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A collaborative community of learners grows food in Ballfield Farm

A collaborative community of learners grows food in Ballfield Farm

Carol Gonzalez

The Ballfield Farm (BFF) community is a neighborhood project collectively growing organic food on city-owned land (an abandoned baseball field) in Pittsburgh’s Northside in Pennsylvania, USA.

Our all-volunteer membership consists of 25 to 30 households with a wide range of ages (from infants to elders) and with affordable member annual fee of US$15/person or US$30/household for the whole season (March to December). Members are encouraged to work at least six hours per month with at least three weekly Open Workdays provided.

We plan, plant, weed, and harvest together with a no-till, no pesticides, crop-rotation approach in efficient soil rows (not separate areas for each family) and with a permaculture vision of care for this patch of Creation.

When we harvest crops, each takes what their household needs, with a commitment to use all they take as we seek to avoid waste.

We share any other abundance with our neighbors and local food pantry and men’s shelter.

We compost, harvest rainwater, and in seeking biodiversity, we have approximately 90 different crops/plants/fruit/nut trees at BFF, including many perennials.

We have hosted local Christian Life Community (CLC) groups, CLC service projects, and a variety of volunteer groups. We also served as a year-long internship site for Environmental Studies students from Duquesne University and Agape Year Fellows.

During the pandemic year, we also safely hosted a Garden Project for students who received both tutoring in math and reading, and experience in nature and gardening. The family and children’s area of the farm enable us to enjoy both monthly potluck meals, as well as allow parents to garden as their children enjoy independent play.

While we predominantly use the interior space of the fenced ballfield for the vegetable and fruit gardening, we are also stewarding the surrounding six acres with a creek and an outdoor classroom and are in the process of developing a natural amphitheater for small community concerts and talks.

Rain gardens, tree plantings, and overall beautification are all part of the ways this community farm contributes to addressing the climate crisis. And to ensure this area remains a green space, we are in discussion with a land trust that we hope will offer long term assurance.

Currently with no stable source of electricity, we have set up a small solar panel that can power small tools such as the water pump for an in-ground cistern in the Hi-Tunnel (high-tunnel greenhouse) or the weedwacker (a garden tool for cutting grass), but long term we’d love to have more solar power installation and storage for greater capacity.

A story in a local newspaper, the Northside Chronicle, offers a further glimpse into this collaborative community of learners that began in 2008.

We welcome visitors and for more information, please visit our website.

Carol Gonzalez is a member of the Ballfield Farm Leadership Team, a local resident who is part of a passionate and committed team of people who manage the farm. As described in their website, BFF is a community farm “run by member-volunteers from the area and in cooperation with The Pittsburgh Project. Members are food enthusiasts, community advocates, friends, family and neighbors from all walks of life, both expert gardeners and newbies, who are working cooperatively to maintain a former ball field converted into collective growing space. In exchange for a small monetary investment and a few hours of work per month, members are able to provide food for their own families as well as neighbors in need. All that while enjoying a growing sense of community and learning more about how to feed their families in an economic and sustainable manner.”

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