Family farm inspires healthy eating in Pittsburgh's Manchester neighborhood
Manchester is a neighborhood on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Its flat streets are lined with stately Victorian homes that display historical markers and houses that are boarded up and condemned.
Longtime resident Lisa Freeman has been gardening in the majority Black neighborhood for years. She and her husband grew veggies with kids at Manchester Elementary School, and started a nonprofit.
In 2014 she bought a property from the city near the school and the family’s home to start a farm. Now the 10,000-square-foot farm features a large greenhouse, a chicken coop, small storefront, and there’s more to come.
Hicks: So was this always a vision, something you wanted to do, have a farm, be a farmstress? (laughs)
Freeman: Well, this started because when I moved here, I bought the house. It was totally condemned, and I had a waterfall from our third-floor roof all the way down. You can look up and see the sky. And I totally rehabbed that building and brought it back to life. So the house was beautiful except for the front yard. It looked like tumbleweeds and straw and knotweed.
Hicks: What obstacles did you have to overcome to really get your project up and going?
Freeman: When you do it in the urban setting, with a house that’s been torn down — then when it gets torn down — there is a big cellar most of the time, a big pit and all those cinder blocks they turn over, and it goes down into the cellar. You bury all that brick. I had to get a lot of that brick hauled away into landfills.
So almost in every urban farm, you can’t grow in the ground because of cinder block — it’s bricks. So I had to bring in, develop the soil, woodchips, and compost, and soil. I mean, when I first started doing it, [I bought] like $1,000 worth of compost and lay it where I’d need, I mean, year after year after year. So that’s an obstacle.
The moral of this is that anybody can do anything they put their mind to. Regardless of what you’re up against, you’ll always find a way. And Miss Lisa found a way.
Read more from our partners, The Allegheny Front.
This is the third installment of our four-part series, “Sowing Soil with Soul,” featuring Black urban farmers who grow food to sustain their communities.
Soul Pitt Media is an award-winning multi-media entity that serves the African-American population in Western Pennsylvania and surrounding communities.
Funding for the series comes from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.