The Bulletin: BOOM Concepts receives official proclamation, mayoral donation

BOOM gets big financial boost from Mayor Peduto

Story by Andrew McKeon, The Bulletin

BOOM Concepts’ Darrel Kinsel (left) and Thomas Agnew accept an official proclamation from the City of Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Jun. 19. The Garfield art gallery celebrated its five-year anniversary on Juneteenth, in concert with a fundraising campaing. Photo by John Colombo.

Garfield – Over the last 20 years, the Penn Ave. arts district has come to be defined by the “Unblurred: First Fridays” gallery crawl. The monthly event provides visitors an opportunity to explore the avenue’s mainstay galleries and pop-up venues, while also letting them interface with traveling artists.

A regular Unblurred participant, Garfield’s BOOM Concepts (5139 Penn Ave.) has maintained a surgical focus over the last five years. Building on its alkaline momentum to foster a space for marginalized artists, the gallery is now celebrating its fifth anniversary with all of its supporters.

In March, BOOM co-founders Darrell Kinsel and Thomas Agnew launched a fundraising campaign to highlight their five-year watermark. They have designs on a possible satellite location in Oakland, called “BOOM-Craft,” to expand the gallery’s reach and broaden the scope of its mission.

Individual donors have already responded to Kinsel and Agnew’s call for contributions – to the tune of $5,000 – with a haste that speaks to the gallery’s growing network of artists.

On Wednesday, Jun. 19, BOOM received an official proclamation from the City of Pittsburgh. Kinsel and Agnew, both keenly aware of “Juneteenth” and its importance within the civil rights movement, were very particular about when they wanted to commemorate their accomplishments.

“We were super-intentional about selecting Juneteenth,” Kinsel told a crowd of supporters on Penn Ave. As the room buzzed with anticipation, Mayor Bill Peduto presented the gallery’s co-founders with an official document that declared Wednesday, Jun. 19, 2019 to be “BOOM Concepts Day” in the city of Pittsburgh.

While expressing his thanks for their support, Kinsel also reminded the audience that “it’s easy to come here during First Fridays, but it’s the everyday, in-house programming that keeps BOOM afloat.”

Mayor Peduto followed up on the City’s proclamation by pledging a personal donation, matching the $5,000 that BOOM already raised, to bring the gallery’s fundraising total above $10,000.

Referencing Alisha B. Wormsley’s installation in East Liberty, Kinsel concluded the celebration by complimenting BOOM’s loyal supporters. “This is proof that there are Black people in the future,” he said.

Check out the July 2019 Bulletin for more local stories.


The Bulletin: ECS hosts virtual tour of ‘recycled’ Garfield school building

Students ‘virtually’ tour ECS ahead of first school year in Garfield

Story by Andrew McKeon, The Bulletin

Jon McCann (left), CEO of the Environmental Charter School (ECS), guides students on a virtual tour of their school building ahead of its opening for the 2019-2020 school year. Photo courtesy of ECS.

Garfield – On Friday, May 3, the Environmental Charter School’s (ECS) annual “Earth Night” event gave students a high tech preview of their new middle school.

After gathering at the current ECS building in Regent Square, students donned virtual reality (VR) headsets and were instantly transported to Garfield, where the old Rogers School (5525 Columbo St.) is currently being transformed for their arrival in August.

Students got a chance to tour the classrooms and experience what their new learning environment will feel like – complete with finishes, lighting, furniture, and technology.

In turning the old Rogers school into a high-performance green building, Wildman Chalmers Design Architects & Interiors essentially “recycled” the existing structure to reflect the ECS mission of environmental stewardship.

According to Chad Chalmers, he and his fellow architects wanted to preserve most of the school’s existing features: a large central assembly room, wide circulation corridors, and big windows in the classroom bays.

“We kept all of that infrastructure in place and borrowed a small amount of space at the ceilings, which allowed us to distribute a state of the art HVAC [heating, ventilation, and air conditioning] system, cables & wireless routers for connectivity, and LED lighting,” Chalmers said. “Each new component of the renovation considers the comfort level of the students in the classroom, including indoor air quality, thermal comfort, adequate lighting and acoustics.”

The school’s soothing colors and wood tones were chosen to help create a comfortable learning environment. Outfitted with furniture pieces that afford flexible classroom configurations for group work or break-out instruction, the school is designed to be adaptable.

On May 3, the VR headsets were set up so students could experience two of ECS’s specialty curriculum classrooms: the Thinking Lab and the Media Lab.

