficial berry producers at the farm. We strive to support this diversity through wise agricultural practices.