What About Food

Dry beans have always intimidated me. They are inexpensive, easy to store, keep for a long time without going bad, and many people eat them, but I wasn’t sure about what to do with them to get from a bag of dry beans to a delicious pot of chili. Then I started talking with some of the women in Hazelwood Towers who joined the Fishes and Loaves Buying Club and buy dry beans regularly. It turns out that it’s quite easy to process dry beans and have them ready to quickly make into dinner.

The first step is to wash and clean the beans, making sure they are free from dust and any debris. Once they’re wet, you have to use them or they will soften and go bad, so wash them with hot water and then put them in a crock pot (slow cooker) with hot water covering them plus two inches. I put in two pounds of beans and fill the crock pot almost to the top with hot water. Then I turn the crock pot on low and leave it on overnight. In the morning, the beans have absorbed most of the water and are swelled to the right size and nicely soft for eating. I let them cool for a bit and then measure them into plastic, quart-size freezer bags. I put either 2 or 4 cups in each bag, depending on what recipe I want the beans for later. Sometimes I put the bean water in the bag too, but sometimes I just pour it out and freeze the beans without liquid.

Now I have beans that are ready for any recipe. When I make chili or soup or even a taco salad, I take a bag of beans out of the freezer, put them in the microwave for a minute on high, and add them to my recipe. I use 2 cups of my frozen beans in place of one can of beans in any recipe that calls for them. It’s so easy I wish I would have known how to do this 20 years ago!

So why is it important to have beans in your diet? One reason is that when you eat beans with whole grain foods like corn, rice or whole wheat bread, the proteins from the beans and from the whole grains combine together to give your body a whole protein package. Whole proteins are important to our bodies for building muscle and managing cell fluid balances, but we don’t have to eat animal products (meat, eggs) to get whole proteins if we regularly have beans and whole grains in our diet. Beans also have lots of fiber, so when I regularly eat beans, my body feels really satisfied and full. I can eat a lot less food and not feel hungry when I eat beans 2 or 3 times a week.

Eating vegetable proteins instead of animal proteins is increasingly important in our world. It takes much less land, water and fuel to raise dry beans and grain than it does to raise animals for meat. With so many people in the world to share a limited amount of fresh water, farmable land, food and expensive fuel, it’s important for people to eat less meat and get their proteins from other sources. Also, dry beans are a less expensive way to eat a healthy, delicious diet. A pound of ground meat can cost 3 or 4 dollars and make only one family meal. For $3.50, I can buy 2 pounds of organic kidney beans through the Buying Club, cook them overnight in my crock pot, and have 12 cups of frozen, cooked kidney beans ready to make six meals for my family.

One thing I’ve noticed about cooking with dry beans is that, when I cook them overnight myself and freeze them instead of buying a can of beans from the store, my system gets a lot less gassy after eating them. I know this is one reason I haven’t always eaten beans, but now that I can fix them and minimize this side-effect, I eat them much more frequently.

Here is one of my favorite meatless bean recipes. My teenagers like this meal and we eat it once a week through the winter:

Milk Beans (from Tanzania)
Saute over medium heat in a large sauce pan for 2-3 minutes:
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
Add:
2 cups cooked pinto beans
about 2/3 cups milk (to make a gravy-like consistency)
1 teaspoon salt
pepper to taste
Add 1 or more of the following:
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 and 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15-20 minutes to blend flavors. Serve over rice.

We all know that Warren Buffett bought the Heinz Food Company for billions of dollars last week. We noticed because Heinz has been one of the most successful businesses in Pittsburgh since its beginning over a century ago. Even though most of the company operations moved to other parts of the country and even the world years ago, company headquarters and company pride have always been an important part of Pittsburgh.

But why would Warren Buffett, a man worth many more billions than those he paid for Heinz, be interested in a food company? What’s so important about food and why is it worth so much? Let’s look at a community like Hazelwood to see if we can understand it. According to the 2010 US Census, Hazelwood and Glen Hazel combined are home to 5,033 people across all ages, genders and income levels. My daughter works in Colombia, S. America, for a non-profit company similar to the Peace Corps. As part of her salary, she is given $7.00 per day to pay for all her food needs. Let’s use this daily allowance as an example of what food can cost per person, per year.

If you are a single person, paying $7 for food each day means you spend $49 on food every week. Let’s round that up to $50 just to make things easier. At $50 per week for food, a single person can be expected to spend about $200 on food every month. That might sound like a lot, but if you count snacks and eating out now and then and all the food expenditures you make over a month, it’s a reasonable amount of money per person to spend on food. Now let’s calculate how much the entire population of Hazelwood and Glen Hazel would spend on food in a year at these rates. 5,033 x 50 = $251,650 per week. Multiply that by 52 weeks in a year and you have $13,085,800 in your neighborhood food economy.

The interesting thing about spending money on food is that we have to eat every day. All of us know that when we overeat on Fat Tuesday in preparation for Lent, we still get hungry sometime on Ash Wednesday and need to eat again. Some people can fast for a day, or sometimes a week, and I’ve even heard of people who take the challenge and fast for 40 days like Jesus did in the wilderness, but most of us need to eat about 2000 calories of some kind of food each day in order to survive. If you eat much more than that and aren’t a champion athlete, you will have health problems, but if you eat less than that, you will also have health and nutrition problems and eventually you won’t be able to survive.

This constant food economy is one of the biggest industries in the world, and helps explain why a man like Warren Buffett, who knows more about making money than most people, is interested in putting a big chunk of his investment into a strong food company like Heinz. He knows that Heinz will never go out of business so long as there are people in the world needing to be fed. Even in a neighborhood like Hazelwood, this money gets spent every day. Right now almost all of this money gets spent outside the neighborhood, in grocery stores and restaurants in neighboring communities like Homestead and Greenfield. Almost none of it is getting recycled through the community to support jobs and small businesses or healthy food options right here on Second Avenue. It’s not possible to compete with WalMart prices and selection, but I’d like to see more some small food businesses like D’Andrea’s in town offering quality, healthy food and keeping some of that money here in the community.

What About Food?

I began work at the East End Food Cooperative about a month ago, and life has been a lot more complicated since then! It’s good to be working though, and also good to be working in a food store and in the fruits and vegetables department. My days are filled with unpacking, washing and repacking certain leafy greens that keep better after soaked briefly in warm water, as well as taking box after box of apples, pears, potatoes, onions, avocados, berries, peppers, squash, oranges, cabbages, kale, beets, lettuces, mushrooms and too many other things to list out to the floor and putting them on the shelves and in bins for customers to buy. The produce section is not very big – actually, the whole store is not very big! – but it is filled with really good quality fresh fruits and vegetables, and nine employees are busy for sixteen hours a day, seven days a week, keeping food coming in and going back out again just in this department.

The specialty of the East End Food Cooperative (EEFC) is organic produce, so that defines what we do. Nearly everything we sell is “USDA certified organic”, which means that someone other than the farmer regularly visits each farm and does a detailed inspection of records, farming practices and the entire farm to make sure that only organic growing practices are used there. Only when these inspections are passed is the farmer allowed to label all the farm products with the “USDA certified organic” label when they are sent out. What this means for customers is that someone is looking at where and how your food is grown, packed, stored and shipped, and that you can be sure that no unauthorized fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides have been used in the ground, water, air or packaging around your food. Certified organic food is close to chemical free (some chemicals are approved for use even in organic growing).

Why should we care if there are chemicals used when growing our food? I hope all of you read Jim McCue’s well written articles on the dangers of eating foods with chemicals on and in them, as well as all the damage chemical farming is doing to our environment. Jim knows a lot more about this than I do, and what he writes should convince us and help us to begin growing more of our own food here in Hazelwood.

The other reason to eat organic food is that certified organic foods cannot be genetically modified. The USDA has refused to label which foods have genetically modified ingredients in them, with the result that most of the food you buy in a grocery store has some genetically modified ingredients. Over 90% of soy and corn crops grown in the US are from genetically modified seeds, and these products (grain and oil) are used in most of the processed foods we eat. Right now, the only way to be sure you aren’t eating genetically modified food is to eat certified organic food, or to eat fresh fruits and vegetables because most of them are not genetically modified at this time anyway.

Working at the EEFC means I work with only organic fruits and vegetables, and that I can now regularly eat those same foods and bring them home for my family. Before working there, I usually didn’t buy organic foods, mostly for two reasons: there aren’t a lot of them at the Giant Eagle where I usually shop, and they tend to be a lot more expensive than the non-organic fruits and vegetables that look just as good right next to them. Now that I’m working with organic produce every day, I’m learning that it gets shipped in from all over the world, it usually looks great but sometimes gets old or damaged during the journey, and – yes – it is more expensive than what I’m used to paying for fresh foods. Because I’m an employee I get a discount, which helps with the expense.

Why is organic food more expensive? Well, partly because it’s more labor-intensive to grow food organically, simply because there’s more work tending soil and weeding gardens that don’t use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. It also costs more to get certified for organic growing because you have to keep a lot of records and pay the fees to have your farm inspected and certified, which can be over a thousand dollars a year. But organic food is also more expensive because companies know that certain customers will pay more for organic food (food they believe is better in some way). Because of this, the organic label has become a “value-add” device, and some large companies farm organically so they can capture this higher profit margin.

Working at the Food Co-op has made me more aware of organic food, where it comes from, how much it costs and who buys it. I’m surprised by how diverse the customers are at the Co-op, and realize that concerns about what we eat are not limited to any one segment of the population. We should all be concerned, and in my mind we should all have access to healthy, fresh food that is grown in ways that don’t pollute our environment or our own bodies when we eat them.

What About Food?
by Dianne Shenk, for June 2013.

On Saturday, May 18, the Fishes and Loaves Buying Club sponsored a tomato plant sale at Hazelwood Towers. We purchased 30 robust, foot-high tomato starts, plus 30 large patio pots and 4 large bags of potting soil from Hazelwood’s own Elaine Price of Floriated Interpretations, and offered them to seniors for a reasonable fee. Thirteen plants were quickly picked out, with many seniors asking for 2 or 3 to put out on their patios. Within an hour, all 30 plants had found owners and been carried up through the building to various patio spaces.

I quickly learned that some seniors had no experience with vegetable plants, while others were thrilled at the chance to get back to some kind of gardening. Joe spent 15 minutes telling me about the large backyard garden his father tended 50 years ago at their home below the tracks. I began to give Sue advice on watering and she looked at me sideways before leaning over with a twinkle and murmuring “Honey, I grew UP on the farm!” and laughing gently. She was thrilled to purchase two tomato plants and instructed her granddaughter on carrying them upstairs to her apartment. Others had raised indoor plants but never a tomato, so asked me questions about watering and how much sun their plant should get. I answered their questions, then told them to ask Sue if they had any more over the coming weeks.

I’ve thought a lot about the value of growing food in urban spaces. There are many people who put effort and time into city food gardens, called urban agriculture, and the Pittsburgh Mayor’s Office sponsors the planting of food gardens by community groups throughout the city each spring. Here in Hazelwood, HUGS (Hazelwood Urban Gardens) has tended neighborhood gardens for a number of years, offering advice on composting, planting and harvesting free to residents and volunteers. Yet it’s obvious that in a seasonal climate, using small plots of leftover city property or backyard gardens, it is impossible to raise enough food to meet anyone’s yearlong food needs. So why do it at all, and why grow a tomato in a highrise?

I’ve come to the conclusion that gardening is a crucial step in getting in touch with your food, your diet and also your health. Vegetables right out of the garden teach us what fresh food should taste like. Once you’ve tasted fresh tomatoes, fresh cucumbers, or collards harvested an hour before you put them in the pan, you look at the shelves in the grocery store and start wondering how old that stuff really is. How long has it been since it was on the bush or in the ground? And why is it so rubbery, or soft, or tasteless? A garden teaches us what fruits and vegetables should taste like, and that they taste a whole variety of wonderful flavors and textures.

The other thing that gardening teaches us is simply the abundance of the earth. Given a little bit of earth, some steady sunshine and adequate water, plants GROW – and growing plants put out flowers and then vegetables and fruit. Plants want to grow, and they give us a bounty of edible flowers, leaves, roots and fruit to simply walk by, pick and eat. A hundred years ago, most Americans lived in farming communities and grew much of their own food. Now, less than 2% of the population lives on farms and grows food for the rest of us. Over those hundred years, we’ve lost touch with where our food comes from, and what good food tastes like. At the same time, huge food corporations like Cargill and Monsanto, and national grocery chains like Costco and WalMart have become the places where our food is ‘made’ and sold. These corporations sell seeds directly to farmers, then buy the product back, warehouse it, break it down into micro-nutrients, reassemble it into packaged foods and sell it to consumers out of grocery stores that they often own. As consumers, we think of frozen meals and packaged cereals as ‘food’, not realizing that much of what we are eating is simply reconstituted corn and soy products, with a little meat or vegetables thrown in for flavor beside the chemicals, salt and coloring that make it look and taste familiar.

Now, after 40 years of eating this way, we have a national health crisis on our hands largely related to what’s in our food. Growing our own food, even if it’s a single tomato plant on a highrise balcony, is one way to experience these realities about food in our world, and to begin taking back our food system. We are living organisms, and the best food for our bodies comes from the natural world – fruits and vegetables, whole grains and grass-fed meats.

I was discussing these ideas with Pastor Scott Stine of Hazelwood Christian Church, which generously hosts Fishes and Loaves Buying Club for their distributions on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month. Pastor Scott grasped my idea and quoted from Acts 14: verse 17, where Paul is addressing a crowd in Lystra: “Yet he (God) has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” Pastor Scott is part of the Steering Committee for Fishes and Loaves, where we frequently talk about our mission to create food abundance in Hazelwood by providing access to healthy fresh foods at reasonable prices. Sponsoring the tomato plants for residents of Hazelwood Towers fulfills that mission on many levels, and it was a joy-filled event!

What About Food? July, 2013

The Saturday Sidewalk sales on the corner of Hazelwood and Second Avenues have grown into something really special this year. A number of specialty food stands have opened, and the sales have expanded to include two Saturdays each month, the 1st and 3rd. If you are fortunate enough to pass this corner, you will see tents and tables stretched along the sidewalk, loaded with tempting samples of delicious, nutritious, affordable food. These food stands are a fantastic opportunity for Hazelwood residents to purchase top-quality food from their neighbors, and for hundreds of people driving through the community to stop and sample the quality food options Hazelwood has to offer.

SHABBY’S BBQ, under experienced barbecue expert Shabrol Singh, has led the way with wafting barbecue smoke turning heads the past two months. Shabrol has worked in specialty barbecue kitchens in several states, acquiring the knowledge needed to realize his vision of the best ‘healthy barbecue’ in Pittsburgh, maybe even in Pennsylvania. The first Saturday in May he had racks of ribs warming over smoking logs in his portable barbecue pit, and a tub of chocolate barbecue sauce to slather over them. The next Saturday he brought delicious barbecue chicken with sides, including mashed sweet potatoes. In June his lunches of rice pilaf with barbecued rib tips or shredded chicken have been snapped up by passing motorists, and on June 1st he sold out by 2:30 and shut down early.

Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts, a new catering company that makes phenomenal baked goods, joined the Sidewalk Sales in June. Owners Rena Welch, Leroy Dunning and Connie Winbush have been cooking delicious meals for years, but recently branched out into specialty baked goods and the amazing results are on display and available to Hazelwood residents twice monthly. Rena graduated from the Bidwell Training Center with a degree in culinary arts on February 14th, where she also collected certifications in food service management and food safety. Rena and her partners dream of a permanent stand filled with Elite Treats baked goods, and the opportunity to cater Specialty Feasts for customers. True to their name, the baked goods on sale Saturday were decidedly ‘Elite’, with mini-cheesecakes covered in fresh strawberry sauce, lemon pound cake, and sweet potato pie leading the way. Several varieties of cookie included a diabetic chocolate chip cookie made with Splenda and a butter alternative. Rounding it out were soft dinner rolls and some serious cornbread that I paired with SHABBY’S rib tips for an incredible taste complement.

Rounding out the food is Dylamato’s Market, offering quality fresh fruits and vegetables at very competitive prices. On sale this weekend were the most beautiful eggplant and Vidalia onions I’ve ever seen, with fresh strawberries in pints, corn on the cob, zucchini, summer squash, lemons and cantaloupes. Delicious slicing tomatoes from Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana County are also on sale at the stand. Dylamato’s has grown out of the Fishes and Loaves Buying Club efforts to provide fresh food options to their members, especially to residents of Hazelwood Towers. This partnership will allow Buying Club members to purchase these fresh foods at their regular distribution sites in Hazelwood Christian Church and Hazelwood Towers.

New food businesses are welcome to join the Saturday Sales. Related businesses like kitchen garden plants, flowers and herbs are represented by Floriated Interpretations, owned by Elaine Price. Elaine dreams of an aquaponics operation in Hazelwood, where she would raise organically farmed tilapia in a closed water-loop operation with fresh vegetables such as greens and lettuces.

The Saturday Sidewalk Sales are the brainchild of Alex Bodnar, and operate under the support of his restaurant, Josca Corner, and the Greater Hazelwood Development, Inc. Alex has offered delicious Hungarian food from his business for years, and interested diners book dinners there on a regular basis. Josca Corner had specialty dishes for sale last Saturday, and Alex generously offers tables to all the vendors who show up, free of charge.

The Saturday Sidewalk Sales provide an opportunity for Hazelwood residents to showcase their talents, provide much-needed healthy food options in the community, and begin growing small food businesses. The food businesses are also supported by the Tecumseh Team, a social enterprise founded in 2012 with the mission to create physical, social and financial health in Hazelwood through the support of micro-food businesses. Their vision is a year-round, indoor fresh food marketplace with attached commercial kitchen in Hazelwood, partnered with job-training and small business development support.

What About Food: August, 2013
By Dianne Shenk

I work in the fruit and vegetable department at the East End Food Cooperative. In spring and summer our local farmers bring in fresh food grown in the area for sale in the store, and sometimes I get to talk with them about their farms. Clarion River Organics is a group of Amish vegetable farmers who grow fields of red and green kale, collards, huge cabbages, specialty lettuces, and red, purple and fingerling potatoes. Rick is an organic farmer in New Wilmington who grows herbs, enormous seedless cucumbers, pickling cucumbers, and kale on his farm. Who Cooks for You farm brings us salad mixes, radishes, small salad turnips, and lettuces. One of my favorites, Maxim Berry Farm, grows all kinds of berries – blueberries, red and black raspberries, and blackberries, as well as spring garlic.

I talked with the farmer who owns Maxim Berry Farm, wondering if he might have raspberry shoots that I could get to start a raspberry farm in Hazelwood. I’ve always felt like raspberries are the way to go with urban agriculture for a number of reasons: 1) raspberries are easy to grow in the poor soil you often find in empty city lots; 2) raspberries are fragile, so they’re hard to pack and ship and tend to be very expensive in grocery stores; 3) berries are one of the foods that nutritionists recommend eating more of, since they’re really good for our diets; and 4) raspberries can be made into value-added products like jams, jellies and other baked goods, and sold year-round for a considerable profit.

I explained all this to the farmer, who was curious about my ideas and wondered where in Pittsburgh I might be thinking of putting a berry farm. His farm is a summer hobby and his day job is in the city housing department, so he knows Pittsburgh neighborhoods and knew that Hazelwood has a lot of empty lots due to demolition of abandoned, derelict housing. When I told him my idea, he nodded and explained how he started his berry farm on an old strip mine where there was no top soil. He brought in top soil by the truck load, laid it about a foot thick in straight rows about a yard wide with walkways in between, and planted his berry bushes in these rows. It takes about three years for blackberry and raspberry bushes to really begin producing so this is a lengthy project, but once they are growing well there isn’t a lot to do besides mulching, weeding, pruning, and enjoying the harvest.

He explained that he has to fence and net his blueberries, because birds really like them and will come eat all of them as soon as they are ripe. Blueberries are also picky about soil and need very acidic soil to grow well, so he mulches them with thick mats of sawdust, and dug sawdust into the topsoil before he planted the blueberry bushes. But the blackberries and raspberries seem to be bird-proof, with almost no damage, and do well on poor and even rocky soil. Raspberries grow outwards from their roots, sending up shoots that can be easily dug up and transplanted for new bushes. The farmer said he could get me dozens of starter shoots at any time – he has to keep digging them out to keep the berries in their neat rows for farming.

