The collapse of the steel industry decades ago transformed many once-thriving industrial communities into ghost towns. Today the Borough of Braddock, once a cornerstone of Andrew Carnegie's empire, remains devastated. Local residents believe a community farm can solve some of Braddock's problems, one tomato at a time. Interns from the Braddock Youth Project spend the summer working on Braddock Farms, bringing the community together and providing the local area with fresh produce. Allegheny Front interns Jack Billings, Emily McGinty, and Alex Zabierek report, as part of their work with The Heinz Endowments and Sustainable Pittsburgh.
OPEN: The collapse of the steel industry decades ago transformed many once-thriving industrial communities into ghost towns. Today the Borough of Braddock, once a cornerstone of Andrew Carnegie's empire, remains devastated. In the 1980s, its crime rate was the worst in the nation. Local residents believe a community farm can solve some of Braddock's problems, one tomato at a time. Allegheny Front intern Jack Billings reports, as part of his work with The Heinz Endowments.
(Ambient Water Washing)
Malloy: I'm washing all red beautiful tomatoes so we can sell them.
Billings: Fifteen-year-old Sean Malloy, one of Braddock Farms' six summer interns, washes tomatoes for the weekly produce market at the farm. Sixteen-year-old Shawnice Johnson points out other items available at Thursday's market.
Johnson: Those is collard greens, basil, squash, strawberry plants, and, what's this called, fennel.
(Ambient Passing Truck)
Billings: This urban farm lies in the shadow of the massive Edgar Thompson Steel Works, a plant the community's own mayor says is merely a polluter now. Despite clouds of smoke and pungent smells, fifty beds of produce, herbs, and flowers flourish on a mere two acres of land. Braddock Farms is a project created by Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that facilitates urban farms and sustainable agriculture with the hopes of reviving struggling local economies. Allegheny County's Department of Human Services selected Braddock for Americorps workers because the town has one of the area's highest rates of youth poverty. Mari Dumbaugh, an intern supervisor and member of Americorp's "Keys Service Corp" believes Braddock Farms' fresh produce fosters significant community development.
Dumbaugh: This work is incredibly important, especially in urban centers, fresh, local, organically grown food, I think is part of a larger movement in the country that is heading towards sustainable ways of living and healthier people. This work in general is an excellent example of different parts of the community partnering up and different parts of the city partnering up. There are all sorts of benefits that come out of it.
Billings: LaVerne Baker Hotep, Director of Education and Outreach at Pittsburgh's Center for Victims of Violence and Crime, is convinced that bringing fresh, whole food to urban towns can grow healthier bodies as well as healthier minds. She says urban farms like Braddock's bring a community together in a place where grocery stores are nonexistent and folks don't know their neighbors anymore.
BAKER HOTEP: It's a little more difficult to commit crimes against people when you feel connected. And so, doing something like urban gardening is transformative.
BILLINGS: Baker Hotep says that research conducted on teens at a detention center shows that when youngsters eat plant-based diets, grades and behaviors improve, and that the same goes for children who consume less processed foods. Braddock's farm could put fresh foods in more kitchens in the area.
BAKER HOTEP: So, yes, I believe that it is a beginning, something I support totally.
Billings: While the farm may be too young to have noticeably curbed violence, every week, Braddock residents who support the farm are putting their money where their mouths are.
(Intro Ambient Market- 50 cents)
Community Member (name?): I think I'd be inclined to stop here first basically just because I like the whole idea that I see the kids here and they're working hard and I think I'd like to pay for the fruits of their labors.
Billings: The student interns grow and harvest the market's produce and they also serve as market advertisers and staff. The group has loyal weekly customers, but is trying to increase community awareness of the availability of fresh produce. Sean Malloy talks about new advertising strategies.
Malloy: We market it. We go door-to-door passing out fliers. We tell our friends and family to come down Thursdays 2:30 to 5:30 and more people have just shown up.
Billings: As Malloy calculates purchases and handles payment, Shawnice Johnson bags bunches of herbs and explains the market's progress.
(Ambient Bagging Herbs)
JOHNSON: We have a lot of people coming here spending money on positive things and they see us doing positive things.
Billings: Fellow urban gardener Pat Morgan sells her fruits and vegetables at a table joined with Braddock Farms' market. Originally from Braddock, Morgan moved to the city years ago but returned home specifically because of Grow Pittsburgh's farm project.
Morgan: I was excited about all the programs and the outreach to youth here, and the artistic people that have come here. It's the first real sign of life I've seen in Braddock in over 30 years.
Billings: One farm stand customer said that her visit to Braddock Farms was like "going into the past and future at the same time." Braddock Farms' increasingly popular market, however, full of beans, lettuce, and peppers, may make you think that Braddock's future will be GREENER than its past. For The Allegheny Front, I'm Jack Billings.
HOST OUTRO: Interns Emily McGinty and Alex Zabierek (ZAY-brick) also contributed to this story.