“The software showed both rooms completely finished, with the furniture that’ll be provided in each space,” Chalmers explained.

“We often use computer-generated renderings to communicate design concepts to our clients, but this was the first time that we’d used the headsets to create a truly immersive experience,” he continued.

“I think the students were just as excited to see their new classrooms as they were to experience an alternate reality.”
By making energy-efficient improvements to the building, like adding thermal windows, Chalmers and his team created alternate realities within the ancient structure; they overhauled its coal-fired basement furnace in order to install a complex HVAC system.

“We had to come up with a creative solution to get fresh air intake into each individual space,” he said. “Since we were already planning to replace them, we borrowed some space at the top of each window opening for an air intake ‘louver’: the building breathes through each of these locations to bring fresh air into each room, on demand.”
While the virtual tour could not demonstrate just how these new classrooms “breathe,” the sensory experience was enough to make every student eager for the coming school year.

Having received over 1000 applications for the 2019-2020 school year, ECS currently serves 635 students. For more info, visit the ECS website.

Check out the June 2019 Bulletin for more local stories.


The Bulletin: Waldorf School designs ‘living building’ classroom

Breaking new ground: Waldorf classroom embraces ‘green’ design

Story by Ellen DiBiase, Bulletin contributor

ABOVE: Rendering of the Waldorf School’s new classroom building, looking west towards S. Winebiddle St. Read more in the September 2018 Bulletin. Graphic courtesy of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

Friendship – The master plan for the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh’s campus is driven by the maxim that “continued success requires expansion.” Comprised of four phases, the plan involves enhancing the main Victorian-era building at 201 S. Winebiddle St. to accommodate students in grades 1-8.
The plan also calls for improvements to the adjacent yellow building that houses the school’s childcare program, which serves children between the ages of 18 months and 4 years. Finally, the addition of a completely new structure at the rear of the school’s 2.4 acre property would be the final project under Phase 1 of the master plan.
Since 2012, Waldorf has completed six classroom renovations, as well as three grounds-related projects. The new single-classroom building, which is designed to house a class of 25 eighth graders, will help the school provide each grade with its own learning space (based on projected enrollments).
Founded in 1993, the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh began in a small rental property on the South Side – with an enrollment of approximately 90 students in pre-K through fifth grades – before moving to the Bloomfield/Friendship area later that year. Waldorf now supports just over 240 students each school year; its first eighth grade class graduated in 2014.
As the school expands, administrators are focused on aligning its physical growth with ideals of sustainability and place-based learning. Initially, their hope was to build a SEED (Sustainable Education Every Day) classroom for the eighth graders. Yet, after considerable deliberation, school officials decided that this type of modular classroom would not increase the value of the property and did not allow for enough aesthetic choices in the building’s design.
The architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson (BCJ) was hired to design a new 1,000 square-foot space that not only adhered to sustainable building practices, but also harmonized with the main building’s architectural character. In concert with the natural green spaces on campus, the materials’ palette of the new building is muted and natural; an arced wall embraces outdoor green space that doubles as an amphitheatre for large school events.
According to Kirsten Christopherson-Clark, the Head of School at Waldorf, the project will break ground next year – early enough to get the classroom ready for 2019-2020 school year.
City Council approved the school’s Conditional Use application at a July hearing. In anticipation of the hearing, school officials hosted a public community meeting in May. Christopherson-Clark said she that most of the issues raised by the neighbors in attendance were inquiries about the structural details, energy systems, and how the community would be invited to share in additional uses of the building.
BCJ is pursuing both a Living Building Challenge Petal certification and a WELL Building Standard with the new classroom’s construction. Living buildings give more than they take, creating a positive impact when interfacing with the human and natural systems around them. Waldorf would be the first school in Pittsburgh to achieve this recognition.

The Bulletin: “Taquitos” truck returns to Garfield

“Taquitos”: same truck, new flavors for Penn Ave.

Story by Andrew McKeon, The Bulletin

ABOVE: Ray Quintanar (left) serves lunchtime customers from the “Taquitos” food truck at N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave. After waiting all year for good weather, Quintanar and his son, Fernando, brought the truck back to Garfield in March to unveil their new look and vegetarian-friendly menu. Read “Neighborhood Focus” on page 8 of the May Bulletin to learn more. Photo by John Colombo.

