Inspire speakers

As temperatures finally rise into semi-bearable territory, thoughts are turning once again to vibrant, locally grown produce. And on Thursday night, Will Allen reminded us that “local” isn’t just a trendy buzzword—it’s a necessity.

Allen, a basketball star turned urban farming pioneer, is the founder of Milwaukee-based Growing Power, the country’s largest urban agriculture organization. Last week, Allen came to Pittsburgh as part of the Green Building Alliance’s Inspire Speakers Series. For a sustainability superstar, Allen’s talk was remarkably humble and charmingly unpolished, taking us through Growing Power’s history, his passion for compost and a surprisingly detailed detour into fertilizing fish eggs. Allen left the crowd at the Hill House with ideas for creating viable systems of agriculture locally: scale up, don’t depend on soft money, and remember—and he had us chant this five times— that “it’s all about the soil.”

The other speakers on the bill also demonstrated the transformative power of food. Stephen Ritz, an energetic educator from the South Bronx, outlined the way he’s used urban school gardens to improve one of the country’s poorest neighborhoods. He professed his love for Pittsburgh, pointing to our combination of thousands of vacant lots and a hard-working, DIY ethos as a recipe for urban agriculture success. Community Kitchen Pittsburgh’s Jennifer Flanagan rounded out the lineup. Flanagan’s organization, which has a multi-pronged mission that includes workforce training and the reduction of food waste, confirms Ritz’s hunch. Pittsburgh is doing some amazing things when it comes to growing, cooking and accessing food.

The conversation continued the next day over breakfast. Allen joined a diverse array of local educators, growers and community leaders for a conversation about challenges and opportunities. Ideas for cooperative composting operations and ways to excite youth about gardening flew around the room, and the conversation could have easily stretched on for the rest of the day. It seemed that GBA’s lecture series did exactly what it set out to do: inspire.

In other news…

Mark your calendars for next weekend’s Farm to Table Conference. On March 27th and 28th, the Convention Center will teem with a variety of speakers, samples of local food and nearly one hundred exhibitors.

Lawrenceville’s Grapperia is now open. Located behind Piccolo Forno, the bar serves up cocktails, wines by the glass and, of course, plenty of the grape-derived spirit for which it’s named.

There are still a few more weeks to get your fish fry on! Use this impressively accurate map to find one near you.

The folks behind the Strip District’s BeerHive have been busy lately. In addition to launching the Pittsburgh Pickle Company, they just opened an upstairs bar, which will add 42 seats and four taps focused on local beer.

The PLCB may finally be limiting our selection in a good way. Though the federal government recently approved it for sale, Pennsylvania state stores will not be selling Palcohol—powdered alcohol that comes in four flavors. Will this launch an illicit Four Loko-style smuggling ring in Pittsburgh? Only time will tell.

Drew Cranisky is a writer, bartender and recent graduate of Chatham University's Food Studies program. He enjoys cats, pinball and fancy burgers.