The need to pass on the fraying generational knowledge of how to garden is why she took action, she said. In addition to what she learned from her godfather, she tapped into resources ranging from establishment organizations such as the Pasa Sustainable Agriculture and Grow Pittsburgh to permaculturists who ran Landslide Community Farm. Those early connections led to other organizational work, including with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, where she served on the steering committee through December 2019 and the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, where she serves as a board member.
Now, in addition to her work at Grow Pittsburgh, where she oversees a tool lending library as the garden resource coordinator, she also runs the Homewood Community Historic Farm, a project of BUG-FPC. It broke ground in 2017 and has blossomed into abundance this summer under the supervision of Bey and a fellow certified master gardener, Celeste Taylor. On a hot, sunny August afternoon, you’ll find a crew of volunteers tending to bountiful beds of vegetables, an apiary, juvenile fruit trees and a hoop house on two formerly blighted lots on a block in Homewood covering an area of 31,000 square feet.
“Black people growing food has become more mainstream,” Bey says, referring to the shift in thinking in Pittsburgh but also reflecting an ongoing change throughout the country. “But,” she says, “like I always tell people about this farm in Homewood, we didn’t do this overnight.”
Kent Bey (no relation to Raqueeb) is one of the newer entrants into the local industry. A longtime community organizer of multidisciplinary arts and youth leadership programs, it’s his first year tending to Peace and Friendship Farm, which includes 85 beds, mostly of galvanized steel, on land in the Hill District.
On a hot August afternoon, as he talks about the work, the novice farmer has something in common with just about every farmer and gardener in Pittsburgh — he’s battling groundhogs. It’s just one of the obstacles he is learning how to deal with. There are also irrigation issues to figure out this hot, dry summer. But the United States Navy veteran — he served overseas in the 1980s — is confident he and his colleagues can handle it all. The farm is the latest project of his Project Love Coalition, an organization that empowers veterans.
“We’re accustomed to doing service for our nation, so we wanted to continue to do service for our communities,” Bey says.
Starting a farm made sense, he says, because of its therapeutic value, both in the physical and mental act of working the land and the impression it makes on a neighborhood. There are currently about 20 people working in the plot, with a core team of eight that put in the most work.
What Bey wants is for Peace and Friendship Farm to become a catalyst to a more substantial farming and workforce development project, helping veterans use the skills they learned in military service to become community leaders and feed those less fortunate.
“This is all justice-related. You’re dealing with housing injustice, with gentrification. You’re dealing with police brutality. And if you have an urban farm, which is what we have here, you’re empowered to grow what you eat,” he says.
Empowering Black residents to have agency over what they eat is what matters most to Lunsford-Evans, too. The longtime educator teaches everyone from youth to seniors how to garden and what to do with the food that they grow.
“The fear of not knowing what to do is a barrier. People ask if they have to go to school to learn how to grow. Or, they lost one plant years ago, and they think they can’t do it,” she says. “I’m on a mission to restore the lost abilities of a generation.”
When the pandemic threatened to pause that work, at least temporarily, she got creative.
“When COVID came along, it really opened up my eyes to the struggles of senior citizens,” she says.
In March and April, she set up gardens for seniors at the community center run by Allen Place Community Services on the North Side, where the original teaching program she had designed was shut down. She helped them with upkeep, keeping a safe distance. “I Zoom with them, I email them, they send me pictures if they’re having issues,” she says.