As we reflect on the past few weeks, GBA’s staff is filled with gratitude. The March edition of our Inspire Speakers Series went better than we possibly could have imagined – thanks mostly to our partners. We’re still buzzing about the motivating conversations, perspectives, and collaborations that surrounded our lecture with Will Allen, Stephen Ritz, and Jennifer Flanagan.
This edition of the series centered around the theme of food and its role in our communities. The lecture was designed to explore ways in which food is central to society’s most pressing issues. After all, by investing in healthy, fresh, and local food, we can create jobs, improve public health, connect communities, teach useful skills, and reduce food waste. We convened three stellar speakers on this topic, each with a different perspective. Will Allen (former NBA basketball player, fifth-generation farmer, and founder of Growing Power), Stephen Ritz (educator, TED Talk legend, and founder of the Green Bronx Machine), and Jennifer Flanagan (social entrepreneur, slow food lover, and co-founder of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh) joined forces to create an incredible line-up that filled the Hill House’s Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium with more than 300 people! Together, these three presenters helped us understand how we can use food as a key to creating more livable places for all.
Inspire Speakers Series lectures are always tremendously…inspiring. This one was no exception. But we also wanted to create opportunities for practical conversations around these issues as a way of taking that inspiration to the street. We want to make the most of our time with speakers such as Will Allen and Stephen Ritz who come to Pittsburgh from across the country – and our partners help us do just that. Below are some highlights from the event and all the conversations that accompanied it, both before and after.
Food Security Potluck
Kelsey Weisgerber is food service director for the Environmental Charter School (ECS) and deeply ingrained in Pittsburgh’s food culture. She was an instrumental partner in expanding the conversations around our March topic, particularly by planning a pre-lecture potluck conversation about food security. Kelsey worked with Just Harvest and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council to host a warm, motivational, and delicious discussion. Held at the Hill House’s Kaufmann Center, nearly 60 people brought goodies and perspectives to share. Participants included the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Let’s Move Pittsburgh, North Hills Community Outreach, Mama Africa’s Green Scouts, Chatham University, Mercy Behavioral Health, GTECH Strategies, East End Cooperative Ministry, Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, and many more. As you can imagine when you get a group like this together, the potluck menu included delectable and healthy items such as homemade sourdough bread, bean soup, salads, vegetarian pasta, cannelini-tomato bruschetta, and more! A big thanks to Kelsey, ECS, Just Harvest, and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council for leading this conversation! Read more about that event in Hal B. Klein’s Eat Street article for Pittsburgh Magazine.
Inspire Speakers Series
If you were one of the 300 people who attended this lecture, I don’t have to tell you what an amazing evening it was! As always, we had great food, drinks, and networking beforehand. To top it off, Blackberry Meadows Farms hosted a CSA sign-up table to offer attendees the opportunity to get their own locally grown produce and Community Kitchen Pittsburgh hosted a food demo table. The Hill House Association’s Terri Baltimore welcomed everyone to the space and GBA’s Andrew Ellsworth opened the evening. The incredibly enthusiastic Stephen Ritz joined us from his hometown of the Bronx and acted as the evening’s emcee.
Stephen shared details of the major strides he’s made with his Bronx students in teaching them to grow and sell produce, resulting in both increased school attendance and newly created jobs for them in their community. If you haven’t heard Stephen’s story, check out his TED Talk here. Next up, Jennifer Flanagan described how Community Kitchen Pittsburgh is attacking several problems through food – providing job training for people who have barriers to employment, delivering healthy, fresh foods to vulnerable populations, and reducing food waste. If you haven’t checked them out, visit CKP’s 9th Street Café, where you can grab a delicious lunch while supporting the organization’s awesome mission.
Finally, Will Allen presented more than 500 slides (that’s not a typo!) on his journey towards building Growing Power, a successful nonprofit organization that grows 200 varieties of crops on 300 acres of land in an effort to provide equal access to high-quality, affordable food to people in all communities. Will firmly believes that we need to GROW MORE FARMERS. From foodies to food banks, everyone is demanding access to healthy, local, fresh produce and we need farmers to grow it for us. As Will explains, farming is an incredibly difficult job and it takes a long time to “grow a farmer.” His experience and insight were extraordinary. After the lecture, Grow Pittsburgh’s Julie Butcher Pezzino facilitated a Q&A discussion with all three speakers and the evening ended with a book signing by Will Allen. It was non-stop action from start to finish!
Our friends at GTECH Strategies and Grow Pittsburgh hosted a morning-after discussion over breakfast. (GTECH’s Andrew Butcher compares these breakfasts to hitting the diner with friends following a night on the town, reveling in the evening’s favorite moments…a great analogy!) This conversation is meant to gather decision-makers and on-the-ground experts with Inspire Speakers Series lecturers to compile real-life action items designed to bring the speakers’ ideas to life in our region. This breakfast was hosted at the Kaufmann Center (thanks again, Hill House!), catered by Community Kitchen Pittsburgh, and included participants from the City of Pittsburgh, Green Building Alliance, GTECH, Grow Pittsburgh, the Hillman Foundation, and Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
Participants had the opportunity to ask poignant questions of lecturers Will Allen and Jennifer Flanagan and we ended up talking a whole lot about…compost. It’s a hot topic in Pittsburgh, where residents and businesses yearn for practical, affordable options for both accessing and disposing of it. Will Allen swears by compost, stating that he never would have been able to make a profit through farming if it weren’t for high-quality compost (which he grows himself, by the way). My favorite quote of the morning came from facilitator Andrew Butcher, who noticed the group members staring at Will and nodding enthusiastically as he talked about dirt: “I’ve never seen so many people totally transfixed by the topic of compost.”
“I’ve never seen so many people totally transfixed by the topic of compost.” – Andrew Butcher
School Sustainability Culture Program
Every expert who comes through Pittsburgh for the Inspire Speakers Series makes a stop to visit with GBA’s School Sustainability Culture Program (SSCP) cohort – a two-year, hands-on, immersive learning community that assists K-12 schools with the integration of sustainability into their buildings, curriculum, and culture. In fact, the Inspire Speakers Series was created in conjunction with SSCP, specifically developed as an opportunity for school personnel to gain access to national experts like Will Allen, Stephen Ritz, George Bandy, Majora Carter, David Orr, and other ISS lecturers. Members of the cohort attend each lecture and then have a chance on the following day to ask their school-related questions. It’s always an incredibly informed conversation because teachers know how to ask great questions!
This time, Will made a trip to Pittsburgh Langley K-8 (an SSCP participant) and spoke to superintendents, teachers, administrators, curriculum developers, and facility managers from regional K-12 schools about how they already do – and can continue to – incorporate healthy, locally grown, fresh foods into their school programming.
Our speakers are exhausted by the time they leave Pittsburgh and we’re proud to show them as much as we can of our great city, while involving them in conversations with a variety of people who are impacted by their lecture topic. Will was no different and we’d especially like to thank our friends from Grow Pittsburgh and the Hill House Association for connecting him with various members of the community during his visit. While here, he met with representatives from the Hill House Passport Academy Charter School, Ujamaa Collective, Centre Avenue YMCA, and MLK field project gardeners in the Hill District.
Again, we’d like to thank our friends and partners for not only helping to coordinate the Inspire Speakers Series, but also for ensuring that we continue these important conversations within our communities so we can get one step closer to creating the most livable places for all! Thanks also to our sponsors and media partners for making these events possible and everyone who attends lectures, asks questions, and continues the conversations in their own communities!