A farmer’s market may appear to be nothing more than an event; a moment in time where local producers come out to sell their wares to local consumers. But if you ask Alec Rieger, the man behind Squirrel Hill’s farmer’s market, these events are much more than that. A joint project of NextGen: PgH and Citiparks, the market is the beginning of great things for our community.
“There are three issues we wanted to impact,” Alec told me in our last interview. Each of these issues are connected but also possess an importance all their own.
The first one is public health: “There’s a direct, impactful argument to make for delivering this farmers market to the community just in the context of public health and public health outcomes,” Alec stated. “People are eating better and people are healthier, in a literal sense.” Fresh, pesticide and hormone free products are being sold each weekend at this market, helping to improve our available food options.
Issue number two relates directly to the first. “The second issue is environmental conservation. People don’t have to get in their cars and drive to Whole Foods or one of the bigger Giant Eagles. They’re walking to this market- they’re outside, they’re breathing fresh air and exercising – They’re not burning carbon. There’s a legitimate argument to make in terms of the environmental impact alone, particularly when you looking at our numbers: we’re on pace now to turn out 20,000+ people in year one. If half of those people would have driven to Whole Foods once instead of walking to our market, that’s 20,000 fewer car miles driven in the East End of Pittsburgh.”
The last issue the market impacts, and the one Alec is most passionate about, is community development. “When you are getting together anywhere from 1,000-2,000 people weekly, in the center of a neighborhood, that’s very powerful. This is the essence of ‘placemaking;’ In order to mobilize people you first need to engage them and increase communal “idea flow.”
It was this missing element that inspired the market project. “We’ve got this remarkable little downtown business corridor and my hypothesis is that we’re not doing enough to leverage that strength. We need to actively “program” the public spaces of Squirrel Hill and we really need to bring people together.”
It was in June of this year that Squirrel Hill happily welcomed the weekly Farmer’s Market to the neighborhood. A joint effort of NextGen: PgH and Citparks, the farmer’s market has been held every Sunday from 9am to 1pm. Each market features a collection of up to 25 local vendors, including farmers, cheese makers, bakers, and other food producers. Held in the parking lot between Beacon and Bartlett, behind what once was Gullifty’s, the market has been a huge success. Partnerships with Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JF&CS) and Weinberg Terrace have really been the start of a great network of community connections.
There is no limit to the people you’ll meet; from students to families with children running through the crowds, dancing to local musicians to the wonderful seniors from Weinberg Terrace coming out to enjoy the atmosphere. There are only two Sunday’s left to get the best local produce! Make sure to come out and enjoy the market before it closes for the season on November 23!
‘Its not just about the fun- and the farmer’s market isn’t just about public health, or environmental conservation. “At heart, this is an exercise in community development. We’re at square one and we have a much larger vision, and we can’t wait to leverage that energy that comes from getting people together, to address some of our more intractablecommunal problems,” Alec told me in parting. He’s dedicated to using this market as a stepping stone for greater things in the future.