I thanked the farmer for his help and asked him who had picked the dozens of containers of blueberries and red raspberries we just unloaded from his giant cooler. “I did!” he replied with a happy grin in his darkly tanned face, and dug an invoice out of his pocket for me to give to my supervisor. As he headed out of the store and back to his farm, I realized another reason to get a berry farm started in Hazelwood – berries just make people happy!

What About Food – by Dianne Shenk
August 15, 2013

August and September are prime time for sweet corn, and we’ve been getting it in from local farmers to sell at the East End Food Cooperative. It’s hard to raise sweet corn organically, because there are so many difficult insect pests associated with the crop. Because of this, the Co-op has focused instead on getting sweet corn that is not genetically modified (non-GMO). I was really surprised to learn that one of the biggest vegetable farmers in the area raised only one field of non-GMO sweet corn this year. When we called him back to order more, he said all the rest of his sweet corn, which he sells at Farmer’s Markets all around the region, is grown from genetically modified seed. Wow!

I knew that most field corn (more than 95%) is GMO, but hadn’t realized that sweet corn had followed suit. Further conversation with the farmer resulted in him arguing that GMO corn was a good thing because he could spray less often and have the same pest control.

So what does that mean for us? Genetically modified corn, or sweet corn in this case, is corn where the pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis, or Bt, has been inserted into the DNA of the corn molecules, causing every single molecule in the entire plant to have a pesticide impact. When the insects that love sweet corn come along and eat some, the corn itself disrupts their digestive systems and kills them. For a farmer, this means he can sit back and not worry about spraying the field for insect pests – the corn plant itself is now a pesticide product.

From the farmer’s perspective this might make sense, as he doesn’t have to spend money on bagged pesticides or on spraying equipment or tractor wear-and-tear, and farmers are businessmen who have to watch their bottom line. Sweet corn is also a major summer cash crop for most vegetable farmers, so it’s one they have to get right and often count on to make or break the finances for the year. I guess I can understand why this thinking works for a farmer, at least in the short term.

But as a consumer, I’m frankly really upset by this way of thinking for several reasons. The first and most obvious one is that, unlike a sprayed on pesticide (which is still a problem for me as a consumer) which can possibly be washed off the food before I eat it, a genetically embedded pesticide can’t be extracted from my food. I’m eating a pesticide when I eat that corn, and although I’m much bigger than a corn worm, eventually there has to be some kind of cumulative effect or reaction from my digestive system and my body. Many doctors and scientists are beginning to look at our food system and the chemicals we use in growing food to explain complicated auto-immune problems, hormone imbalances, and other endocrine system oddities in humans.

My second concern is for the natural environment. Of course spraying pesticides all over our food is an environmental concern already, as those pesticides get washed into the ground and the rain water and pollute the natural environment. But at least there is a half-life or a degeneration of their potency over time, and some hope that we can clean them from the environment if we choose to stop using them. But with a genetically embedded pesticide out there, studies show that drifting pollen gets picked up by other plants, and these plants embed the changed DNA into their offspring. In short, these genes are out there in the environment and there is no way to ever get them back. And they’re getting picked up by plants that aren’t farmed for human food, potentially causing widespread future disruption in the natural world.

These are facts I really don’t want to face, especially when I think about a plate of fresh sweet corn grown by a local farmer and ready to be shared at a family meal. Food is a space in which we gather together to eat, to talk, and to feel comforted and nurtured. It isn’t a space in which we want to think that the very food we’re eating might be making us and our planet sick.

So I’ve been thinking these thoughts at work while putting more sweet corn out on display as customers buy it by the bagful. Here and there I find ears that people have pulled open a little, enough to see that a bug has been there before them, and leave on the stack for us to throw away. No one wants a buggy ear of corn, so we take them in the back, cut the offending ends off, and leave the short ears in a bin for co-workers to take home for free if they want. Yet whenever I pull out a buggy ear of corn I think, “You know what? This corn doesn’t kill the insects living around it! Why would I want to eat anything that does?”

What About Food: Oct. 2013
By Dianne Shenk

While working at the East End Food Cooperative, much of my time is spent out on the grocery store floor restocking fresh fruits and vegetables while the store is open. Meeting and talking to customers while I’m working is a large part of my job, and I enjoy these interactions.

I love when little kids come in with their parents and dance around the aisles calling out vegetables by name. “Broccoli, can we get some broccoli?” and “Bananas, bananas!” are favorites. I remember one little boy in the cart seat who kept saying “Apple? Apple?” while his mother looked through a pile of something else, hearing him but kind of ignoring what he was saying. He kept it up and when the cart got close enough to the apple display he leaned right out and picked one up! This little boy was maybe 2 years old and already knew what he wanted to eat. A teenage girl brought her mother in one day to buy 60 mangos when they were on sale. Her mother confirmed that the girl would eat all of them in the next week before they spoiled – “She eats five or six at a sitting” she said, shaking her head but also glad her daughter was eating mangos instead of chips or candy.

Children learn what to eat from their parents and family, but also from the popular culture around them. The founder of McDonald’s was one of the first businessmen in the US to understand the value of marketing to children. He organized advertising that targeted children, and developed Happy Meals to get kids to beg their parents to come eat at his fast food restaurants. This marketing was so successful that most food companies have copied it and kids learn from TV that eating all kinds of junk food is what makes them “cool” and helps them fit in with their friends.

As adults, we still eat what our friends and family say is the right or cool thing to eat. I was stocking kale one day when a well-built African-American man reached in to pick out several bunches. “This is good food!” he said. I agreed and complimented him on his choice. He replied that some of his friends kept telling him to eat meat to build muscle, while he kept informing them that he had the great body he has from being vegan and eating right. Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all, so get their protein from vegetable proteins or combinations of grain and dry beans that provide a balanced, healthier protein for their bodies. I mentioned to this young man that it was nice to see people like Dr. Oz on TV promoting better eating habits and he responded, “My friends should listen to ME – I’m walking proof of what healthy eating can do for you!” He was right – I wish everyone could talk to this beautiful young man and learn how to eat well.

An older man asked me about the dandelion greens we sell in bunches, and we talked for a few minutes about the juicing diet he recently started. He was so excited by his experience, detailing his three weeks of juicing so far, the exercise regimen he had started, how much better he felt emotionally, and how his clothes were already loosening up. As he left, I thought how lucky his wife and children were to have such a happy, healthy man in their lives!

Another man was shopping one day with his son and also picking out dandelion greens. These greens are popular in juicing recipes and the son, who was maybe 10 years old, asked what they were. “They’re the same dandelions that grow in your yard,” I told him, “just farmed in an organized way by a farmer and put together in bunches for people to buy here.” He looked really surprised, but many of the common weeds you find in your yard – dandelion and purslane for instance – are nutritious greens for people to eat. The dandelion greens we sell are 18-inch-long, slender green leaves, gathered into bunches of 50 or so, and held together with a rubber band or paper-covered wire.

Other customers are new to healthy eating and ask for advice. One man wondered how to get started and I suggested cooking things he liked in simple ways, like chopping some onion and sautéing it with any kind of greens, tomatoes and green pepper. An older woman asked how to cook with turmeric – she had heard it was a healthy spice but didn’t know how to use it. As we talked I learned that her husband had a health scare a few years ago and they were trying to change their diet, but were bored with frozen vegetables. I recommended buying a few teaspoons of several spices like curry, cumin, and turmeric from the bulk spice containers, and adding them to stir-fried vegetables to see what they might like. I told both these customers that it’s hard to change your diet, and it takes a few years to get used to eating differently. Talking with customers about food choices is always the best part of my work day!

What About Food? – By Dianne Shenk, Dec. 17, 2013

“Can you bring me a gallon of milk?” the request came from a new member of the Fishes and Loaves Buying Club as he filled out his first order form in the Community Room at Roselle Court. Milk wasn’t on the order form because the Buying Club distribution site at Hazelwood Christian Church is only a block from Rite Aid and S&R Mart, both of which have milk for sale in Hazelwood. I suddenly realized how challenging it would be to bring a gallon of milk to Glen Hazel by bus and said, “Yes, write it in on the order sheet and we’ll get it for you. I don’t know what it will cost, but it should be somewhere around $4.00, and we can put milk on the order form for next time.”

The order forms were collected on Tuesday, Dec 3, and on Saturday the 7th the first Buying Club delivery came to Roselle Court. We brought six orders to our new members, including the gallon of 2% milk, along with fresh ground meat, chicken drumsticks, oranges, bananas, red seedless grapes, fresh greens, dry black beans, and a lot of other good food! Another new member said she would have bought milk if she had known we would bring it, and our milk recipient asked us to think about putting ice cream on the order form. Ice cream! But when I think about it – how hard must it be to get something like ice cream back to your apartment when you ride the bus?

I always thought that riding the bus would limit how much you could buy in fresh fruits and vegetables – think of a cabbage or a 10-lb bag of potatoes or even six apples – but hadn’t thought about fresh chicken on a hot summer day, or a half-gallon of ice cream at any time except mid-winter. The most popular items on the Buying Club order form are fresh meats, fruits, and vegetables, in part because we have excellent prices and good quality, but also because these things are so hard to get back to Hazelwood by bus.

The Fishes and Loaves Buying Club expansion into Roselle Court in December happened because Janet Evans, President of the Tenant’s Association at Roselle Court, came to the Saturday Sidewalk Sales in Hazelwood in August and requested that the Buying Club expand into Glen Hazel. Janet was concerned because the Food Bank closed their food pantry in Glen Hazel, and Roselle Court residents were asked to travel by bus and Access vehicle to the YMCA distribution in Hazelwood for their Food Bank allotments each month. Janet realized this would be really hard for some residents, and was looking for another way to get food, especially fresh fruits, vegetables and meats, into Roselle Court and to residents who have difficulty traveling. It took a few months to get authorization from the Housing Authority to use the Community Room for distributions, but it finally happened the first week of December.

Janet and the Tenant’s Association have offered to put up signs for residents, and to organize time for filling out order forms. When we bring the filled orders back on Saturday for distribution, they make coffee and I bring chocolate chip cookies so we can sit and talk with our new members, and get feedback on the distribution and ideas about how to do things better – like putting new items on the order form! This positive social time is as much a goal of the Buying Club as the fresh food itself. At Hazelwood Towers all the residents are welcome to share a meal when we bring the orders in, and the Resident Association makes a delicious brunch of eggs, sausage and toast once a month, or I bring hot soup to share with 20 or so residents.

The Fishes and Loaves Buying Club continues to bring fresh, healthy food at reasonable prices into Hazelwood, and now also into Roselle Court in Glen Hazel. We continue to apply for food stamp authorization and continue to welcome new opportunities to meet food needs in the community. You can check us out on the St Stephen’s Parish web site, where you will find a membership form and an order form for each ordering cycle, or you can drop in at Hazelwood Initiative to get the same information. Distributions are at Hazelwood Christian Church from 11:00-1:00 on the first and third Saturdays of every month. In addition to new members, we always have room for anyone to volunteer and pack orders, or come with us to help with distributions in the highrises.

What About Food?

I finally met the Egg Lady in early January. She had been bringing eggs to Hazelwood Towers for over six months, but I hadn’t followed up with her hand-written sign on the bulletin board until then, when she strode into the community room wearing a padded coverall and carrying a Styrofoam cooler packed full of cartons of eggs. I asked her a few questions: Where’s your farm? – “Indiana County”; How many chickens do you have? – “We have 200 hens.”; What do you feed them? – “My feed doesn’t have any hormones or antibiotics added to it, and they can go outside anytime and roam around their field. I have them in a small barn out the back, and they’re free to get around as they want to.”; When did you collect these eggs? – “They’re all from this week.” I quickly bought two cartons of eggs, wrote down Theresa Lucas’ name and phone number, and asked if she could bring us 10 dozen eggs for the next Fishes and Loaves Buying Club distribution.

We put the eggs on our order form and within weeks had a lot of interest from people who hadn’t used the Buying Club before. Theresa brought us eggs in two weeks as promised, but then fell sick the following distribution and has since been stuck in Braddock helping family friends with some housing and security issues. We’re hoping she gets back to her farm and chickens soon and we can get eggs from her again. At $2.25/dozen, her eggs are priced exactly right for Hazelwood residents who want to eat healthy food but can’t always afford the usual $4+/dozen charged at Farmer’s Markets for locally produced, free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free brown eggs. And the eggs are delicious, with thick whites and creamy orange yolks.

While simply asking Theresa about her operation is not the same as having her farm inspected and certified by the USDA, my own judgment of her from meeting her and taste-testing her eggs is in some ways a surer gauge of how good a farmer she is than a stamp of approval from a government organization, especially one that may then require hundreds or even thousands of dollars in outlay from the farmer for standardized equipment and specific handling requirements. In fact, if Theresa had to conform to everything the USDA requires for egg production, she might simply give up on chickens and try farming something else. It’s hard to find small egg farmers in Western Pennsylvania for some of these reasons.

Why are the USDA egg regulations so strict? Probably because most eggs sold in the US come from farms where tens of thousands of hens are crammed into small cages in huge warehouses, with little room to even turn around, much less roost or lay their eggs in a place resembling a nest. Eggs are laid regardless, and roll into slanted chutes that move them along conveyor belts to be washed, sorted and packed into cartons. Shipping eggs around the country means those on grocery store shelves are often weeks or months old before we purchase them. Why do we produce eggs in this way? Because it lowers the cost so a carton of eggs at Giant Eagle costs less than $2.00. These farming practices mean most US chickens lead short, wretched lives, and farms have spread food-borne illness nationwide through salmonella-tainted eggs due to poor farm hygiene or tainted feed. In order to protect consumers from these farming practices, the USDA has developed strict egg-farming guidelines. However, for a small farmer like Theresa, with 200 chickens, plenty of space for them to roost and roam, and a small farm operation, the eggs come from healthy chickens, are cleaned and packed by the farmers themselves, and get to nearby customers within a week. Selling those eggs to Buying Club members in Hazelwood is local food sourcing at its best.

What About Food?
April, 2014 – By Dianne Shenk

The cavernous banquet hall was nearly filled when I got there, but I found a place to sit between a large, mostly bald man and a young woman with long, wavy hair and a full skirt. Around me were several hundred people of all races, ages, genders and degrees of professional clothing, from chef’s white coats with double buttons down the front to jeans and flannel shirts. We were all there for the first of two days of lectures from the Allegheny County Health Department. We each received a thick, heavy book titled “Professional Food Manager Certification Training: Version 5.0” and we would take a test at the end of the second day to become certified as food safety managers. Most people were there from their food businesses – catering companies, restaurants, fast food franchises, hotel kitchens – but some of us, like myself and the young woman sitting next to me, were there from neighborhoods like Hazelwood and Braddock, to learn what we need to know as we start small food businesses in these communities.

The class was run by County Health Inspectors, and they kept reminding us that they were nice people, as if they expected to be feared or even hated by people in that room, which perhaps they have been when they show up to inspect a facility and start writing down all the things that aren’t being done right. As the lectures progressed, they told us icky true stories of unsanitary practices they had seen, and while this grossed us out it also helped drive home the importance of personal hygiene, among other important regulations.

Some of the take-home lessons I’ll remember are:

1. Wash your hands! They must have said this 100 times over two days – wash your hands! It’s the most important part of keeping our own germs out of food other people are paying us to prepare for them to eat. Wash your hands! Do this in warm water, often, with soap, carefully, and dry with a paper towel, using the towel to turn off the water and open the door if you’re in the bathroom. And don’t touch your face or clothes without washing your hands again.

2. Don’t wear false nails, jewelry, bandaids or loose hair – no one wants to find these objects in their food.

3. Keep different kinds of food separate – don’t cut vegetables on the cutting board you used for raw chicken. And store them on different shelves in the cooler so they can’t drip on each other.

4. When you put out hot food, keep it above 135 degrees. If it’s cold food, keep it below 41 degrees. If it’s between these temperatures, it can only be out for 4 hours before you have to throw it all away. Test the temps with a food thermometer, not your fingers.

5. Thaw frozen food in the refrigerator or under cold, running water. You can use the microwave only if you are going to cook the food immediately. It takes several days to thaw a frozen turkey in the refrigerator, so plan ahead!

6. Clean everything and then sterilize it with chemical sterilizers or hot water. Sweep, mop, dust, wash your dishes, tables and shelves. Bacteria and pests love food that is left laying around, so throw it away and clean up all the time. If you don’t feed bacteria and pests, they won’t live in your store.

7. Most bacteria is good for us, and we have a lot of it in our digestive systems doing a good job of keeping us healthy. Only 2% of bacteria can make us sick – but we want to keep that 2% out of our food.

8. Every year there are 76 million cases of foodborne illness in the US, and 5,000 people die from pathogens in something they ate. The best protection we have is to handle, cook, store, and serve food in ways that protect the food, and us, from harmful substances. Everyone who handles food regularly should know how to do it safely.

There was a lot more I learned in the twelve hours of lectures, stories, and videos, and from reading the book they gave us, but these are some of the things that stuck best in my head. Fortunately, after taking the test at the end and sending it off to Florida for grading, I received my certificate in the mail this week. I passed! The mysteries of the Allegheny County Health Department have been explained in detail, and I hope I can remember enough of them to stay friends with the Health Inspectors as they visit Hazelwood and check to make sure we’re keeping up with the food safety rules.

What About Food: May, 2014
By Dianne Shenk

I was in a butcher shop in Lawrenceville last week asking the butcher where he gets his meats to cure, smoke and dry, and buying some bacon ends to chop up and mix with my greens. He had a huge pile of fresh keilbasa on the counter that he had just taken out of the smoker and was stacking to sell, and a man came in to purchase 3 lbs of it. I asked his name and wondered about the keilbasa, and he told me that the recipe came from the former butcher shop owner, who had made it there for decades – it was the one product that really kept the place open. He said he was getting 3 lbs for his elderly neighbor so she could fix it for Easter dinner. Really? I never heard of keilbasa for Easter, but he assured me that this neighbor and his family all fixed keilbasa and sauerkraut, along with pork roast for Easter dinner.

While waiting on his order, we admired the de-boned legs of lamb in the cold case and compared recipes for fixing lamb roast. I said I would use a small, sharp knife to make dozens of holes in the lamb, stuffing fresh rosemary and a slice of garlic into each slit. After roasting it a few hours, my kids just loved it. My new friend agreed, but recommended adding slices of anchovy to every third slit – “You won’t taste the anchovy, just a salty blend of spices that really heightens the flavor” he assured me. I didn’t buy a leg of lamb this time, but will remember this advice the next time I do!

With the advent of the internet, it seems simple to sit down and look up a recipe for anything you would ever want to cook, but I find it’s much more interesting to ask people how they fix something. I get details a written recipe won’t give me, and learn from people who cook as art and love to eat, plus we can discuss cooking techniques and alternative spices or other ingredients. Everyone who cooks regularly has their special recipe additions, and I usually know how good it will be from how interested they are in describing it for me.

This year I decided to get a ham for Easter, but wanted to make scalloped potatoes to go with it. I love the creamy, chewy, crunchy taste and texture of delicious scalloped potatoes, and tried several times years ago to make them, but they never turned out. They were either runny or underdone and I gave up. On the Saturday before Easter we had Buying Club and I was chatting with Ethel at Hazelwood Towers, asking her about her plans to go to a family dinner the next day. She asked what I was going to cook, and I explained about the scalloped potatoes and not knowing how to fix them. Well, I couldn’t have brought up a better subject – Ethel raised four children and has been cooking delicious food her whole life, so she detailed how to make the potatoes. Her secret is to parboil the potatoes first – peel them and boil them whole for a few minutes before slicing them thin into a greased casserole dish, layering them with grated mild cheddar cheese, and pouring a smooth white sauce over everything before baking it a long time. The potatoes soak up the sauce while they cook to softness, and the top cheese layer gets crisp and brown. On Easter Sunday, I followed Ethel’s directions and placed the dish of scalloped potatoes in the oven next to the ham I had patted with brown sugar mixed with maple syrup. We had a delicious Easter dinner!

What About Food? By Dianne Shenk
June, 2014

“What is food policy, in your own words?” The question, coming from an Allderdice High School student at Center of Life, surprised me. It’s a complicated question and I tried to answer it honestly but simply, “I think its when the government makes rules about food, and those rules affect what we can buy at the grocery store.” I tried to explain a little by saying that the government supports prices for some crops, like corn and soybeans, so farmers know they will always be able to sell their crop for a certain price when they harvest it. Because the government supports prices for these crops, but not for fruits and vegetables, there are a lot more farmers growing them, and they are the cheapest foods on the market. This translates into lots of carbs, corn sugars, processed food and cheap meat in the grocery store (nearly all the corn and soy grown in the US are used as animal feed).

