Want to see and hear “The Renegade Gardner” and meet a “true celebrity” in the farms-to-cities movement ?

They’re both hitting Pittsburgh’s second annual Farm to Community Conference on May 2 as the keynote speakers. It’s an event designed to connect farms with city dwellers and teach Pittsburgh neighborhoods how to get more fresh, local foods in their homes and schools.

Ron Finley was dubbed The Renegade Gardner after he started a horticultural revolution in his native South-Central Los Angeles, using what Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis calls “unlikely tactics.” (Naccarati-Chapkis heads Women for a Healthy Environment, which is organizing the conference.) Finley turned the side of a highway near his home in 2010 into a garden and was cited by the city. Instead of giving up, he used that incident as a catalyst to get a new law passed, which allows the planting of edibles everywhere from roadsides to homeless shelters.

As for Doug Davis: “He’s truly viewed as a celebrity” in the farm-to-community movement, Naccarati-Chapkis says. Davis has travelled the country, promoting the replication of a very successful farm-to-community program he runs in Burlington, Vermont. And the Vermont growing season isn’t exactly tropical, so he has a lot to teach places like Pittsburgh, where people sometimes wait until late May to plant and are done harvesting by the end of October.

Both speakers will talk about how they overcame tough barriers to implement their programs.

The conference will also include workshops on:

  • Food justice policy tools and resources already available here and how they can be used by different organizations and neighborhoods,
  • A “how to” for community gardens re-using either urban or rural land,
  • Healthy food for all: understanding the impact of our diet on the environment and how to shop for and eat fresh on a limited budget, and
  • Bringing fresh food to larger institutions: how one hospital food service director developed a fresh foods program, and how you can use community-supported agriculture programs – a kind of subscription program for produce.

The conference also offers food-to-school workshops, since there is growing interest from food service directors in seeing how federal and state school-cafeteria regulations can mesh with the desire to bring in local, fresh foods to cafeterias. They include:

  • Educating youth: An expert from Oberlin College in Ohio will speak about using farm-to-school ideas in early childhood education to give kids a jump on the movement,
  • Farmers can learn how the school food regulations fit in with their efforts, and
  • The nuts and bolts of starting a farm to school program.

Naccarati-Chapkis says she hopes that attendees come away from the event understanding how farm-to-community ideas “can be applied right here in Western Pennsylvania.

To register, click here or call 412/420-2290. The conference is sponsored by the Highmark Foundation, Laurel Foundation, McGuinn Family Foundation and the PA Public Health Training Center.

Marty Levine's journalism has appeared in Time, Salon.com and throughout Pennsylvania and has won awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, The Press Club of Western Pennsylvania and elsewhere. He teaches magazine writing for Creative Nonfiction magazine.