Garfield – The “Taquitos” food truck and its new paint job – which catches one’s gaze at the corner of N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave. – is not just a run-of-the-mill food truck, and its origin story is anything but ordinary.
When Ray Quintanar, his wife Elizabeth, and their son Fernando emigrated from Mexico in 2000, it was because Ray needed to undergo eye surgery that could not be performed in his native country.
The Quintanars ended up in New Jersey, where Ray’s grandmother lived, for the duration of his medical procedure. As Fernando recalled, “By the time my father was done with the surgery and recovery, we had already been in America for two full years. So it was kind of like, ‘we’re already here, so what do we do now?’”
Nearly two decades later, the Quintanar family is running its own mobile eatery in Pittsburgh. Ray opened up the taco truck last year with his uncle, Edgar Alvarez of “Taco Loco” and “Edgar’s Best Tacos” fame. While operating the truck under his uncle’s well-recognized brand for one season, Ray was able to get to know the local foot traffic and gather feedback on menu items before he re-branded the truck, complete with a whole new menu and paint job, for 2018.
When not stationed at its regular post in Garfield, the truck is set up for shop at various events and festivals throughout the city. Over the last year, while they have been learning how to drive the kitchen rig around town, Ray and Fernando have also been learning how drive more sales in a saturated market. “There are so many food trucks in the city and a lot of the trucks are almost the same thing,” Fernando said. “There’s a lot of taco trucks, so we try to be different.”
The driving force behind their new menu, which features more variety and lower prices, is a shift from six-inch to four-inch tortillas. Hence, the new name, “Taquitos”; the term refers to both a rolled, fried tortilla and also a mere “small taco” – both of which are available at the truck.
“A $3 taco is reasonable for some people, but not for me. I can usually eat six tacos at a time, so that price is too high for us,” Fernando explained. “When we went with a different tortilla size, it changed up the whole concept to help us offer lower prices.”
During an Apr. 21 food truck round-up in Millvale, Fernando and his father served over 500 hungry customers. Although the everyday numbers at their normal spot on Penn Ave. are not usually as robust, the Quintanars credit Garfield and its lunchtime palette for enhancing their business strategies.
“We first started going up to Penn Ave. with the truck on First Fridays. Then, as we became more popular and customers began asking for more, we decided to rent the lot [at N. Winebiddle St. and Penn Ave.] and it just picked from there,” Fernando explained. “Since then, our menu has changed dramatically because, in the Garfield neighborhood, we serve a lot of vegetarians and people who want to try new things.”
Last year’s menu featured primarily meat options but, after a winter sojourn to Elizabeth’s hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico, Ray and his son set out to bring the region’s rustic flavors and classic, meatless dishes to Garfield.
“One of the biggest surprises this year is how much people love the nopales, a cactus salad,” Fernando said. “A lot of people are now tasting it for the first time and loving it.”
As he opens up the taco truck window every morning, Fernando understands the greater importance of his family’s work. “We’re opening a window for people to try what’s outside of their comfort zones,” he noted.
Eventually, the Quintanars will open up their full concept of “Rincon Mexicano,” a little Mexican corner market featuring a dessert truck (think: “churros” and “tres leches”) and a stage for musical performers. “We want to provide an area where people can just come relax outside while they learn about Mexican culture,” Fernando said. “The best way to do that is through food.”
Most customers were not comfortable with the truck’s new look when they saw it for the first time this year. “At first, people thought we were a different truck and they got a little angry. So, we explained, ‘It’s the same truck. It just keeps getting better,’ Fernando said. “Our truck is just like the community here in Garfield. The past was rough, but everybody’s adjusting very well to the changes. We are, too, as we try to give back to our new community.”

