Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance (PCFA) has been supplying fresh, local produce to Pittsburgh since long before #farmtotable (or any hashtag) was a thing.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary, the Lawrenceville-based cooperative is sharing its midsummer bounty through a meal at Ace Hotel in East Liberty. The four-course feast — happening tonight from 6 to 9 p.m. in the hotel’s cool gym — is the second installment in the Sharing Farms dinner series featuring farm-focused programming.
All-star chefs Lily Tran (Soba), Ben Sloan (Alta Via), Ryan Spak (Spak Brothers) and Kate Carney (or, The Whale) will each prepare one dish and will collaborate on three family-style dishes for each course. That kitchen talent is impressive, but the fresh ingredients sourced by PCFA are the main focus.
Since July is a peak month for produce, diners will find a vegetable-forward spread full of items from Clarion River Organics, Kistaco Farm, Pasture Maid Creamery, Pucker Brush Farm, Jarosinski Farm and Weatherbury Farm.
PCFA started in 1999 when a small group of farmers, including founders Pam Bryan and Allen Matthews, joined forces to increase their sales, build their distribution network and get more seasonal offerings into restaurants throughout the southwestern corner of the state.
The group now helps 30 farms supply everything from produce and pasture-raised meat to cheese and honey to more than 60 local restaurants, hotels and institutions.
“PCFA is a staple in the Pittsburgh restaurant and culinary culture,” says Bethany Zozula, executive chef at Whitfield, Ace Hotel’s on-site eatery. “You can’t have a conversation about farm-to-table here without Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance being mentioned.”
Bill Fuller, corporate chef for big Burrito Restaurant Group, helped them establish wholesale ties to local chefs. He stocked the kitchen of Casbah with local farm yields and continues to do so at big Burrito’s other hotspots. Customers have come to expect Pittsburgh restaurants to follow this farm-to-table model.
“Penn’s Corner is an integral part of our program,” Fuller says. “It’s not our only farm supplier. We have a bunch of them. But they’re at our core.”
PCFA isn’t just for large restaurant groups. Small eateries, including Dinette, The Vandal and Whitfield, participate as well.
“The quality and freshness is the top thing,” PCFA General Manager Jeralyn Beach says. “While restaurants want to support local farms, they don’t have time to work with them on a regular basis. On one invoice you’re getting items from 30-plus farms. This is a huge benefit to a chef who is running a restaurant.”
Branching beyond restaurants, PFCA launched a community-supported agriculture (CSA) program in 2003 that allows individuals to subscribe to a weekly box of fresh goods. There are now more than 700 CSA subscribers.
Shares are available year-round based on what’s available, with standard shares in the spring and fall offering six to 10 different items. Smaller shares contain five to eight items.
CSA subscribers can opt for weekly or bi-weekly shares, visiting one of about three dozen pickup locations throughout the city and suburbs to get their produce. Non-committal folks can opt to shop à la carte via PCFA’s online farmstand, open Wednesdays at 1 p.m. through Saturdays at 3 p.m. Delivery for that produce will happen on the following Tuesday or Wednesday, depending on pickup location.
“It’s literally still in the ground when they order it,” Beach says.