Image courtesy of Bible Center Church.
BUGS founder Raqueeb Bey. Image courtesy of Raqueeb Bey.
Raqueeb Bey of the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op. Image courtesy of Raqueeb Bey.

Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op (BUGFPC)

Formed in 2015, the Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op (BUG-FPC), a collective of around two dozen Black urban agriculturalists and farmers, sought to address the food crisis in Homewood and Uptown. Through their combined efforts, the group – which is more affectionately known as BUGS – launched a farmer’s market in Homewood last summer.

“There’s no grocery store right now in Homewood,” says Raqueeb Bey, a community activist and urban agriculturalist who founded BUGS. “The options are corner stores, and they don’t have a lot of healthy options. They can be expensive as well.”

She adds that the same goes for Uptown, where residents often have to travel outside of their neighborhood to places like the South Side to shop at a grocery store.

With the help of UpPrize, BUGS plans to expand its mission with a variety of objectives, among them opening a community cooperative grocery store and engaging with children and families through Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, a youth group Bey created in 2011. The latter would include therapeutic holistic gardening for families and workforce development for students at Homewood’s Westinghouse Academy. Bey adds that they plan to show young participants how to make their own food products, such as hot sauce or strawberry jam.

Also on the agenda is the creation of an urban farm on a 31,000-square-foot lot in Homewood on Monticello Street, where BUGS will grow produce they can sell to area restaurants. Clean-up on the site begins in late April.

Knead Community Cafe

Knead Community Cafe in New Kensington. Image courtesy of Kevin Bode.
Knead Community Cafe in New Kensington. Image courtesy of Kevin Bode.

The recently opened Knead Community Cafe wants to be more than the first pay-what-you-can cafe in Western Pennsylvaniathey also want to serve as an asset to the economically distressed community of New Kensington. To achieve that, husband-and-wife team Kevin and Mary Bode decided to make a major commitment to the town by opening their establishment in a century-old property.

“A lot of the cafes around the country who do this will find an old restaurant and clean it up and operate it,” says Kevin Bode, adding that Knead is part of a nationwide network that includes 60 similar restaurants. “We did a major renovation and spent more money than most of the cafes would because we wanted to not only feed people in a nice environment, we also wanted to make an investment in New Kensington to hopefully encourage people to do more development as well.”

The nonprofit cafe works by allowing diners to pay for a meal either through a donation or through volunteer time. Customers can also choose to “pay it forward” by giving more than the suggested donation so that someone else can eat for free. With this model, Bode believes they provide a dignified way for people to get free or low-cost meals made from healthy ingredients sourced from local farms.

The cafe also serves as a place where residents can come and gain work experience.

“We have a woman with us now who’s volunteering every day,” says Bode. “She’s learning how to do food prep and different kitchen things so she could put that on her resume and go out and get a job where otherwise she couldn’t. It’s not about just feeding people.”

South Clairton Corner Store Project

Clairton storefronts. Image courtesy of Economic Development South.
Clairton storefronts. Image courtesy of Economic Development South.

Once a booming steel town, Clairton has struggled with economic hardship for more than three decades, as a result, becoming one of the largest food deserts in Allegheny County. To combat the problem, Economic Development South (EDS), a nonprofit community development corporation serving South Pittsburgh and South Hills communities, decided to open a brick-and-mortar store aimed at eliminating food insecurity in the city.

Dubbed At the Corner of Food + Hope, the project would provide a reliable, sustainable food source to a place where car or bus transportation is required to reach the nearest grocery store, which is four miles away. Though they have yet to choose a location for the corner store, EDS deputy director Stephanie Miller says it should increase the city’s access to fresh, healthy food by 90 percent, and that residents would be able to walk, bike or take a short bus ride there.

EDS is currently considering two spaces in the Miller and St. Clair Business Districts of Clairton. Wherever it ends up, Miller believes the project “will continue in all the hope building efforts that are currently underway in Clairton.”

The Healthy Food Access finalists will meet for the UpPrize Community Showcase on March 30 at the Senator John Heinz History Center.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.