“Do you think the government cares about our health when they make food policy?” This question obviously followed my first answer, but I didn’t expect a teenager ask it. I had to answer honestly again, “No, the government doesn’t care at all about our health when they set food policies.” My questioner seemed surprised, like it should be obvious that health is the most important thing to think about when you’re talking food. I explained that unfortunately the government is not involved in the food business because of health, but rather because of food economics. The USDA (US Dept of Agriculture) was originally formed to try to keep farmers in business after the disasters of the dust bowl and Great Depression – to protect farmers from the normal rise and fall of prices on the open market depending on how good the harvest was in any one year. Ultimately, keeping farmers in business does keep a steady flow of food to the grocery store and to our tables, but whether or not that food is healthy for us is not really what the government has been thinking about for 100 years of food policy.

The student questioned me for an hour on things like food stamps and the farm bill – simple questions about very complicated subjects – and I tried to help her understand these issues. Many food policies were started to address real problems like times of hunger in our country, but over the years these solutions have sometimes had unintended consequences. Eventually we even talked about how deregulations in the food industry in the 1980’s have led to near monopolies in most food sectors only 30 years later, when five huge companies control over 90% of the chicken, beef and pork in the US. We discussed how huge retailers like Walmart use food as a way to get customers in the door more often so they will shop for everything else. Walmart doesn’t even need to make money off the food they sell, which is largely why a small grocery store can’t compete with their prices and doesn’t exist in Hazelwood. Government policies allow retail giants like Walmart to sell food, which means small farmers and low-income neighborhoods are kept out of the food markets.

I was at COL for a taped interview as part of a food documentary the students are making with the help of CMU students. They have been working on the project for nearly a year, and have interviewed many residents of Hazelwood and others, like me, who spend a lot of time there even though we live in nearby communities. I am increasingly impressed with what these students have learned through their project. They started it in part because Hazelwood ‘earned’ a designation as a food desert according to USDA criteria. The USDA calls a community with high poverty levels and no large grocery store nearby a ‘food desert’, meaning it’s difficult for many residents of that neighborhood to get healthy, fresh foods. When this became known in Hazelwood, the students set out to find out what it means to live in a food desert, and they started interviewing people, doing research, and writing about their findings.

About halfway through the interview, my questioner asked me straight up, “Why are you in Hazelwood? What are you doing here?” And the honest answer was, “I’m here because you’re a food desert and I study food. To someone like me, Hazelwood is a very interesting place.” It was really great to be a small part of this interesting food project at COL, and to spend some time discussing food with a thoughtful, informed neighborhood teenager.

What About Food: August, 2014
By Dianne Shenk
Dylamato’s Market Farm Stand is Open for Business

“Thank you so much for doing this! This is great!”

I’ve heard this every day from customers at Dylamato’s Market farm stand since opening on July 10th at 4812 2nd Avenue in Hazelwood. People are just thrilled to have a place to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in the neighborhood, and many of them stop by to check out the food and chat for a minute. Once they get over the sight of fresh produce, most have further observations and questions: “Where does the food come from?” “Is it organic?” “Do you have green tomatoes?” – we hear this at least once a day – “I’m looking for hot banana peppers.” “All of this looks so good!” “Will you be open on Sundays?” “Do you have eggs?”

And the answers: I pick up fresh cases daily at Paragon Foods, the largest locally-owned produce wholesale company in Western Pennsylvania. Paragon is located on the Allegheny River at the end of 36th Street in Lawrenceville, and many of their employees live in or near that community. They source fruits and vegetables from across the country according to the season, but during the summer they get as much local produce as they can from a 150-mile radius of Pittsburgh. Most of the vegetables I carry in the stand come from local farmers that sell to Paragon directly, and the fruit that grows in the area – blueberries, apples and peaches – is from local farms when available. Other fruit, like citrus, comes from further south.

One farmer, Patrick Maxim of Maxim Berry Farms in Reynoldsville, delivers blueberries and non-GMO sweet corn directly to me when he brings deliveries to other outlets in Pittsburgh. Maxim Berry Farms is not certified organic, but Patrick uses no chemicals on his farm. The corn and blueberries are the only products I carry that are grown in organic conditions, although I hope to find more farmers who are chemical free over time. The biggest reason for not going organic is simply the price point – organic produce is more expensive than most people want to pay for their fresh food.

Green tomatoes! Everyone wants them, so I arranged with Jane Matthews of Matthew’s Family Farm in Washington County and to get cases of both green and red tomatoes from them when they are at the Mt Lebanon Farmer’s Market on Tuesday evenings. Jane said their tomatoes won’t be ready til near the end of July, but by the time you read this I’ll have a steady supply of their green and red tomatoes available at the Market. If you want to can tomatoes, stop by and order a bushel of beef or roma tomatoes for early September from Matthew’s Family Farm. They also grow a variety of peppers: poblano, jalapeno, sweet and hot banana, and cubanelle, and I plan to pick up a mixed case or two for the stand every week.

When are we open? On request, we decided to be open six days a week – Tuesday thru Sunday, from 10-6 on weekdays, and from 10-5 on weekends. Hazelwood resident Leroy Dunning (of catering company Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts) helps with the stand most days, and we store the produce overnight at Hazelwood Christian Church, where Pastor Scott Stine and his leadership team have generously welcomed Dylamato’s Market. This church on Glen Caladh St also hosts Meals on Wheels in Hazelwood and the Fishes and Loaves Buying Club bi-monthly Saturday distributions. Hazelwood Christian Church has embraced all three efforts to bring healthy food to Hazelwood residents, and their support is crucial and hugely appreciated!

Eggs – what a challenge. I would love to have fresh, local eggs available at Dylamato’s Market, and am looking for a supplier. The Egg Lady has been supplying Fishes and Loaves Buying Club with fresh brown eggs for over six months, but does not have enough supply to expand to the farm stand. Until I find another local source, you can get great fresh eggs by ordering through the Buying Club (use the link on St Stephens Parish homepage to find out how to do this, or call the Parish office and ask for Deacon Tom Berna, who can help you place an order). A sign will go up on the farm stand when I have local eggs.

It’s exciting to be open in Hazelwood and to meet so many residents looking for good fresh food. Lots of Greenfield residents are also finding their way down Hazelwood Avenue to check us out – thank you! – and to ask questions about all the other interesting things going on in Hazelwood these days. It’s a happening neighborhood with lots of cool food projects in the works. We have worm castings and fresh basil from Matt Peters on sale at the farm stand, and plans have been drawn up for Hazelwood Farm with hoop houses, a CSA, and intensive micro-green production. Work is being done on the commercial kitchen in St Stephen’s social hall, and I’m working at finding and renovating an indoor space for Dylamato’s Market to relocate at the end of October when the stand will close down for the winter. Come visit the farm stand, buy some great fresh produce, and be part of it all!

What About Food: September, 2014
By Dianne Shenk

Food security is not a cheap food problem, it’s an income problem.

Let me explain: Food security is your ability to get the food you need to be healthy and happy. Cheap food has been the driving force behind how we organize food in the US since early in the 1900’s. Adequate income to cover many needs, not just food, has become increasingly problematic for many Americans over the past few decades, and most make less in real dollars than a generation ago.

People think that if food were just cheap enough, everyone would have food security. This is what drives food policies that try to keep food prices down. Keeping food cheap means encouraging an economy of scale that leverages huge shipments of single items so each item is less expensive at the other end – like if you buy a dozen ears of sweet corn from a farmer it might cost $6, but if Giant Eagle buys 10 tractor trailers of sweet corn from a huge farm in Georgia, they might pay 50 cents per dozen ears, so when they sell it to you for 5 ears for $2, they’re still making a healthy profit.

This way of thinking has made most pieces of the food system into huge companies, from the farms that grow food to the food companies that process raw ingredients into cold cereals, bread, or frozen pizzas to the supermarket chains that sell to customers. Some companies, like Walmart, do everything except actually grow the food – a job they contract out to many farmers.

This may make food cheap, but it creates an imbalance in income, where the owners of Walmart or Giant Eagle, for example, make an enormous amount of money, while the ordinary workers who staff their stores make $10/hour or less. Corporate farms with undocumented migrant workers are even less balanced. The problem here is that we have an increasing number of people making under $10/hour, which means incomes of less than $20,000/year. And this makes it hard to buy even the cheap food we have.

Why this matters is that food – growing it, packing it, transporting it, cleaning and processing it, cooking it, serving it, and selling it in stores – is one of the biggest parts of our economy. And in search of cheap food, we’re busy taking the profit out of this sector of our economy as quickly as we can, or at least consolidating it into the hands of fewer and fewer owners.

Our food is so cheap we don’t bother to try growing it ourselves – it’s cheaper to buy it from huge farms thousands of miles away. It’s so cheap we don’t bother to learn how to cook it ourselves – it’s cheaper to buy it ready-made or from fast food outlets. It’s so cheap that we can give it away in food pantries and throw it out by the truckload when it expires or goes bad waiting to be sold.

In order to still turn a profit, those huge food companies have followed the lead of all industrialized systems since Henry Ford – they dumb down every section of their workforce so it takes very little skill to do each job. In this way they can change workers quickly and avoid paying anyone for a specialized skill. Farmers become specialists in only one or perhaps two crops, instead of knowing how to manage the complex ecosystem of a small farm where they would rotate crops and manage the nutrient and waste cycles of plants and animals to achieve a thriving balance while also feeding themselves and others. Bakers become button pushers where mixers and ovens are set on timers and cycles for consistent output, and the bread itself is untouched by human hands. Cooks become can- and bag-openers where sauce is pre-made, wings are pre-battered, and coleslaw is pre-shredded.

People used to know how to do these things themselves, and robust regional food systems used to grow, move, process and prepare food within geographic areas, providing employment to skilled farmers, pickers, packers, drivers, processers, butchers, chefs, and small food retailers. Jobs in the food system don’t just mean work and income, they also mean food is moving around in communities and the excess in the system gets divvied out among the workers instead of going to waste.

It’s obvious when you look around that cheap food isn’t good for our health. I’m arguing it isn’t good for our economy either.

What About Food: Customers, Corn and Apples
By Dianne Shenk
October, 2014

Every day I drive over to Paragon Foods in Lawrenceville and collect cases of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some foods, like PA sweet onions, will keep for a few days and I can store them at Hazelwood Christian Church and sell a few every day until the case is empty and I order another one. But some other items, like sweet corn and strawberries, are only good for one day after being out at Dylamato’s Market Farm Stand. At the end of every day I donate whatever is left over to volunteers who help me with the stand or to Rebos House on Second Avenue in Hazelwood.

One day a few weeks ago I bought two cases of corn instead of one because we had so many people asking for corn that week that I thought I could sell more than one case in a day. Well, the corn I got happened to be very mature and also looked like it wasn’t perfectly fresh – the husks were drier than usual and not as intensely green as I was used to seeing. I was a little frustrated at this, but didn’t want to run back to Paragon and return it because I couldn’t leave the stand for the hour it would take to drive through town. I put the corn out, but almost nobody bought any that day.

At the end of the day, Jim McCue came by to help me put everything away and lower the sides of the farm stand down for the night. The sides open up onto long poles during the day, which looks really cool and gives us shade to work under and shelter if it rains, but they are really heavy and it takes two people to take them back down at night. Anyway, here I was with nearly two full cases of corn that I needed to do something with. Jim asked what the deal was and I told him the corn was too mature and looked a day old, so no one bought it.

Jim was incensed! He peeled back a husk to reveal fat kernels of beautiful sweet corn and almost shouted at me, “What’s wrong with that? I can’t believe it, this is perfectly good corn!” I said Yes, it was beautiful corn, but customers wouldn’t buy it and I needed to give it away. “Now you’re making me angry,” said Jim, “I’m really getting angry about this!!” And he stomped around a little, glaring at me from under his bushy, white eyebrows. “This corn is perfectly edible. This is good food! What’s wrong with people?!?”

Oh, dear. Well, we were both right – it was perfectly good, delicious sweet corn…and customers didn’t buy any of it because it was very mature and the husks looked a little old. When Jim calmed down, he took several dozen ears with him to give to neighbors and friends, and I took a case (4 dozen ears) home and spent 3 hours that evening freezing it to use this winter making soup and baked corn.

This incident illustrates a truth in the food industry – when people look at fresh fruits and vegetables, they want their food to look pretty. If it has a bruise or a scar on the skin, or a little soft spot or some miscolor, people just won’t buy it. In our conversation Jim pointed out the truth that farmers don’t eat good-looking food. Everything that looks perfect goes to market to make money – the farmers eat the mis-shapen vegetables, the ones with the scars and soft spots, the ones that are over-ripe or that fell on the ground and have a dirt smudge. This is perfectly good food, but people won’t pay money for it.

I talked to the owner of Triple B Farms a few years ago, asking him about their pick-your-own times for apples in the fall and saying I wanted Western Pennsylvania apples because they taste so much better than the apples in the store, which are all shipped in from Washington State. He agreed that his apples taste delicious, and said he used to bring them in to the Giant Eagle in the Waterfront but he stopped doing it because they simply didn’t sell. “Compared to the perfect apples on the shelf, our apples didn’t look good enough for customers to choose them, and we just gave up. I know and you know that they taste delicious, but customers wouldn’t buy them because they didn’t look perfect.”

I just talked to Bill from Triple B Farms again yesterday and ordered 3 bushels of his apples for the farm stand this week. He’s happy to bring them in when he brings vegetables for Giant Eagle, and I’ll have Triple B apples at Dylamato’s Market through the end of October. Stop by and taste one – see what you’ve been missing in the great taste of fresh, local apples!!

What About Food: Nov, 2014
By Dianne Shenk

By the time you read this, the Farm Stand will be closed for the season. I’ve written to the URA requesting permission to leave the stand where it is over the winter and reopen in either May or June, 2015, for another season.

From my perspective, this summer at the Farm Stand has been a resounding success in nearly every way. What a great way to spend a summer – outside in all weathers with a roof over your head, and great people stopping by to talk about their favorite recipes and then going home smiling over their lovely fresh haul of good food!

I met people from Kazakhstan, India, Ghana, Cameroon, England, Sudan, and Turkey. I met many who live in Hazelwood, and just as many who live in Greenfield, West Mifflin, Hays, Lincoln Place, Homestead, Squirrel Hill, Wilkinsburg, and Regent Square. People admired the amazing ingenuity of the Farm Stand itself. Many had watched us build it on Flowers Avenue in June and had wondered what on earth we were doing! Many commented that it “would stand a hurricane” and we got some testing just yesterday when the blackboard got shoved 6 inches forward by gusting winds and the aluminum flashing at the top crackled and popped all day. Rest assured, the stand stood the test, and after torrential rains overnight last night, it was dry inside this morning. Thank you, Joni James, for your design and careful construction!

Something we maybe forget when shopping at Giant Eagle in the Waterfront, or at Costco surrounded by towering stacks of packaged food, is the social spaces that can be created by food.

My little front ‘porch’, with 80 square feet of wooden riser fronted by another 80 square feet of rubber matting and a ramp, all of it shaded and protected by a roof of corrugated stiff plastic on wooden 2x4s, provided space for a multitude of conversations over the summer. People talked to me about their recipes, about their memories during the 40s and 50s when their family owned a little Mom and Pop grocery store in Munhall where they had a chicken yard out the back with 100 chickens and caught and dressed one whenever a customer wanted to buy one, about the fruit their children liked, about the quality of the plums, about the best, juiciest pear they ever ate, about how to can tomatoes and bake squash, and about all the businesses that used to line the 4800 block of Hazelwood on which we were standing.

I kept some folding chairs out there and sometimes friends would stop just to chat about life in general, their vacation or their favorite TV show. Jim McCue persuaded me against my idea of offering a bounty for every groundhog the neighborhood kids could catch, and Al waxed reminiscent on his tearaway childhood in a steeltown up the Mon. Friends would stop to organize a meeting or compare notes on community activities.

The farmers who delivered to my stand would admire the view of the Pittsburgh skyline out the back, and walk with me to the railroad track to look out over the Almono site. They were happy to head back out to their farms, but I love the city, love living amongst such a diversity of people with interesting accents and fascinating memories. So many people looked up and down the street, waved their arm in a great sweep and said “Hazelwood was the place to be way back in the 60’s. There were stores all up and down this street. It was a great neighborhood to grow up in!”

I didn’t expect it when I opened Dylamato’s Market Farm Stand, but one of the best things about being here on Second Avenue was the social space created every time one of you stopped in and said “Hello – How are you doing today?” and talked to me a few minutes while you picked out and bought some delicious fruit or tasty vegetables. I’m sorry the season is over, but hope to be back out there next summer to visit, socialize and make plans for what we all want to see in this community.

Have a great winter – and eat some great food! See you next year!

What About Food: Dec 2014
By Dianne Shenk

“Do you take EBT?”

As soon as I opened Dylamato’s Market farm stand last July, this question came from open car windows in passing vehicles, and from customers stopping by to check out the fresh sweet corn and blueberries.

“I applied for it. As soon as I get approved, I’ll put up signs!” I called back as people drove on. Everyone was patient, but as they checked back week after week, they began to wonder where my approval was, and why it took so long to come through.

I wondered too. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) approves stores so they can accept EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) payments, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) or Food Stamps. The application process wasn’t hard, but the USDA didn’t allow me to apply until my ‘store’ was open. As soon as I opened on July 10, I began to fill out the 5-page on-line application. When it went in, I got further instructions to copy specific documents, sign certain papers, and send these items in by mail. The USDA emailed in late July to say they had all my information and I should get a response within 45 days. Well, it took until the first week in October, over 60 days later, before authorization finally came through. For a seasonal business that closed on October 31, this was simply too late for this year.

A week after I got my approval email, I received a file of information telling me how to activate my account. They sent a list of suggested banking partners who could set up the account with the USDA, send me a card-reader, and keep track of customer purchases. My husband checked out these potential partners on-line and the news was not good – it looked like I would need to purchase a card reader for about $500, then pay $25-$50 a month in administration fees and a 30 cent charge on each purchase. The 30 cent charge alone would eat up close to 20% of my margin on a $5 sale, which was my average customer purchase. Suddenly it looked it was going to cost me a lot to accept EBT!

I compared this process to setting up an account with Square to accept credit and debit card payments. I contacted Square on the internet, read through their information, and signed up in a few minutes. They have no annual fee, no monthly fees, and an across-the-board 2.74% charge on each transaction. That meant that the percentage I paid to Square on each dollar of sales was the same, regardless if the sale was $1 or $25. Even better, a few days later I received a small Square reader in the mail – for free! I plugged this reader into my phone every day, logged into my gmail account, and I was in business. With modern technology and information-tracking, Square is a very reasonable and user-friendly company for small retailers.

When I was studying food, I came across some interesting facts on EBT transactions. It turns out that over 80% of SNAP benefits are spent in large, suburban super-grocery stores or in big box stores like Costco or Walmart. This is where the best food deals are available – store brands, sale items, and bulk packaging – so those who have to stretch their food purchases shop in these stores. Unfortunately, this means that the Food Stamp system ends up supporting the bloated profit margins of some of the biggest food companies in the world, not the small grocery stores located in low-income neighborhoods. At the same time, the government pays huge financial companies to keep track of SNAP purchases for these huge grocery chains. Instead of the streamlined system that works for Square, the financial oversight of SNAP transactions is well-padded with expensive equipment, yearly and/or monthly charges, and per-purchase fees that work against small retailers. Considering the technology available to companies like Square, this fee-heavy system is just unacceptable.

Fortunately, I called a friend who recently opened the 52nd Street Market in Lawrenceville. She steered me to the best-rated EBT managing company out there, Merchant Services. She signed up with them over the phone in a few minutes, and received her pre-programmed card-reader within a few days. The reader cost her nearly $300, but there were no other sign-up fees or monthly fees. She believed that the per-transaction fee was set by the state of Pennsylvania at .07%, but I heard it was a higher rate from a different retailer so I need confirmation.

Either way, this sounds like a reasonable set-up for my business and I will contact Merchant Services directly to check on the details. I’m relieved to find a way I can accept EBT payments without paying a big chunk of my margin in high fees, and I look forward to putting up signs next May when I open saying “We accept EBT/SNAP payments!!”

What About Food: February, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

“We can’t wait around for other people to solve our food problems!”

