Phipps market showcases local food adjacent to campus

Every Wednesday, the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens hosts “Farmers at Phipps,” where vendors of all kinds can sell their certified organically grown food and plant products. Among the many tents set up along Schenley Drive, a one-man organic salt business and a 64-year-old family-owned vegetable farm stand. Families, young professionals, and students alike have been frequenting the market every Wednesday from June to October since its inauguration in 2011.

Richard Piacentini, the Executive Director of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens was the original founder of “Farmers at Phipps.” the Internal Events Manager at Phipps Marla Checchio said that the initial stages “took some time to build” but they have been pleased with its recent success. Their goal with “Farmers at Phipps” is to “reach out to residents in urban areas to show them that you can buy fresh and local produce in an easy way, here at the market,” Checchio said.

Currently, 16 unique vendors travel from far and wide to set up shop in Farmers at Phipps. They include Apoidea Apiary, Atelier Glass Studio & Gallery, Blackberry Meadows Farm, Brenckle’s Organic Farm and Greenhouse, Cherish Creamery, City Grows, Clarion River Organics, Friendship Farms, Olive & Marlowe, Pastamore, Randita’s Vegan Café, Son Shine Farm, Steel City Salt, and Una Biologicals.

Tom Brenckle of the 64-year-old Brenckle’s Organic Farm and Greenhouse described the trade-offs of switching to all-organic produce.
When it became too difficult for Brenckle’s Farm to compete with large agriculture companies, turning to organic farming seemed like the best way to attract a reliable customer base. Even though the organic crops are harder to maintain, he stressed that, “You have to have a niche.”
Some vendors are newly formed businesses hoping to spread word of their products. Doug Pinto started his one-man company Steel Cup Coffee in April 2014. He sources all of his beans from inside the U.S. and roasts them locally in Pittsburgh.

Pinto even has a “Black & Yellow” blend to represent his Pittsburgh pride. Pinto says he participates in the market mainly “to get people tasting the coffee, and seeing the name.” He is growing his independent business by selling his coffee at Phipps as well as at other farmers’ markets around the city.

Since so many of the businesses have profited from Carnegie Mellon, University of Pittsburgh, and Carlow University students, businesses have now started to provide incentives to students to get them to continue trying out their products.

Patty Logan of City Grows, an organic garden shop in Lawrenceville, offers a 10 percent discount on any item at her store when students present their IDs. All of her plants are certified organic and locally grown.

Checchio commented on the importance of organic products and stressed that the organizers “strive to reach all ages,” especially students, with the market. They are focused on showing that buying locally grown food not only keeps small, local businesses running but also promotes a healthier diet.

Although there is a variety of vendors at the market, most agreed on the positive relationships they formed with the Pittsburgh and student communities. Terry Seltzer of Son Shine Farms said, “This has been the most beautiful farmer’s market.... The people are wonderful here.” Ms. Seltzer sells fish, meat, honey and dairy products. She’s been farming since she was 16 years old.

Paula Kedgwick of Cherish Creameries expressed similar sentiments regarding her experience at Phipps. “We get all the students,” she added. “They love the cheese, and I’ve met so many nice kids.” Kedgwick has been running her goat dairy farm for just over a year and a half. She and her family bought the farm on a whim, and moved to Western Pennsylvania to run it.

Checchio said that there is definitely room to grow for Farmers at Phipps. By adding vendors and raising awareness about the market, they hope to have more local community members as regular customers in the next year.

Most of the vendors depend on successful markets like Farmers at Phipps to stay up and running, so they are happy to see urban communities like Pittsburgh supporting local, organic farming. One thing is certain: Farmers at Phipps offers an impressive variety of healthy, local food options, and it can only continue to grow with the help of the Pittsburgh community.