Walkabout: Cleanup, farm stand show nice potential of slice of North Side

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The corridor along Brighton Road at Woods Run Avenue has been meager in the two decades I have passed through. A few blocks of sporadic and down-at-the-heels retail offered no diversions and every reason not to stop.

Woods Run is the border between Marshall-Shadeland and Brighton Heights on the North Side. The neighborhoods are roughly the same size in area, but Marshall-Shadeland has almost zero name recognition citywide and neither neighborhood wins points for that portal.

I was prompted to visit by an email from Ed Brandt, the former head of the Brightwood Civic Group, announcing the start-up of a farm stand at the corner of Brighton and Leckey Avenue, one block from Woods Run.

The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank supplies it. Mr. Brandt got it up and running. Melissa Gallagher of the Fineview Citizens Council manages it. And a cadre of committed volunteers including Joan Bellisario from the Brighton Heights Citizens Federation operate it. The organizations that run the farm stand get the net proceeds.

In just two weeks, the farm stand has quickly become a draw. Mr. Brandt said the number of customers grew from 80 to 104 and sales climbed from $327 to $494. It sold out of zucchini, cucumbers, honeydew and asparagus in the second week and donated what wouldn't keep to the Little Sisters of the Poor.

In the 20th year of the Farm Stand Program, the food bank supplies local produce to 13 low-income neighborhoods and municipalities. The Brighton group got the farm stand that had been for years at the Pittsburgh Project in Perry South, where there had been a decline in staff and volunteer support.

I went to the Brighton Farm Stand last Wednesday and bought some local peaches. While there, I became aware that some care and feeding has come to that area.

Every Wednesday from 2 to 6 p.m., the farm stand occupies a portion of a rectangle of grass the size of about five city lots, framed in front by a bed of flowers -- not your usual yawn of marigolds and petunias that are planted and abandoned, but hefty beacons of color that clearly are getting the love.

The Brightwood Civic Group, which advocates for and has renovated housing in Marshall-Shadeland, owns the land. With help from John Moore, an owner of three nearby rental properties, the group has begun to change the dynamic at the portal.

"John has taken on all the neighborhood volunteer jobs on his own -- cutting the grass, keeping the vacant lots cleared, etc.," Mr. Brandt said.

Mr. Moore also cleared a set of city steps nearby of debris and painted the railing of the steps a bright yellow. Mr. Moore added a separate door to a rental home he owns across from the civic group's green space, so the farm stand managers can store the equipment they need to set up every week.

Mr. Moore lives in Shaler and makes his living buying, renovating, renting and selling properties. Asked why he has taken on the upkeep of weedy, littered properties he doesn't own, he said, "I got tired of looking at it and tired of hearing people complain."

When he was renovating his properties, he would look out the windows, "and I thought, 'I can't have my tenants looking at that.' "

He cleans litter and weeds along Brighton and for some commercial property owners. He tends the flowers in the Brightwood Civic Group's green space. The city steps were almost impassable when he took that project on, he said.

Mr. Moore bought the first of three properties on Brighton and Leckey five years ago.

"My wife said, 'Why would you pick a building here?' I had a friend who had these properties, and he moved to Florida and asked me to check on them." After a few visits, he said, he realized the absentee thing wasn't working.

"So I made him an offer. Almost every storefront down here is rented again," he said. "When I first got here, most were not."

I asked him if he feels rewarded for his work.

"Yes, people stop me and say thanks all the time."

That little corridor needs a lot more than a farm stand, a pretty big green space and a cutter of weeds. But now it has a synergy of all of the above.


Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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