This statement was made by one of the young people who helped research and make the film Not Finished Yet, which was a collaborative Center of Life and Carnegie Mellon University project completed in October. Early in the film, several adults spoke about how Hazelwood has declined over their lifetimes from a once-bustling neighborhood filled with stores and groceries, to the near-empty Second Avenue we’re all familiar with. These adults were looking, in part, to the Almono Development to breathe new life into Hazelwood, and perhaps bring enough residents to tempt a grocery chain back onto Second Avenue. The young people, however, were more impatient.

“We can’t wait around for other people to solve our food problems!”

I agree with them! We can’t and shouldn’t wait years for new people to solve the food needs in Hazelwood. We can solve them ourselves right now.

The first challenge has already been met and solved with the establishment of a new bus line to the Giant Eagle in Greenfield and the Shop-n-Save in Lawrenceville. Pittsburgh has good grocery stores with hard-to-beat prices – Giant Eagle, Aldi’s, Shop-n-Save, Whole Foods, Costco, Walmart and Target. If residents can get to these stores by private transportation or bus service, there is little reason to replicate these well-managed groceries with another one in Hazelwood.

At the same time, even when everyone can get their shopping done for bulky items and dry staples, it’s a shame to have to leave the community for one item you forgot or the bananas you want to buy every few days. Some things don’t freeze well, and lots of food that’s good for us spoils quickly. It would be great to have shops for meats and fresh items here in Hazelwood.

Also, lots of people don’t want to cook every day. Maybe they’re just tired of cooking, maybe it’s too much work to cook for one or two, or maybe they just like buying delicious food that’s ready to eat. Well, we can fix that problem, too!

Many people in Hazelwood have dreamed for years of starting small food businesses. Their dreams range from bakeries to restaurants to barbecue joints to delis and coffee shops. They want to make the foods you love and want to eat, and they want to sell them to you right here in Hazelwood. All that they need is a certified commercial kitchen to work in and a clean, welcoming store-front to sell from.

A new group is meeting this winter to try to solve these problems – a kitchen is close to becoming available and plans are being made for a summer marketplace on Second Avenue. If you or anyone you know wants to be part of this work, contact Jim Richter at the Hazelwood Initiative office and he’ll connect you with me and the Second Avenue Market Group.

“We can’t wait around for other people to solve our food problems!” You got that right.

What About Food: The Summer Marketplace
April, 2015: by Dianne Shenk

Dylamato’s Market is expanding into the Hazelwood Summer Marketplace!

We wanted more vendors last summer, but logistics and reality got the better of us. This winter, we’ve been meeting and talking and planning and hoping, but now we know we can do the things that will make this a reality.

What made the difference? Funding! In early March we put together a budget for the improvements we need and shared it with leadership at Hazelwood Initiative and with Councilman Corey O’Connor. Within a few days, word came back that a city grant and a private foundation grant plus a Love Your Block grant were all being awarded to our Summer Marketplace project. Wow! That was great news!

So what will we do with the funding? Our dream is to have a variety of food available this summer, from vendors with baked goods and coffee to Philadelphia Water Ice (similar to Italian Ice but smoother) to hot lunch options and take-home dinner treats.

All outdoor food sales require a roof of some sort, so we’re spending some of our grant money to build at least two 12′ by 12′ shelters for vendors. My builder from last summer, Joni James of Kaleidoscope Enterprises, is up to the job with a ‘temporary’ construction design that is largely bolted together, making deconstruction at the end of the season and over-winter storage fairly simple. The shelters will set on the ground and don’t require footers or digging into the soil.

Feedback from interested vendors showed that an electrical connection would make water ice and hot coffee possible, plus make it much easier for lunch vendors to keep their foods hot in electric chafing dishes or crock pots. Accordingly, we’re using some funds to hire a registered electrician (@ Yur Service, LLC, based in Greenfield) to set up a connection so vendors can plug in, make great food, and meet food safety requirements.

We applied to the URA for permission to use the entire vacant lot on Second Avenue and they were very supportive of our expansion plan. City zoning did not require another hearing to expand our site (whew!), although building inspection said we need to meet handicapped accessible requirements, including providing a handicapped accessible portajohn for the season.

A good look at the site revealed a tripping hazard in the shape of a long concrete strip sticking out of the ground along the sidewalk, so removal of this strip and putting in fill to even the ground got included in our budget. Some of our funds will go to Hazelwood-based Minniefield Construction to take on this work.

Making our Summer Marketplace a social space was the brainchild of HI’s new Director of Community Engagement, Tera McIntosh. With her help, an application was made to the Love Your Block grant program for funds to make picnic tables and benches, purchase rubberized flooring to even the ground and make access easier, and hopefully a wall mural for one of the neighboring buildings. This project will include a volunteer work day on Saturday, April 25, when potential vendors and others who appreciate the Summer Marketplace will come out and build the benches, tidy the whole area, lay down the flooring and maybe get some paint on a wall. If you want to be part of this effort, come to the site the morning of the 25th and help out!

Thanks to the generosity of our donors, the Hazelwood Summer Marketplace will be up and running the first weekend in May, and will run through the growing season until the end of October. If you are interested in being a vendor, the requirement is to be a registered business, carry insurance, and have whatever permits necessary to sell your product to the general public. Our rents are very reasonable and include access to shelter and inclusion in our marketing efforts, plus the opportunity to be part of a great group of vendors! Come be a part of it and meet our great customers from Hazelwood, Greenfield, Homestead, Hays, Lincolnplace, Munhall, West Mifflin and locations all around the East End and greater Pittsburgh.

What About Food: June, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

“What does your mom do for a living?” The question was translated to me by my daughter, Larisa, when her friends asked her in Spanish. Larisa lives and works in Colombia, South America, and I was visiting her for a few short days this spring.

“I have a fruit and vegetable stand,” I replied, and watched their eyebrows go up in an obvious question.

“Tell them I got a graduate degree so I could set up a fruit and vegetable stand by the side of the road.” And when that got translated they laughed out loud, and I laughed along.

In Colombia, as in much of the world, micro-businesses are simply everywhere. Vendor carts are parked on street corners and along streets, and hawkers weave through pedestrians and hop on and off the buses selling long plastic bags stuffed with stacks of cookies, pastries and rolls. Iced carts sell frozen treats and cold cases are filled with sodas, beer and 16 oz plastic bags of cold water (you nip a hole in the corner with your teeth and sip the water out). In open food markets along certain streets the piles of mangoes, papaya, oranges and pineapples spill from sacks and crates, while meat stalls sell freshly gutted chickens and chunks of beef or pork.

The Colombian specialty ‘food’ other than coffee (their coffee is truly amazing) is juice, and juice vendors can be found on nearly every street corner in every town or city. Juice is made from a variety of fresh whole fruit, often peel and all, washed and chunked into a blender where it is whirled to a puree and poured into a glass for customers to drink through a straw – delicious, and filling enough to be a quick meal on a blazing hot day. Breakfast one morning was a small roll and a large glass of orange and passion fruit juice.

When you’re surrounded by a frenzy of peddlers and bicycle-repairmen, mom-and-pop stores on every corner and motorcycle shops on every sidewalk, the idea of getting an education to open a small business seems ridiculous, and Larisa’s Colombian friends were clearly puzzled. I asked her to explain that in the US there are very few micro-businesses, and it’s difficult if not impossible for people with little income or a basic education to find a good job or make a viable living. What I’m trying to do with my fruit and vegetable business is to create a space where micro-businesses can get started for hundreds or maybe a thousand dollars, and grow over time into a viable income for the business owner. By starting my own small business, I’ve learned the challenges and barriers to getting up and running, and can better organize to support others who want to set up beside me. And by creating a ‘cluster’ of small food businesses, we’ll attract enough attention that we can be successful together.

Imagining a Colombian street with no vendors, no open store-fronts, no hawkers with bags of snacks and juicers with waiting blenders…..well, it just wouldn’t be Colombia, and it certainly wouldn’t be crowded with pedestrians weaving through the throng purchasing a quick bite and a drink between work and home or on their way out for the evening. My favorite memory is of an elderly gentleman resting in the shade on the seat of his parked bicycle, a roll in one hand and a knotted bag of juice with a straw poked into it dangling from the other one. He sipped and ate slowly, relaxing there as he watched the bustle go by on the sidewalk in front of him. City streets in much of the world are truly entertaining – people and businesses open and interacting in a constant confusion of color, noise, and commerce as they drive much of the world’s economy, and feed most if it’s people.

What About Food: July, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

Local Magic

Local food is one of the first concerns of many of my customers. What food is local? Where did it come from? Who is the farmer? Many customers are disappointed when they realize most of what is at the Farm Stand in May and early June is not locally grown – some even turn around and walk back to their cars without purchasing anything.

Local food seems to have some magical quality that somehow makes it better than other food. Or maybe local food is what people expect to find at an outdoor, open-air stand like mine. People often ask me where my farm is before looking at the produce and realizing I have oranges, lemons, limes and mangoes, none of which can be grown anywhere near Pittsburgh.

It’s also true that it takes plants time to grow, and to get fruit and have that fruit ripen. In May many food plants like corn and tomatoes are just getting started and it will take until July or August for those plants to get ripe fruit on them. In May there is little in the garden ready to harvest except some early greens, peas, asparagus, rhubarb and leafy herbs. Some farmers can get an early start in a hoop house or high tunnel (a tubular frame covered by layers of plastic that hold heat in and help the plants grow when it’s still too cold out in the normal air temperature) and have mature plants in early spring.

So what do I have that’s local? I found great Empire apples at Soergel Orchard in Wexford, where storage of their fall apple crop is an art form that keeps apples as fresh and crisp as when they were first picked – these apples are a treat! Yarnick’s Farm in Indiana County grows hydroponic stem tomatoes year-round in indoor facilities. Despite being grown this way, these tomatoes are nearly perfect – red, firm, juicy and great tasting – delicious in salads and sliced on sandwiches.

I finally found a source of local eggs, brought to me from Ohio by Todd the Bird Man of Elliot. In addition to his regular business of white homing pigeons for rent, Todd the Bird Man likes to drive to auctions in Ohio and purchase eggs in bulk for resale to his friends. He asked if I wanted some and we began a collaborative effort to source fresh, brown eggs from a formerly Amish farm in Ohio. These farmers raise all their own feed (non-gmo) for their hens, keep them in large, outdoor runs, and don’t give them any antibiotics or hormones. I call these eggs local because they come from within a one hundred mile radius of Pittsburgh.

Beginning the last week of May, I finally got my first super-local products. Matt Peters brought me some cut herbs, fresh lettuces and garlic scapes from his garden up the hill in Hazelwood. A week later Kyle Pattison brought more baby greens and lettuces, plus fresh radishes from Hazelwood Urban Farm on Chatsworth Avenue. Matt’s neighbor Josh called asking if I wanted foraged ramps from Washington County (Yes!) and also brought fresh cut herbs from his garden. Just this past week, Hanna Mosca brought 3 bunches each of freshly cut collards and brightly colored bright lights chard to the stand from the YMCA garden – what a treat to see those crisp, green leaves and pink and yellow stems!

These super-local gardeners will continue to bring me a variety of fresh greens and other vegetables over the course of the summer, so come check them out. As the season progresses and the farms around Pittsburgh begin their harvest, I’ll get most of my larger vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, corn, peaches and apples from Triple B Farm located south of Elizabeth on the Mon River, and blueberries, Pennsylvania sweet onions and maybe corn from Maxim Berry Farm in Jefferson County.

Buying local isn’t just about fresher, healthier vegetables and fruit, it’s also about spending our food money in our local community, where that money can be turned around immediately to benefit someone else in the neighborhood. I love it when Matt or Kyle deliver some greens, then purchase eggs from me and a pastry or two from Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet, or a lunch sandwich from Rena and Leroy at Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts.

Today Al was telling me how he had a dollar and bought coffee and a pastry from Mee Mee, who brought the dollar over later to purchase a bottle of cold water, but then he took it back to her for two donuts, and then she brought it over to buy another bottle of water…. What a great illustration of the value of local purchases – we all get to turn our dollars around and back and forth through the community while meeting our needs for sustenance, comfort, shelter and relationship. For me, this is the true value and magic in the local food economy.

What About Food: August, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

Not Fast Food!

On a rainy afternoon at the Summer Marketplace, I was standing under a shelter just starting on my late lunch of chicken-on-a-stick with Thai-orange sauce and smoky mac-n-cheese when a red SUV suddenly turned off Second Avenue, parked neatly on the grass and spilled out a woman and two teenage boys into the drizzle. They came right over and began reading through the specials for the day that Rena and Leroy (Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts) had to offer. Taking note of my yummy choices, the mother and one son quickly ordered the same and the other boy ordered a cheeseburger with everything.

I noticed their accent and asked where they were from. “Belgium,” was the surprise answer – surprising because Belgium is a small country in Europe and I’m not sure I’ve ever met anyone from there before. They had arrived in the US two days earlier, spent a day in New York City and were driving to their new home in Eaton, Ohio, which is west of Columbus. They were stopping in Pittsburgh for the night and were headed to their hotel at the Waterfront when their GPS brought them through Hazelwood. The older boy said “We saw your place and said, “Look! Not Fast Food!” and pulled right over.”

After finishing their late lunch, they walked over to Dylamato’s Market, admired the view of Downtown on the way, and bought a bag of fresh fruit to enjoy in their room that night while watching their favorite baseball team, the Pittsburgh Pirates. They even knew that AJ was pitching that day!

I watched them go thinking – how amazing was it that their GPS routed them through Hazelwood and they got to taste some of the best lunch food in town on a rainy afternoon. I don’t know that they realized what a treat it was, but I’m sure they’ll find out as they try to find more Not Fast Food on their way through Ohio and after they settle in Eaton. Franchises with generic food offerings are much more available in the US than the small food entrepreneurs in Hazelwood.

The beauty of the vendors at the Summer Marketplace is that they cook their food from scratch. Mee Mee at Tis So Sweet bakes all her pastries and donuts from whole ingredients, not from pre-packaged flour mixes. She even uses whole-wheat pastry flour for many of her specialties (who knew that whole wheat pastry flour even existed!?). Real butter and whole milk give her pound cakes, pineapple-upside-down cakes and donuts their rich flavor and crumbly texture. I confess that I stopped eating most pastries years ago because they simply don’t taste that great – coffee shops with dry muffins and donut shacks with sticky airy nothingness just don’t do it for me. I never ate a pound cake I liked until I tried Mee Mee’s – oh, man! I eat a piece of pound cake every day now. Well, every day except when I indulge in a thick, chewy maple-bacon donut!

And the lunch that tops my chart is the turkey rib sandwich. “What is a turkey rib?” I kept asking Leroy. I heard of them first last summer when Rena and Leroy made some at a Saturday Sidewalk sale and sold them out before I even got to look at one. How can a turkey have ribs large enough for a serving? When I finally got one a few weeks ago – deliciously dressed in their special Thai-orange sauce – it turned out to be one of the most interesting and satisfying sandwiches I’ve ever eaten. A special breast cut with a single bone in each serving, the sandwich combines two meaty, moist servings in a roll and you just eat around the bones until they’re all that’s left. Now whenever they’re on the menu, I ask Rena to save one for me.

That’s what we have to offer at the Summer Marketplace – vendors who take pride in their food, who know how to cook special, different and delicious pastries, sandwiches and, of course, the most intriguing, surprising smoky mac-n-cheese you never had the chance to try before. Rena cooks it from scratch (real, whole ingredients) and then (get this) smokes it! Kraft mac-n-cheese-in-a-box this is not.

Come on down to the Hazelwood Summer Marketplace on Second Avenue and check out our Not Fast Food. Belgians are used to having many small, unique eateries to choose from in Europe, and were so happy to find a few on their trip through Pittsburgh!

What About Food? September, 2015
By Dianne Shenk
“A Better Food World”

I read Jim McCue’s column every month and appreciate his thoughts this month on how he would change the world if he were in charge.

He got me thinking about how to change the food world for the better and this is what I would do if I were in charge.

I would give a direct subsidy to small farmers who raise food for sale within a 100 mile radius of their farm. This practice would greatly enhance food availability, keep prices reasonable for consumers, make small farms economically viable, and preserve farmland close to cities.

Supporting farms close to cities would accomplish several goals at once – making fresh, local food readily available to most people, keeping prices of that food affordable, and preserving farmland around city centers.

Local food is often more expensive in farmer’s markets than the food in grocery stores that has been trucked and flown around the country or the world. This is because we’ve been subsidizing mega-farms that grow only one or two crops, which is a good way to get cheap food but a terrible way to treat the environment or human societies. One mega farm run by a corporation isn’t the same as a farming community of 1000 small farms with families, churches, supporting institutions like schools, libraries and a town center. One mega-farm growing one or two crops has to use chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and enormous equipment that compacts the earth and runs on fossil fuels. These are the practices that bring us cheap food in our grocery stores while decimating rural societies and destroying the environment.

Right now developers can get more money from land use for suburban sprawl in housing and shopping centers than farmers can get for raising food, so that’s why malls, strip malls and suburban McMansion subdivisions have been springing up on prime farmland all over the US for the past 50 years. If we subsidize farmers on this prime land near cities, we’ll condense development to city centers, combat urban blight, spend a lot less on roads, sewers, cable and other development infrastructure, and better preserve the environment that all life depends on.

Subsidizing small farmers directly would give them the income they need to support their livelihoods so they can afford health insurance and other life necessities. Subsidizing farms would allow small farmers to invest in better growing practices, upgrade their farm infrastructure to produce more, and pay their workers living wages without making locally sourced food too expensive for consumers to afford. Subsidies would be increased for using organic practices and enhancing the environment. Let’s pay our farmers to be small and sustainable!

Supporting small farmers (farming less than 1000 acres of land) who can sell to urban centers within 100 miles would preserve farmland close to city centers.

What About Food: March, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

“Are you doing Fish Fridays this year? People have been asking me about it all day.”

This message flashed on my phone at noon on Fat Tuesday, and I quickly responded, “Yes, I’m bringing the menu and sign-up sheet down today!” An hour later I headed for Hazelwood Towers to post a copy of the menu, along with a sign-up sheet for lunch orders on Friday. Residents can sign up for dinners, sandwiches, soups or sides on the sheet, make payment to one of the residents who helps me every year, and come pick up their hot lunch in the Community Room on Friday at 11:30 am.

For the past 3 years, I’ve been volunteering as part of Fishes and Loaves Buying Club to bring Friday Fish Lunches to residents of Hazelwood Towers from the fish fry at Holy Angels Parish in Hays. We started the program because residents really wanted fish lunches but had no way to go and get them from Holy Angels. From the beginning, one of the residents has kept track of the orders and payments, and last year she began going with me to pick up the meals.

The first time we drove through Hazelwood and across the Glenwood Bridge, she said quietly, “This is the first time I’ve been across the river.” Really? She has lived her entire life in Hazelwood and the East End, but never had reason to ride the bus across the Mon to Homestead or West Mifflin. As we turned into the crammed parking lot at Holy Angels, she looked at me a little nervously and asked, “Am I allowed to go in?” I hadn’t thought about it until then, but nearly everyone at the church was white, and my tiny African-American companion was feeling a little intimidated. “Of course you’re allowed here. You’re welcome anywhere you want to go,” I assured her. Smiles, welcomes and warm service inside quickly made her comfortable, and by now the volunteers at the church recognize us and ask about Hazelwood Towers and the Buying Club.

I wasn’t raised Catholic and had never lived in a city with a strong enough Catholic presence to have readily-available Friday fish fries during Lent. I felt strange the first few times I drove to Holy Angels and figured out the routine of making payment, picking out a few desserts to add to our order, and sitting or standing in line with a dozen or so others waiting for the kitchen to open at 11:00 am. I was amazed by the refrigerated truckbed in the parking lot for extra supplies, the crowds of volunteers in the kitchen area working the assembly lines at the fry vats and the packing tables, the quickly-filling tables in the basement as older couples, groups of friends or families seat themselves and eagerly order their fish dinners.

Taking part in Lenten Friday fish lunches illustrates how the many ways we eat bring us together and build community. Fish Fridays come from religious traditions in the Catholic Church, and have also evolved as an important fund raising opportunity for parishes. St Stephens Parish is opening an evening Friday Fish Supper this year and the group at Hazelwood Towers may opt to order there instead during Lent this year to support a Parish many residents are part of.

