Picking Beans at Round Hill Park

 

 

I’d passed the sign hundreds of times:  “Round Hill Park.”  Some day I’ll check it out, I’d promised myself.  That day was last Tuesday.  I spent a gorgeous late summer morning and early afternoon picking organic beans.  Thousands of beans.  Fistfuls of beans.  Green, yellow and purple beans. 

Joining me were Bryan Ritti, farmer, and COO of FarmsCorps, Inc., a social enterprise created to support aging farmers, local food banks, and regional agriculture organizations.  This summer he and Chelsea Attwood have co-managed the farm operation at Allegheny County, PA’s Round Hill Park, an oasis south of Pittsburgh, just off of Route 51, near Elizabeth.  Bryan spent two years in a monastery, so the solitary life of a farmer is natural to him.  Like many of today’s new breed of young farmers, he is smart, dedicated and passionate about living  off the grid  and off the land.  For lunch he devoured raw kale on homemade almond bread and chased it with a just-off-the-vine super ripe tomato. 

Also picking was Lauren, an educator from the Outdoor Classroom. She is also a gleaner for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, one of the lucky recipients of the bounty produced at Round Hill’s cultivated acre of fruits and vegetables. Organic kale, okra and string beans are a far cry from the rotten apples I saw the last time I volunteered at a local soup kitchen.  Thanks go to the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA) for this outcome.  PASA, one of the largest state organizations supporting farmers and a sustainable  lifestyle is remarkable also.  They provide mentors for young farmers like Bryan who have chosen farming as a vocation.

So why am I  spending a day picking beans?  First, it is a delightful way to soak up, instead of supplement, my deficient Vitamin D. Second,  Bryan and his contemporaries interest me because, I believe they hold the health of the next generation in their hands. 

Today’s new farmers live and breathe the mantra of “Eat fresh and local.”  My car sports a bumper sticker with that message.  In season food that has traveled only a short distance tastes better.  Food that comes from your neighbors supports your local economy.

Bryan and other twenty- and thirty-somethings are the parents of the next generation .  It is THEIR health that will determine the health of their children.  If they are toxic from pesticides, PCBs, phthalates, mercury, lead and aluminum, they will dump their personal toxic loads into their unborn children.  If they are health conscious, eating organic vegetables, using natural personal care products and cleaners, avoiding fish and other products with heavy metals and watching their electro-magnetic fields, their offspring will be healthy.  It’s that simple!

Bryan and his buddies have big plans. FarmCorps, a not-for-profit modeled on the Peace Corps and Americorps.  It collaboratively provides the critical labor needed for farmers to increase scale and diversity of production.  As a social enterprise project of New Sun Rising, FarmCorps serves local farmers while providing experiential learning and training opportunities in sustainable agriculture – from agri-tourism like the exhibit at Round Hill Park to farm succession. Crops produced in specialized FarmCorps programs are donated for public benefit as a part of FarmCorps’ aim to serve southwestern Pennsylvania through strengthening the local food system.

Inherent in FarmCorps’ mission is providing training and vounteer people power for the aging farmer families. Hopefully fewer will not have to yield to pressure of real estate developers to sell their family farms and succomb to suburban sprawl. With the lofty goal of providing services in all 50 states, FarmCorps is just getting organized.  When I suggested to Bryan that his farms would be viable potential homes for workers with autism, he lit up like a Christmas tree.  “Putting marginalized populations to work is one of our goals,” he said. 

In the next year, DDR is going to be exploring connecting with organizations  like FarmCorps to delve into opportunities for inclusion of adults with disabilities.  In addition, we will be meeting with trend analysts to determine how to connect with tomorrow’s parents to investigate avenues for educating them about having healthy babies. 

In the meantime, shop locally, eat seasonally, and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather.

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