I’m over soup for a while. Don’t get me wrong—nothing beats a bone-sticking bowl of stew on a subzero February evening. But now that we’ve had a few breathtakingly beautiful days, my stomach is crying out for something fresh and new. Thankfully, CSAs are starting to roll in and many farmers markets will be open within the month. Of course, good food isn’t always cheap food. Here are a few ways to eat well and still have money for a summer vacation or two.
There’s perhaps no cheaper way to get great food than to grow it yourself. Though gardening does require some upfront investments in the way of tools and soil tests (something that is well worth the cost), a well-kept garden will reward you exponentially. And if you don’t have a yard, or you find out it’s filled with lead, grab a few pots and keep some herbs on your stoop. When you consider that a seedling costs the same as one of those little clamshells of limp grocery store mint, it starts to sound like a pretty worthwhile experiment.
Speaking of seedlings, Wilkinsburg’s Garden Dreams, which sells a variety of organic vegetable, herb and flower starts, opened for the season last week, and Grow Pittsburgh launches their annual Seedling Sale tomorrow. The urban agriculture nonprofit also provides a variety of resources and classes for beginning gardeners, including the new Garden Resource Center, which gives members access to tools and materials for a small annual fee.
If your garden takes off and you end up with bushels of tomatoes, share the wealth at the Pittsburgh Food Swap. Take that extra produce (or baked goods, jams and anything else you make yourself) to one of the organization’s free seasonal events. Swappers bring a bunch of homemade and homegrown goodies to trade while bonding over lemon squares and pickled beets. Their next event is on Saturday, May 9th. Similarly, the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange holds regular swaps, as well as classes on preserving the bounty of the season.
Finally, if you want truly free food, just look around you. If things are growing, there are plants waiting to be foraged—you just have to know what you’re looking for. “There’s an abundance out there right now, including fiddleheads, ramps, spring beauties, nettles, trout lilies, and everyone’s favorite, morel mushrooms,” explains Adam Haritan, who runs Foraging Pittsburgh. For newcomers to the world of wild edibles, Haritan is holding a Spring Foraging Hike this Saturday in North Park. The Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club is another great resource for aspiring foragers, and they hold meetings and lead mushroom walks throughout the year. Do spend some time learning from knowledgeable people, as a mistake while foraging can be quite costly.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have unlimited access to food. I can drive to a grocery store any hour of the day, or make a phone call and have dinner brought to my doorstep. But sometimes a little extra work pays dividends. Through growing, swapping and foraging, you can eat better food for less money—and meet some lovely people while you’re at it.
In other news…
There are still plenty of chances to celebrate Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, which continues through this Sunday. Check their calendar for an event near you.
Pizzeria/bar/event hall Spirit is now open in the former Moose Lodge in Upper Lawrenceville.
The Strip District’s Milkman Brewing has announced that they will be shutting down at the end of this month.
On May 15th, Downtown’s new Hotel Monaco will open the Biergarten, a rooftop bar that will feature European beers and German snacks like currywurst and giant pretzels.
Carnegie restaurant Bakn (which Google keeps trying to correct to “bank”) opens next month. Their menu will consist of casual breakfast and lunch fare featuring (duh) heaps and heaps of bacon.