Many people of other faiths interact with the Church through sharing these experiences – my background is Mennonite and my helper’s is Baptist, while others in Hazelwood Towers come from other traditions. As we share the adventure of our trek to Holy Angels, we deepen our friendship and appreciation of each other, and bring back extra dessert treats to share with the other residents. Usually some of us sit and eat together, creating community in the tough living space of a highrise apartment building. Purchasing a meal from a local food provider, in this case a Parish, recirculates our food dollars back into the community, where they are used for the work of the Parish and their community school.

The ways we choose to purchase and share our food are so important in building community. The Lenten Fish Fridays give residents of Hazelwood Towers the opportunity to connect to Holy Angels Parish, work together to organize the ordering and collection of lunches, and then share a meal and conversation together. Every year I look forward to this break in the winter routine, and six weeks of Friday lunches at Hazelwood Towers.

What About Food: Sept, 2015
By Dianne Shenk

Local Food/Local Farmers

How can we make local food less expensive so we can all afford it? I get this question sometimes from people who want to shop local farmer’s markets but find the vegetables and fruit more expensive than those in the grocery store. Sure, we all know the produce at a farmer’s market is fresh, grown locally by people in our own economic web, and probably higher in nutrients and tastier simply because it gets picked ripe and has a short road trip to the market point. But how come it’s often so much more expensive?

There are a lot of reasons for why food costs what it does. The most obvious ones are the economy of scale and cheap, undocumented migrant labor. Many fruit and vegetable farms have grown bigger over the past century and have concentrated on growing only a few crops that are best suited to the local environment – peaches in Georgia, apples in Washington State, oranges in Florida, watermelons in southern states, cranberries in the Northeast, etc…. These large farms then resort to migrant workers (frequently undocumented and almost always underpaid) to come pick the fruit when it all gets ripe at once. Huge farms with a huge harvest they have to get rid of makes a relatively cheap price for big buyers like grocery store chains. And not having to pay all those laborers union wages, or even minimum wages, keeps labor costs down for the farmers.

Local vegetable and fruit farmers have a hard time competing with these trends. Because of our seasonal climate in Pennsylvania, most fruits and vegetables get picked between July and October, which is a short time to make all your yearly income in sales. Local farms are small compared to the huge, corporate farms that can operate all year long – maybe 400-600 acres for a working vegetable or fruit farm with the infrastructure to produce enough for the local wholesale market. These farms still have to hire migrant workers or local seasonal workers to get all the work done in just 4 short months, but the pay is better and the harvest is usually more varied as farmers plant many of the popular summer vegetables and a variety of fruits or berries.

Small specialty farms use organic practices (which tend to be more labor intensive – with higher labor costs making up for whatever the farmer is saving by not using chemical fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides) and grow more exotic varieties of vegetables than the big farms do – mustard greens, unusual hot peppers and heirloom tomatoes for example. These specialty crops help farmers get the prices they need in order to simply survive – they have to cover labor expenses, taxes, insurance, housing, water and their own transportation and food costs, plus the infrastructure on their farms in fencing, hoop houses, equipment and irrigation each year. Most small farmers I know aren’t making a lot at the end of the year, and many struggle to keep up with the expense of upgrades they need on their equipment and buildings.

So what can we do?

I think the best solution is to encourage small local fruit and vegetable farms by giving them a direct subsidy payment for all the produce they sell within a 150-mile radius of their farm. This payment would raise their income without raising prices for consumers – allowing small farmers to survive and thrive in our region, increasing the supply of fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables to all the people living near farms but doing other work, and help keep our best farmland as farmland and not sold off for housing or retail buildings.

In addition to increasing the supply of locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables while keeping the prices reasonable for consumers, a robust local (or regional) food system is rich in entry-level jobs, providing jobs for people as farm workers, harvesters, packers, truck drivers, food processors (making jams, jellies, sauces, etc…) and retailers like Dylamato’s Market. If local produce was competitively priced, it could compete on the wholesale market with the truckloads of summer vegetables being brought in from the Carolinas, Florida and Georgia. As a region, we all win – consumers can purchase fresher, healthier fruits and vegetables, knowing their food dollars are going to support a net of food jobs providing employment for so many underemployed or unemployed in the community. And at the same time, small farmers would finally be making some money! Wouldn’t you love to see some of those empty fields you drive past filled with rows of beans and tomatoes, peach and plum trees, hen houses and apple orchards? I sure would!

What About Food
April, 2016
By Dianne Shenk

If you’ve been following Dylamato’s Market on Facebook, you know that we’ve done it – we opened a small, indoor grocery in Hazelwood on February 10, 2016! Fresh food and healthy meat are now available at 5414 Second Avenue six days a week, so come on by and check us out.

What does this mean for us and the community? I’ve had so many people come in and tell me they’ve been praying and hoping for a store in Glenwood (the section of Hazelwood near the Glenwood bridge) for decades. They walk around slowly, checking product and prices, asking if I’ll get this item or that item and wonder when will I take food stamps (it will take about 2 months to be re-authorized for food stamps from when I opened the store). Then they pick up a few things – bananas or bread, a pack of bacon or something to drink – and head back out to spread the word.

Others come looking for me and the fresh fruits and vegetables I sold out of the Farm Stand at the Summer Marketplace. They’ve seen I’m open from Facebook or someone put it out on Next Door, so they search for the store and come in to get their old favorites. These customers are pleased to see the expanded inventory – yes, I finally have lettuce and greens, grapes and crisp broccoli – that includes a selection of fresh-frozen meats from local farmers. I now stock pork, beef and lamb, some of it all grass-fed and organically raised, all of it from small family farmers in Western Pennsylvania and processed by local butchers. Dairy products from Turner Dairy, located in Allegheny County, round out the selection.

The most exciting options in the store are the fresh pastries from Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet, including daily fresh cookies, cupcakes and fudge-nut brownies, plus fresh-made donuts every Saturday. And in the cooler I stock a variety of prepared food from Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts, an entrepreneurial catering company based in Hazelwood. Elite Treats makes smoked mac-n-cheese, lasagna roll-ups and a variety of dinner-to-go options for customers to take home with them, along with salad ingredients and some cookies for dessert. Another local entrepreneur from Greenfield, Pittsburgh Pierogies, brings in packages of frozen meatball, hot sausage and potato and cheese pierogies, among other varieties. And as the growing season advances, local gardeners and farmers in Hazelwood will bring in green onions, salad greens and other fresh, Hazelwood Grown treats for you to purchase.

Stocking foods from Tis So Sweet, Pittsburgh Pierogies and Elite Treats fills the mission of Dylamato’s Market to source as locally as possible, building the community food system so the money spent on food by Hazelwood residents actually benefits the social and financial neighborhood in which they live. Helping these businesses and community gardeners/farmers create viable sources of income for their owners is a goal of mine, and a bulletin board in the store illustrates how most of the food I stock is sourced from businesses owned by people in the Pittsburgh area, and often grown on farms in Western Pennsylvania.

It’s so great to finally have a store in Hazelwood! The neighborhood has been tremendously supportive and enthusiastic, from my new landlord (who is so thrilled to bring my business to the Glenwood community) to curious neighbors to long-time friends and acquaintances in Hazelwood. Come on down and see what your neighbors have to offer!

What About Food: May, 2016
By Dianne Shenk

Dylamato’s Market has been open for over 2 months now and my best seller is – no surprise – Bacon! I’ve sold over 100 lbs of delicious bacon and the 25 lbs I have in the freezer is going fast. It’s really good bacon, too, that holds its size and shape as it cooks, and has great flavor. I source it from Thoma Meats in Saxonburg and they purchase animals from small local farmers north of Pittsburgh.

Regular customers have me on their mental shopping map and stop by often. Some come in daily to pick up iced tea, bananas or trail mix, while others come in on Saturdays for a fresh donut or two and some vegetables for the week, plus a package of sausages, bacon or pork chops (also really good flavor and quality). One comes in once or twice a week for broccoli, plus a variety of tomatoes, lemons, an avocado and maybe a cucumber. A young family has been in several weekends to pick up breakfast sausages and either cookies or donuts, depending on whether the donuts have sold out by the time they get there Saturday afternoon. And one of my neighbors discovered the quality of my kale and says she’ll be back for 9 or 10 bunches every week!

Neighbors walk in for orange juice, or a box of cereal and a half-gallon of milk (a $5 special when purchased together). Others come in every day for a soda or iced tea as they walk by going one way or the other on Second Avenue. The local popcorn has several loyal customers, and one picked up a shaker of nutritional yeast to try as a popcorn topper that’s a healthy, tasty alternative to salt. I recently brought in pink grapefruit for a customer and several now stop by regularly to pick up a few – they are so sweet one says he just peals them and eats them like an orange!

I get requests for different or new items daily – like the man who took a good look at the raw honey and asked if I could source it locally so it would help with allergies. Honey made from the plants in your area can help your immune system adjust to the pollen of those plants and decrease your allergic reactions, so I’m searching for a local honey producer with a reasonably priced product. Another pricey item is maple syrup, so I’m looking for a syrup farmer I can buy from directly to keep prices reasonable and get a truly local product.

Some of my favorite customers are parents with small children, who come in looking for vegetables and a pack of meat for a healthy dinner. One dad brought his 2-year-old by, looking for hamburger buns on a Saturday afternoon and picking up some tomatoes while he was there. Another young family comes walking to the store once or twice a week to get fresh romaine lettuce, iced tea, potatoes and one or two other items. When we chatted a little before they left, they said they were so glad to have a store they could walk to, and a place to get healthy options for their family, especially their 10-year-old son. One of my favorite Hazelwood customers brings her daughter regularly for an apple and some carrots, and they head home happily munching on their purchases. This little 2-year-old girl knows what she likes!

There are many customers my employee Al and I know by name already, and many more we recognize. Al makes chili once a week and found out one workman is a vegetarian, so this week he had several packs of vegetarian chili ready to go when the man came by. Others come in every Monday morning to pick up their chili, hot sausage sandwiches and egg salad for the week. We make sure we have cinnamon cookies on hand for the mailman and several others who come by looking for half a dozen at a time. Access van and recycling truck drivers who pass regularly are getting used to stopping for a quick pint of tea or juice and either fruit or a cookie to take with them.

Al and I love hanging out in the store every day, talking comfortably with customers who stop in, learning people’s names and preferences, answering questions about what’s going on with the Almono development or the Gladstone plans. It’s a great way to spend the day and to be part of the community!

What About Food: May, 2016
By Dianne Shenk

I’m looking for local blueberries!

Two years ago I had a great contact for local blueberries. I knew a guy who has a large blueberry farm in Jefferson County and he told me all about how they planted acres of blueberries and ran fencing and netting to keep the birds from eating them. I told him I was opening Dylamato’s Market Farm Stand that July and organized to get pints of blueberries from him. That summer was just heaven – he brought 30-40 pints of fresh, gorgeous blueberries to Hazelwood every week for about six weeks and people from all over the community began stopping at the Farm Stand just to get those delicious berries! Even though I wanted those blueberries to go to customers and attract even more customers, I couldn’t help bringing home a pint every week to enjoy myself.

Last year I called this farmer and said I was opening the Farm Stand in May and was interested in any spring crops he might have and also in the blueberries again later in the summer. But he said he wasn’t bringing in blueberries anymore – he decided to set up as a pick-your-own farm and let customers come out and do the work of picking their own blueberries instead of picking them himself and bringing them in to Pittsburgh.

I was so disappointed!

I understand how hard it is to pick blueberries, which grow on bushes as tall as people so you can stand upright while picking (not like strawberries where you have to bend over close to the ground), but are still pretty small – it takes a lot of berries to fill a bucket. It must be tedious to pick them, then sort them and pack them in pint containers, then cool them and transport them in a cooler packed with ice to keep them fresh until delivering them to a store somewhere. All this is hard work and can’t be much fun to do for the six weeks that blueberries are in season in Pennsylvania.

I’m sure it’s much easier to set up a tent, line up some picking buckets, organize a scale, and sit back and wait for customers to come to you. I even went to Trax Farm years ago with my two children and picked about 20 lbs of berries in less than an hour – and we had fun doing it and ate blueberries during every waking minute for the next week!

But now that I own a store that whole scenario is kind of a problem. First of all, I can’t go pick blueberries for my store every day – I have to be at my store doing all the other things that it takes to stay open. Plus how far is it to Jefferson County and the farm where the blueberries are? Even Triple B Farm, which is where I hope to get some blueberries this year, is more than 30 minutes away down winding country roads where it takes a GPS to reliably find it even when you’ve been there before. And how many people who live in Hazelwood have a car and the time to drive to Trax Farm or Triple B Farm and spend a few hours picking buckets of blueberries? Then once you do go pick a bunch, they’re only fresh for about a week before you have to freeze the rest to eat later in smoothies or pancakes or muffins. So where do you get your fresh blueberries from the next week? You could go out and pick some more, but there are also lots of other things you need to do with your Saturdays all summer than go find a farm to pick fruit – even if it is one of your favorite foods!

Which brings me back to the guy who wants us to come out to his farm in Jefferson County and pick our own blueberries. Some of us might actually do it, but most of us just wish he would get someone to pick them and pack them and drive them down to Pittsburgh. We would all be more than happy to buy them – every week – all summer – preferably in stacks of 2 or 3 pints at a time!

If anyone out there has a contact for fresh local blueberries, let me know – I’m looking for some!

What About Food? – Sept 2016
By Dianne Shenk

It’s an election year and I got to thinking – what would I do if I ran the government of food?

Two things: I would give a direct monetary subsidy to farmers who grow fruits and vegetables on less than 1000 acres of land within a 2-hour drive of any major city center and sell over 75% of what they grow into that city center. And I would encourage food micro-businesses (defined by gross sales of less than $125K per year) by relying on a combination of county health departments and local social capital for regulatory oversight of these businesses and by waiving all regulatory fees for them.

The direct subsidy to farmers would accomplish several things:

1. Have you ever been frustrated when peaches at farmer’s markets cost more than, say, peaches shipped from California? A direct subsidy would make up for the cheap, undocumented labor available to mega-farms, as well as corporate subsidies, support for long-distance hauling and the enormous economy of scale that huge farms and corporate grocery store chains can leverage. With a direct subsidy, small farmers could afford to pay themselves and their help reasonable wages and still have competitive prices for their products.

2. Have you driven out to Cranberry and noticed how all the farm fields are now full of huge warehouses? A direct subsidy for small farms located near large cities would keep some of that prime farmland in fields of fruit trees, tomatoes and sweet corn. The quality of life we gain from living in beautiful surroundings is worth it!

3. We’re always talking about jobs, but we forget that one of the biggest pieces of our economy has been captured by corporate agriculture. Take Walmart for example – Walmart controls over 25% of the groceries in the US, but pays most of its workers less than they need to buy the food at Walmart (many Walmart employees qualify for food stamps). Walmart has centralized and consolidated the food system so there are very few jobs available that pay well, and many, many at the bottom that don’t pay enough to live on. Giving a boost to local small farmers means that they can afford the infrastructure they need (packing sheds, equipment, seasonal labor, irrigation systems, hoophouses and high tunnels to extend the season) to sell to local grocery stores and restaurants. A robust local food system is rich in entry-level jobs: growing and picking food, packing it for transport, driving trucks and vans, unpacking and shelving at grocery stores, cooking and serving at restaurants. And many small businesses have many owners, managers and skilled workers living in the community, as opposed to one mega-owner living in Palm Beach.

Loosening the regulation of micro-food businesses would also accomplish several things:

1. Why don’t we have small businesses swarming our neighborhoods with goods and services? Many, many people would supplement their income with micro-food businesses if they could, but the regulations and permits required are prohibitive. I would require food entrepreneurs to get get reasonable training and use reasonable facilities, with oversight and permitting by county health departments. But I would waive all permitting and certification fees for businesses with less than $125K per year in gross sales, and would loosen requirements for expensive commercial equipment at this scale. If county health departments are doing their job right, businesses of this small size do not need additional oversight by state or national agencies.

2. I would rely on ‘social capital’ regulation of these micro-businesses. Very small businesses that serve a geographically local population are self-regulated by the social capital that powers their business. They are selling to people they know, who are close enough to them to know if their food is good and their practices are healthy. This social capital model is already used by financial lending organizations like Kiva Loans, and should be adapted for use in regulating food micro-businesses.

3. Loosening up the regulations around micro-businesses would encourage many in low-income communities or people with dead-end jobs to set up their own cottage industries and supplement their incomes this way. Micro-businesses can cost less than $5K to start, will largely self-regulate through the social capital of their customer base, can easily fold if unsuccessful or morph into a more appropriate business as needed. Thriving micro-businesses fill cities all over the world (except in the US) with vendors, peddlers, open markets, home businesses and a thriving street economy that sustains many in the underclasses with supplemental income. My experience with setting up a business is that the regulatory requirements in our economy try to protect workers and bankers, but stifle the ingenuity and entrepreneurial drive at the very small level where micro-businesses would thrive.

It’s clear we live in a country where fewer and fewer corporations and corporate owners control more and more of the economy. If I ran the government of food, I would make these two basic changes to begin reversing that trend.

What About Food: Oct, 2016
By Dianne Shenk

“Wow – I had no idea this was here!”

“I’ve been reading your signs for a long time and today I have time to stop – this is so great!”

“I thought this was just a fruit and vegetable store! You have so much stuff!”

“This place is so much bigger than it looks from the outside!”

“I’ll be back!” “I’m sending my daughter down here!” “You’re going to see a lot of me!”

These are all comments I hear nearly every day at Dylamato’s Market. People come in and find out I have a little of everything, and most of it is eye-catching, fresh and ready to take home. I call myself “Your Neighborhood Grocery” but what is a neighborhood grocery?

A neighborhood grocery is a small store that has a little bit of a whole range of foods. First, I carry fresh fruits and vegetables, because it’s so important to buy fresh food every 2 or 3 days. When we shop for everything once a week, it’s hard to eat fresh foods when they’re at their best. A neighborhood grocery is small, convenient and easy to stop at to pick up a few bananas, some apples and enough lettuce, tomatoes and other vegetables to make a good dinner. Then go back tomorrow and get enough fresh foods for the next few days.

I also carry staples like eggs, milk, pasta, sugar and bread. These are things you may run out of but it’s a pain to get in the car and drive to get one small thing you need to get through the day. So a neighborhood grocery has some cereal and some salad dressing you can run pick up. I don’t have as big a selection as the super stores at the Waterfront, but I have enough for when you’re in a pinch, and I’m just down the block or on your way home so it’s easy to pop in and pick things up when you’re passing.

A neighborhood grocery also listens to what people are looking for and puts them on the shelves. We’ve recently expanded one shelf of quick-fix meals to fill most of the island shelves in the back with soup, canned pastas from Chef Boyardee and envelopes of pasta or rice sides that can be ready in 10 minutes for a quick meal. There’s apple sauce and baked beans, pasta sauces, fruit cups and puddings, Minute rice, jams and peanut butter and Nutella ready to go. Most of these things were specifically asked for by customers who wished we had them.

As a neighborhood grocery, we’re also interested in what’s going on in Hazelwood, and the concerns of the community. We know people want us to stay open and want more stores on Second Avenue to shop in. We know people need jobs and income and we know people want to eat good food. So our store works in specific ways to make these things happen. By creating a positive social space in our store, and a positive commercial space in Glenwood, we’re helping this part of the neighborhood revitalize into a new retail space in the community. I hope another store is attracted by us to open up nearby, and from that we can create an even larger customer base. We also work directly with other small businesses and community members to create financial stability in Hazelwood. I purchase all my pastries from Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet bakery, a Hazelwood start-up owned by Mildred Williams – two-thirds of every dollar you spend on pastries at Dylamato’s Market goes straight to Mee Mee and her business! I also purchase fresh greens, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant and other vegetables from three Hazelwood growers – the Hazelwood Urban Farm, the Hazelwood YMCA and Matt Peters, a Hazelwood resident. Not only do these farms and gardens provide quality of life to their owners and surrounding residents, they provide all of us with the opportunity to eat fresh, healthy foods grown right here in our community!

A neighborhood grocery cares about you when you walk through the door – not only providing you with healthy food options, but also with a positive social space and a chance to make real changes in your community by being part of a healthy local economy. Thanks for supporting Dylamato’s Market – Your Neighborhood Grocery!

What About Food: January, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the role of small business in a community. Dylamato’s Market is the first retail store in Glenwood (the part of Hazelwood near the Glenwood Bridge) in perhaps 15 years. People tell me daily of how there used to be a whole string of businesses lining Second Avenue – butchers, jewelry shops, bars, restaurants, shoe stores and many more. Most stores closed over time as people moved out of Hazelwood and their business dried up. But many small stores have also closed over the past 50 years because of national chains and big box stores that have better pricing because they are bigger and can leverage the economy of scale.

