I ate an amazing salad last week. It wasn’t sprinkled with Beluga caviar or topped with a torchon of foie gras. In fact, it was a simple salad of greens, tomatoes and cucumbers accompanied by an array of homemade dressings. This salad was special for a different reason: every bit of produce and jar of vinaigrette was grown and prepared by high schoolers from around the city.

The salad was presented during the lunch break of the 2nd Annual Youth Garden Summit, held at Phipps Conservatory on August 4th. The summit, which was led entirely by youth, brought together 50 participants from seven Pittsburgh garden programs to share and celebrate their summer accomplishments. “The summit is a great opportunity for all of these groups across the city to come together and share what they have learned and recognize that they are part of a larger and significant urban farming movement in our city,” explains Jake Seltman, director of educational programming at Grow Pittsburgh.

Though the programs are diverse in structure and scope, they share a common goal: to empower youth to grow and cook food and in turn make their community a better place. “The participants grow as individuals and members of a team, discovering new abilities and interests they didn’t know they had,” says Kate Borger, the high school program coordinator at Phipps. “For those programs that work in community gardens, they certainly contribute to the beauty and quality of life in those communities.”

At the summit, students from Homewood, Wilkinsburg, Homestead and more presented photos and stories from their summers, where they learned an array of lessons not typically addressed during the school year. “We gained appreciation for where our food comes from,” said one of the participants, who spent her summer working with the Braddock Youth Project. “And now we want to grow our own food.” From building raised garden beds to selling produce at farm stands to cooking with local chefs, these programs allowed them to follow food from farm to plate and beyond.

Most of these students won’t become farmers, of course. And the programs certainly didn’t stop them from ignoring the beautiful garden salad and squabbling over shrink-wrapped cookies instead. What they can (and do) accomplish is subtler, and it varies from person to person. One student spoke excitedly about screen-printing t-shirts, while another found fulfillment in mentoring younger kids in the garden. And at their core, youth garden programs instill a sense of respect for and wonder at the world around us and the living things that inhabit it. One of the young interns at Phipps said it best: “You never thought plants could be this cool.”

In other news…

This Saturday from 1-3 p.m., the Pittsburgh Canning Exchange is holding a Dilly Beans Workshop at Earthen Vessels Outreach. Attendees will learn the basics of pickling and make a pint of dilly beans to take home.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Community Development Corporation will host Downtown’s first Biergarten on Wednesday, August 26 from 6-10pm on 7th Street between Penn and Liberty. The event will include craft beer, music and appetizers from Sal’s City Deli.

Black Forge Coffee, an independent café in the Allentown neighborhood, is now open. Black Forge features coffee from Zeke’s and baked goods from ThreeFifty.

The National Road Heritage Corridor is hosting its 10th Annual Frontier Dinner on August 28 at the Christian W. Klay Winery in Chalkhill, PA. The five-course fundraiser will feature live music, wine and beer pairings and more.

Drew Cranisky

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