'Bike Fresh Bike Local' ride boosts Pittsburgh-area farming

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Bicycle riders took on the many hills of Allegheny and Butler counties to raise close to $10,000 on Sunday for a nonprofit that seeks to encourage family farms and local food production.

The first "Bike Fresh Bike Local" rides, sponsored by the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, drew more than 300 participants to the event that began and ended at the North Park ice rink.

Cyclists could choose among 25-mile, 50-mile or 75-mile routes through the North Hills and Butler County. The agricultural association has offered similar rides in Chester County that draw as many as 900 riders annually.

Funds raised Sunday will be used for farmer and consumer education programs, according to Leah Smith, the association's western region member-services manager.

The name chosen for the ride -- "Bike Fresh Bike Local" -- was selected to echo the association's "Buy Fresh Buy Local" motto.

"Our mission is to promote profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment," Ms. Smith said. The association's efforts include education programs for farmers interested in environmentally friendly agriculture and for individuals interested in learning about growing their own food, she said.

Among those participating Sunday were a half-dozen members of the Butler Bicycle Club, each wearing a bright blue T-shirt bearing the group's name.

"We think it is important to support small, local businesses," said Nathan Black of Butler City. He is a partner in Picture This Media, which designs websites and produces TV commercials.

One of the local businesses the men from Butler sought to support was North Country Brewing, which provided glasses of its beer to adult cyclists when they completed their rides. Younger cyclists got root beer. North Country makes all its products in Slippery Rock.

"How cool is this?" Andy Kappler, another member of the Butler club, said during a rest stop at the Eden Hall campus of Chatham University in Richland. "You get to see beautiful countryside and finish up with beer and a dinner."

Whole Foods provided salads and pork, chicken and vegetarian barbecue for participants who paid a $40 or $45 registration fee.

While dark clouds hung overhead during much of day, riders reported only a few drops of rain during the event.

All three routes were laid out with the guidance of the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen, a local biking club. For cyclists used to the region's many motor-vehicle-free and gently sloped rails-to-trails routes, the Sunday ride offered extra challenges.

The 25-mile ride, for example, required two long hill climbs and much travel on two-lane roads with narrow shoulders.

"But you should be well trained to tackle hills if you ride anywhere in Pittsburgh," said Eddy Jones of the North Side. He commutes daily by bicycle to his job in Oakland. "I'm enjoying seeing different terrain today," he said.

"This is nothing like the hills where I live," said Eric Ayers of Raccoon Township. The Beaver County bicyclist took the 50-mile route Sunday. He is preparing for a two-day, 150-mile trek from Harmony to Erie next weekend.

Ms. Smith said her agricultural organization sees multiple connections between sustainable farming, locally produced food and healthy exercise like cycling. "People will have a great ride as they pass by some of our member farms and see a new part of the county," she said.

Similar rides will be held Aug. 4 in Centre County and Sept. 22 in Chester County. More information on those events is available at the association website, www.pasafarming.org/bikefresh, or by calling 412-365-2985.

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Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 724-772-0184.


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