This is positive in that we get clothes and food and many other things for a lot less money than if we shop in small, individual stores, but what have we lost in the process?

I think of all the conversations I have at my counter with a whole variety of customers that come in. There are the close neighbors who come in daily for a few items and check with me about the shut-ins they are shopping for, or the new neighbors across the street, or the single moms with their kids who might need some half-size blankets someone else got somewhere. I know these neighbors by name and learn about their holiday plans or their dietary preferences, where they work or where they are in school, and what they think about community events like the HI purchase of the Gladstone School building. Some regulars work at the businesses near my store – Kerotest, the Latino Family Resource Center, Cribs for Kids or the Recycling Center – and ask curious questions about Hazelwood and community activities.

Some customers are commuters who work in Oakland, the East End or Downtown and travel through Hazelwood on their way home to Baldwin, West Mifflin, Munhall or the South Hills. They’re stopping in to get a few things for dinner or to collect some local meats for the week of meals at home. Sometimes they ask about the work on the Hazelwood Almono site, or the new Uber compound or commuting problems like the Greenfield Bridge and the Liberty Bridge closures. These customers see Hazelwood featured in the newspapers or on TV and ask about what’s happening – some ask about homes or commercial real estate in the neighborhood that they might be interested in.

Other drivers are professionals driving for construction companies or the recycling center and they’re usually looking for something to eat while they continue working. “News Flash – Fresh Deli Sandwiches Are On The Way!!!” Regular requests for deli sandwiches will be met in the next few weeks as soon as I get my new sandwich station stocked and open for business! These drivers are also often curious about the neighborhood and construction they see happening here.

A final group of customers are those coming in from all over the East End, Greenfield and the South Hills looking for good local food. These people are interested in buying local and finding food that is free of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals. They ask me about the Hazelwood growers who bring me organic produce all summer and the local butchers and farmers who supply me with pork, beef and lamb. They ask for Equal Exchange coffee and tea (just came in!), organic flour, dry beans and coconut milk, and they’re interested in shopping local even if it costs a few dollars more in their weekly grocery budget. Conversations with these customers can be about the global food system, or about Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet bakery and her latest treats, or they can be about the Urban Agriculture Group in Hazelwood and its monthly meeting. The Urban Ag Group will meet on Jan 17th to order together from Fedco Seed company in Vermont, and to collaborate on who is growing what in neighborhood gardens in 2017. Sometimes people ask to be put on this list so they can get involved, which is great!

There are many reasons why I love owning a neighborhood grocery: 1. I love shopping at my own store for all my favorite foods! 2. I love being part of a community – talking to customers, learning about neighborhood comings and goings, learning names and preferences. 3. I love the opportunity to collaborate on business with neighborhood growers and bakers. It’s so great to buy from these entrepreneurs to support their visions for economic independence and help realize their talents!

As a neighborhood grocery, I see firsthand on a daily basis what a small business offers a community – information sharing, economic impact, business collaboration, relationships, political discourse. Here’s hoping for many more small businesses on Second Avenue in Hazelwood!

What About Food: Feb. 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I often listen to NPR as I drive around Western Pennsylvania collecting meats, dry goods, produce, eggs and other products for Dylamato’s Market. This morning I was listening to WESA and they did their Tech Report on a CMU project to grow indoor vegetables using robotics.

The basic project was using ‘vertical growing’ to maximize space. What this means is that in cities there aren’t a lot of open fields available for farming, so people set up indoor growing spaces. To get more growing space, trays of plants are set up in vertical columns – one on top of the other, with room for lights, plants and nutrient-rich water (much easier and lighter to feed plants on nutrient-rich water rather than managing actual soil – this is called hydroponics and is quite common in greenhouse or indoor growing spaces) – and these columns of growing plants can literally fill up a warehouse from floor to ceiling.

CMU’s Robotics Center is looking at robotics for these growing operations because right now there needs to be space between columns of plants for ladder-lifts on which people climb from tray to tray to harvest the leafy greens. So there are feet-wide spaces reaching floor to ceiling to accommodate lifts and other types of ladders in the warehouse. In the interest of saving space – and making more room for trays of growing plants – robots are being designed to move through the trays of greens and do the harvesting. Very neat operation!

Or is it? Something inside me is bothered by this project. Since I live in Pittsburgh and own a neighborhood grocery store, I know that there are foods that don’t travel well and should be grown close to where people buy and eat them. Some of these highly perishable foods are leafy greens, herbs, berries and other foods like mushrooms. I work with several growers in Hazelwood who bring me leafy greens, lettuces, mushrooms, herbs and other vegetables like tomatoes, green beans, cucumbers, peppers and eggplants that are grown on empty lots right in Hazelwood. I understand that it’s very difficult to buy land in Pittsburgh – even if it’s vacant land that isn’t being used and isn’t valuable development land. It’s also difficult to farm land in a city – there are soil tests to do and groundhogs and deer to keep out, and you have to get access to a water source. And you need funds to set up hoop-houses and high-tunnels to extend your growing season earlier into the spring and later into the fall and even winter.

So I understand the appeal of growing acres of leafy greens in vertical containers inside a climate-controlled warehouse with adequate nutrient-rich water, perfectly calibrated lighting for maximum growth, and now little robot arms moving among the plants to use every possible inch of growing area to get nutritious, delicious leafy greens, herbs, lettuces and other foods for nearby restaurants, stores and perhaps even direct sale to customers. Who could argue with this way of farming? It seems like a great answer to a healthy food supply concern.

Well, I’m still not sure what I think about it.

I guess my most basic question is – if you’re growing ‘healthy’ food for people, what good does access to healthy food do you if you don’t have access to a ‘healthy’ job or ‘healthy’ income with which to purchase that food? And the next question is whether food is really ‘healthy’ when the micro-nutrients of a food are weighted as more valuable than the macro-systems (environmental, economic and social) within which that food is produced.

This is a complicated question because anyone who actually grows food knows it’s hard, hard work. One of my professors once told me how he threw his back out one evening while out checking on the pumpkin patch and had to just lay there on the ground until someone in his family missed him and came out looking through the fields. I told him, “Allen, you don’t have a back, you’ve been a vegetable farmer for 60 years!” And I know from working on that farm for four months one summer how much your back can burn after five hours of picking cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchini and green beans. Growing food can be literally back-breaking work that most of us are incredibly fortunate we don’t have to do.

But at the same time I have to wonder if we’re really better off eating food grown in artificial environments using mechanical systems to manage and harvest the plants, as well as pack and transport them to where people shop for food. In which ways is or isn’t this a ‘healthy’ food system?

Perhaps this is a good idea on many levels – perhaps there are more and better jobs building and maintaining the equipment needed throughout that warehouse? Perhaps there are more and better jobs managing the technology needed to keep all that automation working properly? or creating the energy needed to run everything? Maybe this is a really good and innovative way to feed ourselves, but it still gives me pause….

What About Food: March, 2017
Dianne Shenk

“Hey Mom, so I’m listening to a podcast episode on gmos and I’m wondering what you, as a food studies graduate, think about gmos?”

I got this text over What’s App from my son, Tor, who is living and studying in Mumbai, India, this year. What’s App is an easy-to-use smartphone app that allows me to text and voice message with my kids when they aren’t in range of their US phone providers – and it’s been wonderful this year to be able to ‘talk’ to Tor and exchange texts halfway around the world at no cost!

So I got on my phone today while driving back from Ohio with 105 dozen eggs in big coolers in the back and I told him what I think about genetically modified organisms (gmos). In short, genetically modifying our food does not make it dangerous to eat in an acute way – gmo foods don’t cause stomach problems and our bodies don’t react to them any differently than non-gmo food. However, we don’t only get acute sicknesses from food (think food poisoning), we can also get chronic illnesses (think heart disease, cancer or diabetes). Chronic food-related illnesses kill many more people over time than acute illnesses do, but we go on happily downing sugary, salty, meat-filled foods swathed in refined carbohydrates and fried as often as not, confident that we won’t get acutely sick to our stomachs and conveniently putting off worrying about our hearts, livers, pancreases and other organs that are slowly getting diseased from these foods and will eventually give out because we continue eating them. The problem with chronic food-related illnesses is that we don’t know we’ll get them until decades after we start eating the foods that cause them. In this way, we really don’t know yet whether gmo foods will cause chronic disease, and we’ve put them into nearly everything we eat without knowing how this big experiment will turn out.

So, are gmos safe to eat? ‘Yes’ and ‘We don’t know yet’ are the best answers.

At the same time, I’m not supportive of gmo foods for other reasons. One hundred years ago over 90% of Americans lived on farms and raised at least some of their own food. Rural communities were vibrant with towns and villages serving the needs of thousands of farming families living on farms run using animal and human power. Then came mechanization and industrial agriculture. With tractors and other power tools, farms became larger and fewer. With artificial fertilizers and other chemical inputs, farmers were able to grow only a few crops and not worry about the health of their soil. With set prices for commodities, farmers could borrow money in advance for those crops and grow for the national markets instead of their local grocery stores. All of these developments created trends in farming towards larger and larger farms owned by fewer and fewer people, or even by corporations. Now less than 5% of Americans are farmers, leaving rural areas largely depopulated as families sold their farms and moved to larger communities in search of jobs and livelihoods.

With gmos, these trends are just accelerating, creating even larger farms and corporations controlling more and more of our farmland and growing fewer and fewer varieties of plants. Even though most of our fruits and vegetables are grown on mega-farms, only 2% of cropland in the US is used to grow fruits and vegetables. 2%! The other 98% grows commodity grain and forage crops like corn, soy, wheat and alfalfa. And close to 90% of those grain crops are then used to feed animals. These crops are where corporate money is concentrated in agriculture, and these crops are where the genetic modification is centered. Almost all corn grown in the US, including sweet corn, is genetically modified, as are soybeans and canola seeds. And corporations now legally own the seeds they genetically modify, so farmers are forced to purchase seed every year from those companies, and they are sued if they try to save their crop from the previous year to use as seed for the new crop.

Another problematic trend is the vertical integration of the food system, which means that corporations now own everything from the genetically modified seed to the farm on which it is grown to the plant where it is cleaned and milled and turned into a cereal, to the trucks on which it is carried to the grocery store chains that stock it on the shelves. It used to be that all those pieces were owned by different families with small and mid-size companies that hired lots of people who lived all across the country and needed small towns and grocery stores and schools and all the other parts of a community to meet their needs. Now we have a very few mega-companies that control enormous sections of our food system and continue to expand with the help of gmos. In fact, one corporation – Walmart – controls 25% of the food in the US.

So will gmo foods hurt you? No, you won’t know you are eating them because they don’t taste different and they won’t make you feel different. They might cause chronic illnesses, but we don’t know that yet.

Still, I’m against gmo foods because they help corporate agriculture control our food system, and they contribute to the loss of small farms and farming communities, to the loss of rural agriculture jobs and of farmland to suburban sprawl. Gmos help us have cheap food, but the food system they encourage is dependent on chemical inputs (which damage our environment), creates a growing financial inequality in corporate agriculture between owners and workers, and has left our rural communities in social decay. I’d rather pay more for non-gmo foods, and eat fruits, vegetables and local animal products!

What About Food: April, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

So what is “healthy food?” A customer came in last week looking for local produce, wanting something she felt would be “healthy” in several ways – fresh produce and also grown locally here in Western PA. Unfortunately, I don’t have any fresh, local produce yet because most farmers are just starting to plant leafy greens and other frost-hardy vegetables and are waiting for them to get big enough to harvest for sale. Also, plants that aren’t frost-hardy, like tomatoes, corn and green beans, can’t be planted until the threat of frost has passed, probably another 2-3 weeks. And then those plants have to grow before they will bear fruit that we can pick and have for sale. Most vegetables that we think about cooking up for dinner aren’t available locally until sometime in late June or early July, or even August. And fruit trees aren’t even in bloom yet and then the fruit has to grow after that, so peaches and apples won’t come in until August and September.

Even so, I had fresh produce in my cases, but then she realized it wasn’t organic produce – and then she remembered that most organic produce is also grown on large corporate farms in California where they use some chemicals and often employ underpaid migrant workers.

She said “I just get so confused sometimes about what’s “healthy” and how to buy food in ways that are good for the environment and the local economy and also for my body.” I agreed that it was confusing with all the information that’s out there.

Some customers will only buy organic food in my store – items like dry beans, flour, canola oil, meats from Pittsburgher Highland Beef, and some local produce in season. These customers know that around 40% of the environmental damage done in the US is the result of industrial agriculture practices like heavy use of fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. The industrialized ways we grow food are increasingly energy-dependent and damaging to our environment. Organic growing practices are supposed to use only natural inputs – promoting a healthy environment for all plants and insects with a balance that naturally enriches the environment and minimizes insect and disease damage by focusing on plant health. Yet corporate organic farms are still energy intensive and use chemical inputs that are allowed under certain circumstances.

Other customers want only local products, believing that purchasing locally grown and produced foods creates a healthier local economy and also supports small local businesses as opposed to corporate food farms and grocery store chains. It’s true that dollars spent in a Walmart, for example, might support some local jobs at the store, but most of the goods inside are brought in from other parts of the country or the world, and the profit from those sales goes back to Walmart owners rather than to small business owners and operators and their local suppliers.

And then there are the customers like the 40ish man who came in a few weeks ago saying he had just been to the doctor and his blood pressure was really high. The doctor wanted him to stop eating out, and to eat more fruits and vegetables and less processed food. This poor guy was obviously frustrated – “I hate to cook! I don’t have kids and just want to eat out with my friends – fries and wings and burgers with a beer.” Clearly the idea of spending half an hour chopping up vegetables for a stir-fry or pan of fajitas did not appeal to him, let alone digging into a salad! He found some chicken breast he could grill but hasn’t been back so I don’t know how his “healthy” diet plan is turning out.

It’s true that processed foods of all kinds are very, very heavy on salt, and that eating a steady diet of processed foods is really bad for our hearts and bodies in the long run. I have a number of customers who come in just to purchase fresh tomatoes, lettuce, green vegetables and piles of fresh fruit, even though what I have fresh in the store right now most likely comes from Florida, California or Mexico, where the climate is right at this time of year to grow fresh vegetables.

As this woman and I talked for a few minutes, I realized she was aware of all these “healthy food” variables, and was really trying to eat not only healthy for herself, but also healthy for the environment and for her local community – and that’s why she was in my store!

We agreed that shopping local as much as you can, fixing your own food from whole ingredients as much as you can, and eating fresh fruits and vegetables as much as you can is probably the closest we can come to “healthy eating”.

That doesn’t mean the fresh produce is always locally grown, but it could be bought from a local produce wholesaler (like Paragon Foods in Cranberry, where I get most of my produce) and from a local store (like Dylamato’s Market!). It also doesn’t mean your food is always organic, but it might be from Soergel Orchard (where they use minimal pesticides and rely on Integrated Pest Management to help control insect damage) or from gardens in Hazelwood that are chemical-free even if not certified organic. Or your meats could be from small local farms that don’t use hormones or antibiotics in their growing practices(such as Thoma Meat Market), even if they aren’t all grass-fed or certified organic.

Eating foods that are nutritious for our bodies is obviously healthy, but purchasing within the local economy is healthy for your community too, and buying from farmers and growers who care about the natural environment and farm in ways that are healthy for animals, insects and the plants around us helps keep Western Pennsylvania, as well as our world, a healthier place for everyone. I love customers who are asking these questions!

What About Food: May, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

Small is More Interesting

This week I was talking with Phil from Phil and Bill’s Ice Cream, and he was wondering what I thought of their use of the word “Moby” in the labels on their ice cream – as in ‘Strawberry Moby’ and ‘Raspberry Moby’. These ice cream quarts are fruit flavored and have small chips of white chocolate in them – the ‘Moby’ comes from the white chips, and is a play on the literary figure of Moby Dick, a white whale pursued across the ocean by Captain Ahab in the novel by the same name. I think it’s a fun use of the word Moby, which was Phil and Bill’s intention, but Phil was wondering if people got it or if they should use a more descriptive name on the label instead – perhaps something like “Strawberry with White Chocolate”, or something similar.

I told Phil I thought that their customers were intrigued by the quirky play on words and ideas, and that they should keep the name. Yet more than this, I believe that small businesses can not only get away with this kind of fun antic, but that it helps with attracting and keeping customers.

People want to feel like they found something different, something interesting, quirky or unique. I sometimes think of thousands of years of human history as hunter-gatherers, when we searched the woods for mushrooms or rabbit tracks, and lived on what we could find and capture. I think those instincts still lead us on searches through our urban jungles in search of interesting places to eat – new snacks, new combinations of familiar ingredients, hole-in-the-wall restaurants and little neighborhood groceries with food options we can’t find in big grocery stores.

Some of the best things I’ve eaten have come from small food businesses I’ve met in the past five years: smoky mac-n-cheese and turkey ribs from Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts, maple-bacon donuts and lemon pound cake from Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet Bakery, early spring green garlic from Matt’s garden, and of course Raspberry Moby ice cream from Phil and Bill’s Ice Cream. Finding these

What About Food: May 11, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

A few weeks ago a young man fainted of hunger in my store. He made a purchase, then turned and walked towards the door before staggering into the door jamb and falling backwards onto the floor. I was pretty scared, actually. He came to quickly and said he was okay, but agreed to sit on the floor for a few minutes and eat a banana and drink some water – he said he was probably dehydrated as well.

It turned out his paycheck was delayed by a day and he had run out of food at home, then had to walk to work the next day just to collect his check, then to the bank to cash it and then to my store to get something to eat where he fainted and fell. This is a young person with a job, living in an apartment and trying to get his adult life together. That short gap that week between his check being late and his refrigerator empty was a tough moment for him – and a scary one for me.

I wonder how many people in Hazelwood are hungry? How many of our neighbors depend on not having that kind of gap between what they can afford and when the next check comes in? I know it happens because I have a week each month when the EBT purchases dwindle to a few dollars a day after several weeks of families and couples and older people coming in to get sliced lunch meat and day-old bread for quick meals, plus milk and cereal and fresh fruit, all paid for with Access (also called EBT or Food Stamps).

I’m also connected to a network of free food services in the community, some of which I donate to when I have more than I can sell. The Meals on Wheels program delivers two meals a day, five days a week, to shut-ins, elderly and disabled residents of Hazelwood and Greenfield. The food is prepared by a paid chef, then delivered by volunteers once a day, Monday – Friday. A related service is a free meal for anyone in the community at the Pastoral Care Center on Elizabeth Street right across from the new Spartan Community Center (former St Stephens Social Hall). This free dinner is prepared by the MOW staff, then served by volunteers from 12:00-12:30 every week day. Some weeks only a few people come in for lunch, but other weeks there are 10 or more a day.

One day last fall when I was at the Spartan Community Center dropping something off, I was approached by a young man with five children in tow, all of them looked like they were school-age. He politely told me he had heard about a free lunch and asked me where it was happening, and I had to tell him he had missed it by an hour, but I pointed out where it was usually served and explained when it would be available. I felt helpless as they headed off down the street, and then angry that five children were hungry in Hazelwood! Then I realized it was a holiday and they would usually have lunch, and maybe even breakfast, at school. How can families not have anything at home to bridge the gap of a holiday?!

There are many people in Hazelwood who are aware of the hungry: Joey tells me nearly every week about children he looks out for and buys lunch for on occasion, and the St Paul Lutheran Church across from the Carbarn gives away food every time they have a clothing give-away on a Saturday (twice a month). Linda and Shauna, who purchase some of the food with their own money, say they regularly help 30 families and people are really grateful.

Last week senior boxes were distributed from the Carbarn, along with boxes of fresh produce in a new program by the Food Bank that works to get healthy, fresh food to seniors. A regular customer of mine was able to pick up some fresh food, but said it was a new group doing the distribution and they said he no longer qualifies for the senior boxes despite no change in his income and having qualified for the past 2 years. Fortunately, he is aware of the free lunches and able to take advantage of that food opportunity, and he has a call in to his caseworker about his qualifications.

I often have the conversation with people interested in my business about how I have a price-point sensitivity. I’m not a charity and don’t give food away, but I am always sensitive to what prices I can charge for healthy food items, especially my fresh fruits and vegetables. Many customers simply don’t have the extra 50 cents or two dollars to spend on expensive fruit or pricey potatoes. Many small stores have higher prices because we can’t purchase food in bulk like grocery store chains or Walmart, but I’ve found that there are big enough gaps in the system that I can run a grocery store if I’m selective about what I carry – and I can have food priced where young people can afford to shop in my store even when earning only minimum-wage.

If you care about hungry people in Hazelwood, there are things you can do that will make a very big difference. You can donate $20 a week to Meals on Wheels – this will go a long way toward sponsoring one of the elderly shut-ins who depend on this food service, and the friendly volunteers who check in on them every day. Or you can volunteer with that program or the free lunch program – even volunteering once or twice a month makes a big difference. Call 412-414-3125 to get involved with Greenfield/Hazelwood MOW. Making a food donation to St Paul’s Lutheran Church for their food giveaway is a great way to get involved and make a real difference – or help them by volunteering on a Saturday morning once a month with their efforts. Call Walt at 412-417-0531 if you have donations for St Paul’s or want to volunteer. Fishes and Loaves Buying Club coordinates a food purchase and distribution twice a month and welcomes new customers for the club as well as volunteers to help distribute orders. If you want to know more about the Buying Club, call me at 412-657-9536 or ask about it when you stop at Dylamato’s Market. Thank you!

What About Food: Jan 9, 2018
By Dianne Shenk

Food Bucks for Produce at Dylamato’s Market in Hazelwood

Produce – fresh fruits and vegetables – all those good-looking foods we know we should eat more of but for various reasons we just don’t buy much of at the grocery store. Especially for families using food stamps – the challenge is whether to buy food that the kids might not eat and that will go bad in a few days, or to buy staples you know will get eaten. And everyone who qualifies for food stamps knows they just don’t go far enough…..after buying the milk and cereal, eggs and cheese and bread that we need to make the bulk of our meals, what’s really left over for the fresh foods our doctors tell us we should eat more of?

What if there were a way to help food stamp recipients buy more fresh fruits and vegetables, and at the same time help small stores like Dylamato’s Market to stock better quality and more variety of these foods? This is exactly the purpose of the new Food Buck program being promoted by the Food Trust of Philadelphia as it expands into Pittsburgh through Dylamato’s Market, a small corner store in Braddock and the Hill District Shop n Save Grocery.

How it works is simple: Anyone spending food stamps (Access, EBT, SNAP) at Dylamato’s gets this benefit – for every $2 they spend on anything in the store, they receive a $1 Fruit and Vegetable Voucher that they can use in the store to purchase fresh produce. So if you purchase half a gallon of milk ($2.50), a box of cereal ($2.75), half a pound of American cheese ($2.50) and a loaf of bread ($2.25) – total $10.00 – you will receive 5 vouchers ($1 each) totaling $5 that can be used to purchase fresh produce like grapes ($1.50), an orange (.75), a pear (.75), 4 bananas ($1) and 2 lemons (.50 each for $1) – totaling $5 in vouchers. You leave the store with your staple groceries and a bag full of fruit to enjoy with your lunch or dinner!

Dylamato’s Market started this program on Dec 12, and by Dec 23 we had given out 644 vouchers and received nearly $300 back in payment for bags full of fresh tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers, potatoes, kale, collards, garlic, sweet potatoes and piles of fruit and berries. It was just so great to see moms and dads smile in happy disbelief as they counted out their vouchers and packed away the grapes, apples and bananas to take home and enjoy with their families. In the two days before Christmas we accepted $150 in vouchers that customers had saved up to get the vegetables for their holiday dinners and fresh fruit to enjoy over the holidays. Jim was thrilled to buy $18 in fruit, vegetables and nuts, then receive $9 more in vouchers to fill out his wish list with the foods he loves best – more fresh produce!

I am so excited to be part of this program! What it does for me is help me stock my shelves with the foods I want to carry – beautifully fresh vegetables and crisply bright fruit. As a small grocery, it’s sometimes hard for me to sell through a full case of something before it begins to get soft or look less fresh than I would like. It is still good to eat – I know because I usually take these foods home at this point and cook them up myself for yummy dinners – but customers don’t want to spend money on something that looks even a little bit old. I’m thrilled to have more customers looking through the veggie cooler for mushrooms or cauliflower and picking out pineapples and grapefruit from the fruit table. And I also know I can stock more expensive berries and avocadoes and people will have the money to pick them up and eat better – and introduce their kids to these fabulous foods!

Stop by Dylamato’s Market and check out Food Bucks for Produce action. We’ve signed a commitment with the Food Trust to keep this program going until the end of May, and hopefully it will be extended for a longer period at that time.

What About Food: July, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I have a friend who frequently stops in Dylamato’s Market to talk about business and, as I explain my frustrations over city regulations or state taxes, he shakes his head and says “You’re turning into a Republican! I told you it would happen!”

Of course, what he means is that my experiences as an entrepreneur will cause me to think like a corporate capitalist and get rid of government oversight and regulation so I can make as much money as I can.

I don’t think he’s right, but I also think I want to do business in ways that aren’t at all like corporate capitalists. I understand corporate capitalism as a business model that has an increasing bottom line as it’s primary guiding principle. Corporations need to please their owners, which in the case of most is their shareholders. They do this by constantly increasing profits, which they accomplish by constantly getting bigger and bigger, swallowing more and more market share or expanding sideways into more and more lines of business. In the food industry, corporations in the chicken business have grown bigger by purchasing other chicken businesses and then have grown sideways by purchasing processing plants, trucking companies, chicken feed businesses and everything from the chick to the grocery store shelf except the actual farms on which the chickens are grown – they pay farmers very little to do the actual growing for them but contract that the farmers buy the chicks, feed and other supplies straight from the corporation. This type of corporate model exists in every major line of food we buy at the store from milk to breakfast cereal to frozen lasagna and salad greens. In the corporate capitalist world even bigger corporations are now buying out these huge food corporations, as when Amazon recently bought up Whole Foods.

Well, in one way I am like corporate capitalism, which is that my store actually has to make money – I am not a charity and there is no one except me putting money into getting this business off the ground. And the store needs to pay the rent and utilities and pay me and any other employees. But in every other way I am motivated by principles that are very different from those of corporate capitalism.

I don’t want to take over other businesses, I want to work with them. Mee Mee is a genius at baking and her Tis So Sweet Bakery makes way better pastries than I ever could, so I buy them from her and support her business. Turner Dairy in Penn Hills has great dairy products and famous iced tea, so I purchase these products from them and support their business. I love the meat products I get from Thoma Meat Market in Saxonburg and support their business as well as all the small farmers in Western Pennsylvania that they purchase animals from. Here in Hazelwood, Kyle, Hanna and Matt know how to grow vegetables and I support their community green spaces by purchasing their Hazelwoodgrown produce. Together, all these small producers and Dylamato’s work together to create a food network that provides meaningful work and viable incomes for so many business owners and their employees. And the money spent on food in my store circulates over and over through the surrounding community.

Corporations make money by paying their suppliers as little as possible and charging their customers as much as they can. I don’t want to squeeze these other community businesses to increase my profits, I want to pay them a fair price so their businesses succeed and mine does too, and together we provide a quality product for our customers. And I don’t want to over-charge my customers – I want to charge reasonable prices so I can pay my expenses but ordinary Hazelwood residents can afford to buy their food in my store and get through the month on what they have to spend. I want to be a part of the community social space, providing a place for children to buy a snack, for teenagers to pick up milk and bread for their parents, and a place where families can get sandwiches or packs of macaroni and cheese or potato salad to take home for dinner on hot evenings.

Making money is only one part of being a business. Of course it’s an important part and can sometimes feel like the only thing that matters, but when I think about myself as a businesswoman, I don’t necessarily think about money. I think about being part of a community, about being part of the financial fabric of that community, about being part of the social spaces that make up a community. I think about being a good neighbor and about paying taxes for street upkeep and about supporting the small business network that moves goods and services around the city to meet the needs of our neighbors. Regardless of whether those business values make me a Republican or a Democrat, I’m all for it, but I don’t hear corporate capitalists or government officials talking very much about these business values, and I think we all lose out when businesses focus only on making money.

What About Food: August, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I’ve been asked to work with a group of entrepreneurs in Pittsburgh to work with City Council and the Mayor’s office to better support entrepreneurial businesses in the city. At our first meeting, they asked me “Why did you open your business in Hazelwood?” My honest answer is that I love this community. Why do I love it? Mostly because it’s diverse, and has been diverse for generations, and the people who live here are used to that diversity and are comfortable with it.

I love that my customer base is so varied. I love that children from the neighborhood come in to get a tootsie-roll pop or a banana every day (each child gets one or the other from me each day if they want it and it’s okay with their parent), and I can ask them if they’re ready to go back to school or which school they go to or who fixed their hair in such a pretty way.

The other day I realized there were about 7 different women who came in throughout the afternoon – all between 30 and 50, all shopping alone, all looking carefully through the shelves to find a variety of healthy foods that they were obviously getting for themselves to eat. I love that women shop at my store for tasty and healthy food when they want to eat better!

There are a number of mother-daughter customers who come in regularly together to shop for their separate kitchens. Sometimes they’re using EBT and sometimes not, but often they talk about food preferences together, or discuss which lunch meats to get, or which pastries each of them prefer. Sometimes one or the other knows Mee Mee personally, and already knows which cake or cookie is a favorite to pick up (Mee Mee lives in Hazelwood and provides all my pastries through her business, Tis So Sweet Bakery). I love hearing these mothers and daughters talking together about planned family gatherings and what’s going on with the grandchildren. Hazelwood is a community with many families who have lived here for generations.

A number of grandmothers/fathers are helping with childcare and come in with the grandchildren to do some shopping. I love seeing these interactions and the delight so many grandparents take in patiently letting the children help with selections and then organizing the lightest bags for them to help carry home afterwards. It’s so great to be a walking destination in the Glenwood area of Hazelwood – families sometimes walk to the store together to pick up several days worth of groceries, or busy parents will send a teenager in with a list to pick up a few things for dinner.

Hazelwood has relatively inexpensive housing and there are students sprinkled through the community living with roommates. Three guys (2 black and 1 white) up the street come in regularly for sandwiches, sodas and a few staples, several young women (1 Latino and 1 white) walk down from an apartment near the library about once a week to stock up on their favorites, and sometimes young people looking at an apartment will stop in to see what’s available in Hazelwood before they sign on to a lease.

Our lunch crowd has grown since we started selling deli sandwiches, and a crowd comes in regularly from Kerotest and the Latino Family Resource Center, both of which are only a block away. Black, white and Latino come in together, check out the chicken/egg/tuna salad selection, decide on deli sandwiches, glance through the day-old pastries, pick out something to drink and a few packs of chips and wait in the register line together. I love to hear the guys talking shop or teasing each other about their lunches, and the lilting Spanish conversations between the women from the Resource Center. Later in the afternoon some of the men from the Recycling Center often stop for a quick snack before hurrying on to the start of their evening shift. Later a few come back in a rush for a sandwich during their 15 minute ‘lunch’ break at 5:30.

We stay open until 7:00 every evening (8:00 on Wednesdays) so commuters can stop in on their way back to Baldwin, Mifflin, Lincolnplace or other South Hills locations. These customers know it’s easy to park right in front of the store and pop in to pick up vegetables, fresh fruit and local meats for a quick meal when they get home. Several commuters come in every week to pick up their favorites for weekend meals. One couple comes in every few weeks to load up their freezer with meats for their family for the next week – they are particular about their food and checked out the supplier (Thoma Meat Market) on-line before becoming regular customers.

A number of the older men in the neighborhood come in regularly to shop the meat freezer as well. One picks up pork chops, bacon and baby back ribs regularly, while another comes by most weekends for ground beef or lamb and always a package of breakfast sausages to cook up for Saturday breakfast with his wife and daughter – this family moved to Hazelwood within the past year and were thrilled to find our small grocery!

What About Food: August, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I spent the past weekend watching the news from Charlottesville and am appalled at what is happening there. It is incredibly upsetting to see racially motivated hatred in such open display. I attended college in Harrisonburg, Virginia, only an hour west of Charlottesville, and my extended family still lives there. Two of my children are heading to Harrisonburg for their college experience ten days from now.

I also spent my childhood living in Tanzania and Kenya. Before I went away to boarding school outside Nairobi, my best friends were Tanzanian and I spent my days climbing trees with them, chattering in Swahili and begging invitations to eat ugali and rice meals with them in their homes. My time in an American boarding school located in Kenya as I grew older caused me to lose contact with these friends and forget most of their language, but I’ve never forgotten my love for the Tanzanian people – their laughter, their kindness, their music and lilting languages are embedded in my psyche.

What I love most about owning a business in Hazelwood is that it is an integrated community, where black and white neighbors have grown up together for generations, and have learned to live next to each other and be comfortable with each other. I love that I can buy pastriese from Mee Mee’s Tis So Sweet Bakery and benefit from the incredible baking talents of owner Mildred Williams. When I was at the Farm Stand in Hazelwood Summer Marketplace, I loved buying lunch from Rena Welch and Leroy Dunning of Elite Treats and Specialty Feasts, who introduced me to delicious grilled turkey ribs and smoked mac-n-cheese.

I love that half my customers are African-Americans, many of whom live in Hazelwood but some who are commuters or destination shoppers and come looking for my store. I love the crowds of children coming in with their parents and grandparents looking for good things to eat. I love the older men who come and look carefully through the meat freezer before selecting oxtails or packages of bacon, or pick up ham hocks and bags of baby lima beans or black-eyed peas to simmer together.

I love the African-American women who come in, sometimes with their mothers talking over holiday meal ingredients or just shopping together, or sometimes by themselves looking for healthy food options because they care about their diets and know about healthy eating. Some of my best fresh produce customers are African-American women looking for good food, and they know how to cook it in delicious variations that they are happy to share with me. I learned how to cook greens and beans from women in Hazelwood.

I appreciate that, as an older white woman, I can start a business in Hazelwood and be accepted and supported by all segments of the community. I love when there are a variety of customers all shopping at the same time – well-dressed young Latino women from the Latino Family Resource Center a block away, African-American men who work at Kerotest next door, both black and white neighbors from Glenwood with their children buying sandwiches and cereal, cookies and pound cake and fresh peaches. I love that LaRue comes in with several of his 8 children to pick up a dozen ears of corn (We LOVE this corn!) and several fresh, local peaches (My wife won’t eat any other peaches!) at this time of year, along with a serving of his favorite strawberry pretzel salad treat. He’s been a customer since we opened and tells everyone he knows about our store.

I found my way into Hazelwood six years ago as a Food Studies student wanting to explore a food desert. I got pointed to a group of church leaders who were organizing a food buying club as a vehicle to get “fresh, healthy food at reasonable prices” to residents. As a volunteer, I got assigned to Hazelwood Towers and have spent the past six years getting to know the residents of this low-income high rise community by delivering their food orders twice a month. This is a racially integrated group of mostly elderly people, many of whom have lived their entire lives in Hazelwood. Despite the challenges they face living in the center of our business district, and with sometimes very divisive neighbors down the hall, most of the long-term residents are generous, gentle people. I particularly love Evelyn, who has helped organize fish Friday ordering and delivery during Lent with me for the last five years. When some racial divisions were stirred up by new residents a few years ago, Evelyn said to me “We’ve never been that way. That isn’t who we are here in Hazelwood. It doesn’t matter what color your skin is, it matters what’s inside you.” I love Evelyn and her recognition that diversity and tolerance are powerful and Godly – Evelyn is a lifelong church attender.

My daughter tells me that social isolation leads people to fascism. This reassures me because there is nothing socially isolating about shopping in my store in Hazelwood. Dylamato’s Market is a place where people come together, where people talk about food with enjoyment, where they pick out pastries and local meats and fresh, local peaches to take home and share with their families. For years I’ve been telling my husband, Brent, that when I go to Hazelwood, I feel good about the world – I feel like people matter, and people look out for each other, and the world is a better place.

Thank you to all my customers for being part of this diverse place and experience!

What About Food: Oct 15, 2017
By Dianne Shenk

I buy hummus from The Greek Gourmet, a small local company based in Squirrel Hill. It’s delicious hummus and I’m happy to have several varieties. In conversation with someone from their store, I learned that they recently cut back on staff and closed one of their hummus “factories”.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Well,” she told me “we used to sell hummus to Giant Eagle, but then they figured out how to make it themselves and stopped ordering from us.” And The Greek Gourmet had to downsize and go looking for other markets, which is why they called me a year ago and began selling me hummus.

This is a classic example of what happens to small businesses: An entrepreneur like the owner of the Greek Gourmet have a passion for something like making hummus. They experiment with ingredients, flavors, quantities and marketing until they get it right, and then they grow their business and grow a customer base. A larger business like Giant Eagle decides to carry hummus too, but instead of taking the time and spending the money to figure out the recipe and do the marketing, they just invite The Greek Gourmet to sell hummus in their stores – great! The Greek Gourmet expands their production space, hires more staff and builds their business.

And then Giant Eagle collects the data they need – what size of serving sells best, which flavors are customer favorites, what are the ingredients in the hummus and how long is the shelf-life, etc…. Once they have this information, Giant Eagle realizes they can go ahead and make their own hummus and probably sell it for less anyway, so they stop ordering from The Greek Gourmet and Giant Eagle now makes hummus and sells it under their own label.

This is called vertical expansion and all large companies do it. Either they do it this way or they just buy the smaller company outright and siphon off a portion of the profits as the new owners. This is what happened when Amazon bought Whole Foods, and Giant Eagle could have bought The Greek Gourmet outright as well, but it was probably less expensive to just take over the product in this case.

This is capitalism at work and I guess I should be okay with it, but there a couple of things that give me pause. I’ll just never understand why it’s better for the owners of Giant Eagle to keep getting bigger and bigger and richer and richer while gobbling up the market share of hundreds of smaller businesses that they used to buy stuff from. Why should they make more money that they don’t even need while an entrepreneur like The Greek Gourmet has to lay off employees and close down production spaces and downsize? Wouldn’t it be better for small communities all over Ohio and Pennsylvania (where Giant Eagle stores have saturated the grocery store market space) if Giant Eagle had a policy of purchasing even a quarter of their products from small, local companies like The Greek Gourmet? Imagine if entrepreneurs had the opportunity to sell into a big market like that – sales contracts to Giant Eagle would guarantee loans on store fronts and production spaces. Small and mid-size bakeries could open

What About Food: Oct. 2013
By Dianne Shenk

While working at the East End Food Cooperative, much of my time is spent out on the grocery store floor restocking fresh fruits and vegetables while the store is open. Meeting and talking to customers while I’m working is a large part of my job, and I enjoy these interactions.

I love when little kids come in with their parents and dance around the aisles calling out vegetables by name. “Broccoli, can we get some broccoli?” and “Bananas, bananas!” are favorites. I remember one little boy in the cart seat who kept saying “Apple? Apple?” while his mother looked through a pile of something else, hearing him but kind of ignoring what he was saying. He kept it up and when the cart got close enough to the apple display he leaned right out and picked one up! This little boy was maybe 2 years old and already knew what he wanted to eat. A teenage girl brought her mother in one day to buy 60 mangos when they were on sale. Her mother confirmed that the girl would eat all of them in the next week before they spoiled – “She eats five or six at a sitting” she said, shaking her head but also glad her daughter was eating mangos instead of chips or candy.

Children learn what to eat from their parents and family, but also from the popular culture around them. The founder of McDonald’s was one of the first businessmen in the US to understand the value of marketing to children. He organized advertising that targeted children, and developed Happy Meals to get kids to beg their parents to come eat at his fast food restaurants. This marketing was so successful that most food companies have copied it and kids learn from TV that eating all kinds of junk food is what makes them “cool” and helps them fit in with their friends.

As adults, we still eat what our friends and family say is the right or cool thing to eat. I was stocking kale one day when a well-built African-American man reached in to pick out several bunches. “This is good food!” he said. I agreed and complimented him on his choice. He replied that some of his friends kept telling him to eat meat to build muscle, while he kept informing them that he had the great body he has from being vegan and eating right. Vegans don’t eat any animal products at all, so get their protein from vegetable proteins or combinations of grain and dry beans that provide a balanced, healthier protein for their bodies. I mentioned to this young man that it was nice to see people like Dr. Oz on TV promoting better eating habits and he responded, “My friends should listen to ME – I’m walking proof of what healthy eating can do for you!” He was right – I wish everyone could talk to this beautiful young man and learn how to eat well.

An older man asked me about the dandelion greens we sell in bunches, and we talked for a few minutes about the juicing diet he recently started. He was so excited by his experience, detailing his three weeks of juicing so far, the exercise regimen he had started, how much better he felt emotionally, and how his clothes were already loosening up. As he left, I thought how lucky his wife and children were to have such a happy, healthy man in their lives!

Another man was shopping one day with his son and also picking out dandelion greens. These greens are popular in juicing recipes and the son, who was maybe 10 years old, asked what they were. “They’re the same dandelions that grow in your yard,” I told him, “just farmed in an organized way by a farmer and put together in bunches for people to buy here.” He looked really surprised, but many of the common weeds you find in your yard – dandelion and purslane for instance – are nutritious greens for people to eat. The dandelion greens we sell are 18-inch-long, slender green leaves, gathered into bunches of 50 or so, and held together with a rubber band or paper-covered wire.

Other customers are new to healthy eating and ask for advice. One man wondered how to get started and I suggested cooking things he liked in simple ways, like chopping some onion and sautéing it with any kind of greens, tomatoes and green pepper. An older woman asked how to cook with turmeric – she had heard it was a healthy spice but didn’t know how to use it. As we talked I learned that her husband had a health scare a few years ago and they were trying to change their diet, but were bored with frozen vegetables. I recommended buying a few teaspoons of several spices like curry, cumin, and turmeric from the bulk spice containers, and adding them to stir-fried vegetables to see what they might like. I told both these customers that it’s hard to change your diet, and it takes a few years to get used to eating differently. Talking with customers about food choices is always the best part of my work day!

What About Food: Dec 2014
By Dianne Shenk

“Do you take EBT?”

As soon as I opened Dylamato’s Market farm stand last July, this question came from open car windows in passing vehicles, and from customers stopping by to check out the fresh sweet corn and blueberries.

“I applied for it. As soon as I get approved, I’ll put up signs!” I called back as people drove on. Everyone was patient, but as they checked back week after week, they began to wonder where my approval was, and why it took so long to come through.

I wondered too. The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) approves stores so they can accept EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) payments, also known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) or Food Stamps. The application process wasn’t hard, but the USDA didn’t allow me to apply until my ‘store’ was open. As soon as I opened on July 10, I began to fill out the 5-page on-line application. When it went in, I got further instructions to copy specific documents, sign certain papers, and send these items in by mail. The USDA emailed in late July to say they had all my information and I should get a response within 45 days. Well, it took until the first week in October, over 60 days later, before authorization finally came through. For a seasonal business that closed on October 31, this was simply too late for this year.

A week after I got my approval email, I received a file of information telling me how to activate my account. They sent a list of suggested banking partners who could set up the account with the USDA, send me a card-reader, and keep track of customer purchases. My husband checked out these potential partners on-line and the news was not good – it looked like I would need to purchase a card reader for about $500, then pay $25-$50 a month in administration fees and a 30 cent charge on each purchase. The 30 cent charge alone would eat up close to 20% of my margin on a $5 sale, which was my average customer purchase. Suddenly it looked it was going to cost me a lot to accept EBT!

I compared this process to setting up an account with Square to accept credit and debit card payments. I contacted Square on the internet, read through their information, and signed up in a few minutes. They have no annual fee, no monthly fees, and an across-the-board 2.74% charge on each transaction. That meant that the percentage I paid to Square on each dollar of sales was the same, regardless if the sale was $1 or $25. Even better, a few days later I received a small Square reader in the mail – for free! I plugged this reader into my phone every day, logged into my gmail account, and I was in business. With modern technology and information-tracking, Square is a very reasonable and user-friendly company for small retailers.

When I was studying food, I came across some interesting facts on EBT transactions. It turns out that over 80% of SNAP benefits are spent in large, suburban super-grocery stores or in big box stores like Costco or Walmart. This is where the best food deals are available – store brands, sale items, and bulk packaging – so those who have to stretch their food purchases shop in these stores. Unfortunately, this means that the Food Stamp system ends up supporting the bloated profit margins of some of the biggest food companies in the world, not the small grocery stores located in low-income neighborhoods. At the same time, the government pays huge financial companies to keep track of SNAP purchases for these huge grocery chains. Instead of the streamlined system that works for Square, the financial oversight of SNAP transactions is well-padded with expensive equipment, yearly and/or monthly charges, and per-purchase fees that work against small retailers. Considering the technology available to companies like Square, this fee-heavy system is just unacceptable.

Fortunately, I called a friend who recently opened the 52nd Street Market in Lawrenceville. She steered me to the best-rated EBT managing company out there, Merchant Services. She signed up with them over the phone in a few minutes, and received her pre-programmed card-reader within a few days. The reader cost her nearly $300, but there were no other sign-up fees or monthly fees. She believed that the per-transaction fee was set by the state of Pennsylvania at .07%, but I heard it was a higher rate from a different retailer so I need confirmation.

Either way, this sounds like a reasonable set-up for my business and I will contact Merchant Services directly to check on the details. I’m relieved to find a way I can accept EBT payments without paying a big chunk of my margin in high fees, and I look forward to putting up signs next May when I open saying “We accept EBT/SNAP payments!!”

I’m so excited that Dylamato’s Market is the first small grocery store to participate in the Foodbucks for Produce program sponsored by the Food Trust, which is based in Philadelphia but reaching out to Pittsburgh. The Foodbucks for Produce program is a way to help people who use Access (EBT, Food Stamps, SNAP) to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables – which is a really great way to help people be healthier and eat more delicious food like apples, berries and oranges, as well as greens, tomatoes and onions with their meals.

The way it works is simple: for every $2 in Access that people use for anything in my store, I can give them $1 in Food Bucks, which can be used just like dollars to buy fresh fruits and vegetables in Dylamato’s Market. Yes, that’s right – if you come and buy $10 worth of milk, cereal eggs and butter, I will give you $5 in Food Bucks, which you can use right away for bananas, oranges and grapes, or you can save up and buy a half a case of kale for your holiday dinner for $9 (that’s12 bunches of fresh kale straight from the wholesaler for $9) plus sweet potatoes, onions and celery to round out your meal.

This program grows out of a lot of thinking the people in Philadelphia have done over the years with the Food Trust. A major concern is always access to any kind of food, but a growing concern is that the food people eat actually be food that is good for them, food that will keep diabetes and obesity at bay, and help people feel healthy and strong. The Food Trust began working with corner stores in Philadelphia a few years ago, giving them incentives to stock fresh vegetables and fruit for their customers. What they ran into was two realities: 1) fresh produce goes bad quickly – it needs to be sold within days to be appealing to most customers and 2) most corner store owners don’t know how to manage fresh produce to keep it looking good and stock the foods most customers want to buy.

Here is Pittsburgh, they decided to focus on stores that already stock fresh produce, and help them in two ways. The first is to attract more

What About Food: Jan 9, 2018
By Dianne Shenk

Food Bucks for Produce at Dylamato’s Market in Hazelwood

Produce – fresh fruits and vegetables – all those good-looking foods we know we should eat more of but for various reasons we just don’t buy much of at the grocery store. Especially for families using food stamps – the challenge is whether to buy food that the kids might not eat and that will go bad in a few days, or to buy staples you know will get eaten. And everyone who qualifies for food stamps knows they just don’t go far enough…..after buying the milk and cereal, eggs and cheese and bread that we need to make the bulk of our meals, what’s really left over for the fresh foods our doctors tell us we should eat more of?

What if there were a way to help food stamp recipients buy more fresh fruits and vegetables, and at the same time help small stores like Dylamato’s Market to stock better quality and more variety of these foods? This is exactly the purpose of the new Food Buck program being promoted by the Food Trust of Philadelphia as it expands into Pittsburgh through Dylamato’s Market, a small corner store in Braddock and the Hill District Shop n Save Grocery.

How it works is simple: Anyone spending food stamps (Access, EBT, SNAP) at Dylamato’s gets this benefit – for every $2 they spend on anything in the store, they receive a $1 Fruit and Vegetable Voucher that they can use in the store to purchase fresh produce. So if you purchase half a gallon of milk ($2.50), a box of cereal ($2.75), half a pound of American cheese ($2.50) and a loaf of bread ($2.25) – total $10.00 – you will receive 5 vouchers ($1 each) totaling $5 that can be used to purchase fresh produce like grapes ($1.50), an orange (.75), a pear (.75), 4 bananas ($1) and 2 lemons (.50 each for $1) – totaling $5 in vouchers. You leave the store with your staple groceries and a bag full of fruit to enjoy with your lunch or dinner!

Dylamato’s Market started this program on Dec 12, and by Dec 23 we had given out 644 vouchers and received nearly $300 back in payment for bags full of fresh tomatoes, broccoli, onions, peppers, potatoes, kale, collards, garlic, sweet potatoes and piles of fruit and berries. It was just so great to see moms and dads smile in happy disbelief as they counted out their vouchers and packed away the grapes, apples and bananas to take home and enjoy with their families. In the two days before Christmas we accepted $150 in vouchers that customers had saved up to get the vegetables for their holiday dinners and fresh fruit to enjoy over the holidays. Jim was thrilled to buy $18 in fruit, vegetables and nuts, then receive $9 more in vouchers to fill out his wish list with the foods he loves best – more fresh produce!

I am so excited to be part of this program! What it does for me is help me stock my shelves with the foods I want to carry – beautifully fresh vegetables and crisply bright fruit. As a small grocery, it’s sometimes hard for me to sell through a full case of something before it begins to get soft or look less fresh than I would like. It is still good to eat – I know because I usually take these foods home at this point and cook them up myself for yummy dinners – but customers don’t want to spend money on something that looks even a little bit old. I’m thrilled to have more customers looking through the veggie cooler for mushrooms or cauliflower and picking out pineapples and grapefruit from the fruit table. And I also know I can stock more expensive berries and avocadoes and people will have the money to pick them up and eat better – and introduce their kids to these fabulous foods!

Stop by Dylamato’s Market and check out Food Bucks for Produce action. We’ve signed a commitment with the Food Trust to keep this program going until the end of May, and hopefully it will be extended for a longer period at that time.

What About Food: Feb 2018
By Dianne Shenk

When Programs Get It Right!

The Pittsburgh Food Bucks program at Dylamato’s Market is an amazing thing. It works by giving coupons for fruit and vegetable purchases to customers who use their Access (food stamp, EBT) cards at the market. Whenever someone uses Access to buy groceries, Pittsburgh Food Bucks gives them a $1 Food Buck coupon for every $2 they spend on anything. These Food Bucks can then be used right away or later to buy whatever fresh fruits or vegetables the customer wants.

Over the past 2 months, I’ve given out over 3000 Food Bucks to customers and received over half of them back to buy fresh produce. Here are some stories:

One young couple came in with their list and a handful of Food Bucks from a previous shopping trip. They picked out the potatoes, onions, green beans and tomatoes they planned to use for meals over the next few days and paid for them with $11 in Food Bucks. Then they went around the store again picking out all the other items they needed – cereal and pasta, milk and bread and lunch meats. They used their Access card to pay their $21 bill and I handed them another 10 Food Bucks. The husband looked blankly at his wife, then glanced towards the fruit table, “Can I get some fruit?” “Sure,” she responded, and he went back to look over the baskets of fruit in the back. “Can we get a pineapple?” he called. “Sure,” she said again, smiling at his enthusiasm. “What’s this?” he called, and she told him it was a mango. “Can we get it?” “Yes” she replied again. I checked to make sure they knew how to cut a pineapple – they did – and then explained how to know when a mango is ripe and how to cut it open so the two sides come away from the central seed like small bowls of sweet, orange fruit you can eat with a spoon. It was just so great to see them with extra money to buy something unfamiliar and relatively extravagant – and that pineapple smelled so good!

One Saturday morning I had a group visiting from the East End Food Coop to talk our way around food justice issues, and while they were wrapping up the meeting the store filled up with customers. I counted and we had 21 people there – a record! Four of those people were a group of kids, the oldest one might have been 10 or 11 and they looked like siblings. They went together back to the fruit table and carefully picked out 8 bananas and brought them up to the counter. Our bananas are 4/$1 so I asked them for $2 and they handed over 2 Food Bucks, looking really happy and proud of their purchase. We went on with clearing all those customers out of the store and in half an hour or so, I noticed that the four kids were back and heading to the fruit table again. This time they came up with strawberries ($3) and blueberries ($2.75) and I asked them for $5.75. They handed me 6 Food Bucks! Obviously, the first trip was a scouting trip and they had gone home to ask their mom for another 6 Food Bucks to get the fruit they really wanted. I can’t give change with Food Bucks so had them go back and get another banana to make it an even $6, and put their fruit in a bag for them to take home – big smiles all around!

Food Bucks help stretch the month for families who have a hard time making their food stamps last that last week. One mom noticed a difference right away because using Food Bucks to cover her fruit and vegetable purchases meant she didn’t run out of stamps at the end of the first month she started the program. Another mom came in the last week to get $18 in potatoes, onions, broccoli and other vegetables to fill out her meals, using Food Bucks instead of cash when her Access card ran out.

Some moms don’t do a lot of cooking so look blankly at the Food Bucks, and one even told me to give them out to other shoppers. After talking with her for a few minutes, I realized her son and daughter-in-law are customers too and I suggested she give them to that family because they were already using their own Food Bucks to get vegetables and fruit. I suggest to others that they give them to their children to bring in and buy fruit for snacks, and the kids keep cleaning us out of strawberries! Salad ingredients, vegetables for soup and fresh fruit snacks are the most popular purchases so far. One mom keeps using her Food Bucks for vegetables to grill on her hibachi for family dinner – even in January!

Programs to help us buy healthy food are hard to get right. So are programs that want to get grocery stores back in our urban communities – just think of how long it took to get the Shop n Save built in the Hill District. It’s really great to be part of a well-thought-out program like Pittsburgh Food Bucks that is helping families buy healthy fresh food, and helping me stay open with that food in Hazelwood!

What About Food: March, 2018
By Dianne Shenk

We Keep It Fresh For You!

It’s so great when customers explain it for me: Debra said it well “I love when I can buy what I need and come back in two days for more.” And she continued “It’s just me at home and I hate buying a whole bag of potatoes. When I shop here I can just get what I need, and they don’t go bad on me.” She glanced around the store “And I can walk down for more whenever I need some!”

At Dylamato’s we sell potatoes and onions by the piece so you can get as many or few as you need for your meal. I always tell customers to shop for a day or two and then come back for more, “We keep it fresh for you – so come get it when you need it!”

At our deli sandwich station, we sell sliced lunch meats and cheeses by the serving, so customers can get a serving of ham, one of turkey and one of corned beef, along with six slices of Swiss, Provolone, Hot Pepper or American cheese. Or we can sell it by the pound, but many customers buy just what they want for the meals they have planned, and then come back the next week to get what they need for those meals.

The reality in grocery shopping is that the business is dominated by grocery store chains, and those chains know that their most lucrative stores are the biggest ones. The need for lots of parking means these stores end up being built in the suburbs, with acres of parking and in close proximity to where middle class families often live. This is the best formula for grocery stores, but what does it mean for shoppers? Especially shoppers from downtown neighborhoods?

It means that most people travel to shop for groceries, and most people buy in bulk for the best deals. We even buy our potatoes and apples in bulky bags or in large quantities because that’s the best price and also because we don’t shop every day – we shop once or twice a week, or if our transportation is an expensive jitney, we shop once or twice a month.

A small neighborhood store like Dylamato’s Market offers an opportunity to change how and where we shop for food. When fresh food is on your way home or right around the corner, you can pick up just what you need for that night’s dinner, or for a day or two, and then stop in again when you need more.

Also, most people live in small families now, so buying in bulk, even though it’s a better deal, means we often waste what food we buy. We use enough potatoes for a meal or two and then the rest of the bag goes bad on the shelf. Or we snack on the barrel of pretzels until we’ve eaten too many and gained 5 lbs, and the last quarter of the barrel still tastes stale. How many times do you throw out the rest of the salad mix a week later, or the rest of the baby carrots when they get slimy?

I love seeing regular customers every few days as they drop in for the vegetables they need for their pot roast dinner that night, or for the soup they’re making that weekend. Moms pick up lunch meats for their kid’s lunch sandwiches, getting several servings of each kind according to different preferences. I love that Debra can buy 3 potatoes and a few other vegetables and some fruit, and eat just the food she needs to feel healthy. She doesn’t have to worry about bags of extra produce slowly spoiling in the refrigerator.

We still get the weekend shoppers who have a drive to get to us, and that’s okay too as they stop every Saturday to pick up meats and coffee, along with a quart of ice cream and a dozen fresh farm eggs to last the week. Most first-time customers are pleasantly surprised by the variety of food choices they find on the shelves and in the freezer and coolers. We have a little bit of a lot of things, and We Keep It Fresh For You! When you need one onion or some peppers to round out your meal, stop down to the Market and pick them up!

What About Food: April, 2018
By Dianne Shenk

“Do You Have Ramps?”

This question came from a regular customer who was asking on behalf of a friend. Several years ago, I had fresh ramps that I got from someone who foraged the woods for ramps and mushrooms and was happy to sell some to me to pass on to my customers. When I worked at the East End Food Cooperative, we got ramps from a similar source, and I learned not to clean them because they would spoil quickly when their roots and stems were cleaned, so we left them earthy for customers to clean when they were ready to eat them.

Most people in Pittsburgh and the Appalachian region know that ramps are a fragrant and pungent variety of wild garlic – prized for their strong flavor and a harbinger of spring when they are among the first fruits of the earth in the growing season. Ramps flourish in wild places and are widespread throughout the mountains of West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania. Visitors have learned to savor them as a taste of these mountain regions and the woodsy cultures that thrive here.

Unfortunately, as I learned last year, ramps are a very slow growing plant, and it takes a long time for them to reproduce themselves and grow into a clump that is big enough to provide a yearly harvest. A friend told me of how he found a “river of ramps” several years ago on a bank somewhere deep in the woods where he often hikes. He dug a few out and remembered where it was so he could go back later and dig some more. But when he returned, he found the entire bank completely dug up and devoid of all ramps – obviously a forager had come through and harvested the entire patch, not realizing that they would never re-grow once they were all taken, or that if there were a few random stragglers, it would take a decade or more to return that bank to anything like its previous “river of ramps”. My friend taught me that a sustainable harvest for a bed of ramps is about 10% – the ramps can only re-grow that much each year. If you dig more than that, you will slowly dig out the whole bed of ramps over the years and they will just be gone. He also told me that ramps are being harvested and sold in huge amounts to markets in Asia and other places around the world as a delicacy.

The globalization of the food system allows certain specialty foods to be marketed this way – as something extra-nutritious, or extra-exotic, or an extra-special ingredient in the current fad food that all the cool people are talking about and eating just now. Think about acai berries, or dried seaweed, or shark-fin soup. Often these foods are used socially as a kind of elite reference – people eat them because it shows that they are specially informed, or they are rich enough to pay extra for these special foods.

Even steaks are this kind of status symbol – a steer takes several years to grow to the size needed for harvest, and then the steak cuts are a fairly small piece of the whole side of beef. Once the steaks are cut and sold, what are you going to do with all the rest of that enormous animal? Eating steak is a status symbol – which is why it is most common among men and also in wealthy, western cultures where people can generally afford to eat meat every day, and to eat steak as a special meal. In contrast, think how quickly a chicken grows – about 8 weeks from hatching to harvest as a fryer or broiler. Eating chicken is not such a status symbol and is much more common than eating steak, although eating any kind of meat every day is something many people around the world can’t afford.

When you think about harvesting and eating a whole animal, there are cuts that have always been cheap, like feet or intestines or all the bits and pieces put together to make sausage or hamburger. Interestingly, some of these historically cheap cuts, like chicken wings, have become over time a special treat because poor people cooked them in special ways that made them especially delicious, and this became widely known and sought after by the wider population. If you read “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott, there is a passage where one of the girls was embarrassed to be seen with a lobster in her basket going home from market. At the time of that story, lobsters were seen as the cheapest sea food available, and poor people ate them when they couldn’t afford something better. Over time, eating lobster became the status symbol that you see now in American society.

Ramps, the backwoods, pungent wild garlic of the Appalachia mountains, have become this food fetish of the moment – a food that the wider world wants to try and is willing to buy at premium prices. Unfortunately for us here in Appalachia, that may mean that we don’t get to eat them, or at least we don’t have them widely for sale in our grocery stores. If you want to eat ramps, you may want to take a trip to West Virginia and experience eating them in a small, local restaurant somewhere in a mountain community where they are still plentiful and the locals know how to keep their spring harvest sustainable. Happy Eating!