The Bulletin: “Vacants” in Garfield

Vacant, abandoned houses continue to dog Garfield neighborhood

Story by Joe Reuben, Bulletin contributor

Garfield – While many would say that conditions in the neighborhood have improved dramatically in recent years, Garfield remains saddled with a large inventory of vacant, seemingly abandoned houses. According to Rick Swartz, the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation’s (BGC) executive director, his organization’s staff recently conducted a survey of most of the neighborhood’s streets, and it revealed at least 131 empty houses, many of them in deplorable condition.
“There were more ‘vacants’ than what we were expecting to find,” Swartz told The Bulletin. “While a number of them have been in that condition for a decade or longer, it’s alarming to find others that may have joined the list only within the past five years.”
Swartz pointed to four houses, all within two blocks of Penn Ave., that illustrate the plight the neighborhood faces when trying to eliminate the blight and potential danger such properties pose to neighbors. A single-family home at 5010 Dearborn St., owned by David and Marcia Grenick, is on the BGC’s list. Public records show reveal that the Grenicks use an address in McKees Rocks for receipt of their county tax bills, but evidently stopped paying years ago.
“The county has scheduled the property for Sheriff’s Sale on March 5th to try to recover over $18,000 in delinquent real estate taxes owed to the county, city, and school district,” Swartz noted. “Even if someone were to bid to buy the property, the deed they’d receive from the Sheriff’s office may not give them a clear title. There could well be thousands of dollars in liens owed to other parties who may still expect payment.”
He went on to say that, even if a private party were to pay $30,000 or $40,000 in the end to secure clear title, the house at 5010 Dearborn may need anywhere from $75,000 to $150,000 to make it a desirable place to live once again.
“That’s where the risk of gentrification comes into play, because a private investor will want to push the future re-sale price for the property as high as he or she can, in the expectation of making a profit of 10 to 20%, or more, after the renovations have been done,” Swartz contended. “That price could be double the price of what any other property in the block has sold for previously.”
The city has tried to contain the spread of blight in neighborhoods like Garfield by coming after tax-delinquent owners of vacant properties, he explained. The Urban Redevelopment Authority offers to “tag” such properties, if the community group so desires.
When they are tagged by the URA, the city must then decide if a public sale is warranted. If it agrees, then the property goes to what is known as “Treasurer’s Sale,” an auction held in City Council chambers once or twice per year; the next one is set for August. However, as Swartz cautioned, this may not be the solution to eliminating blight.
“On our list of vacant houses, there are eleven that the city took either at our request or the URA’s”, he disclosed. “But, it takes the better part of two years before the process of public taking has run its course. In the meantime, the property could fall victim to the elements and become so dilapidated that the chances of renovation become practically nil.”
Swartz pointed to three vacant houses situated at 4911, 5137, and 5349 Broad St. “We’ve seen the interiors of 5137 and 5349 Broad. To restore either of these homes could well cost $200,000 or more. If we were to take on either project, the subsidy we would need to make them affordable – for purchase by someone earning under, say, $50,000 a year – would be in the vicinity of $100,000. The U.R.A. does not have that subsidy to give to us or anyone else at this point in time.”
Ultimately, unless there are private investors who are willing to spend the necessary money on renovations, and then attempt to sell them for $250,000 or more, he said, what may happen is that all three homes will have to face the wrecking ball. Demolishing the structures would result in vacant lots. Even if a neighboring owner wanted to buy the property from the city, they might have to wait a year or longer to finalize the sale; “not exactly an encouraging prospect,” he added.
Although Mayor Bill Peduto promised late last year that a “land bank” would be operational by early spring of 2018, the city’s efforts to start the land bank have been stalled for almost four years. Proponents see the land bank as a mechanism to move vacant, abandoned properties that the city has already acquired in a much more expeditious fashion than the otherwise lengthy disposition process.
Swartz said the “jury is still out” on whether the land bank will fulfill those hopes, but acknowledged that a more effective land banking process could spell the difference between salvaging abandoned & foreclosed properties, and losing them forever.
He relayed that it is up to the BGC’s housing and land use committee, which is open to anyone who wants to help attack problems like these, to determine whether or not to try and acquire eight to ten of the most salvageable houses.
To obtain a copy of the BGC’s list of vacant houses, contact Tyler Wheeler at To join the housing and land use committee, contact Nina Gibbs at

The Bulletin: Remembering Carol Peterson

Remembering Carol Peterson: friends celebrate life of local historian, rabble-rouser, underdog champion

Story by Kitty Julian, Bulletin contributor

Lawrenceville – On Dec. 17, Carol Peterson, a Pittsburgh icon who dedicated her life to preserving the city’s architectural history, died at age 58 after a seven-year struggle with cancer.

A fierce advocate for social justice and animal rights, Peterson is remembered for her lasting contributions to local understandings of “place” and history. Some readers may also recognize her as the co-author of “Allegheny City,” the book she wrote with Dan Rooney about his old stomping grounds.

An active member of the City’s Historic Review Commission, Peterson deployed her encyclopedic knowledge of zoning law to argue against the potential demolition of, or any character-changing renovations to, historic properties all across the city. Some folks know her as an audience member at local shows; right where illness would have knocked down a less stubborn individual, she stood in the mosh pit.

As the Internet came into being, Peterson adapted to the changing communicative environment with aplomb. She navigated the message board – a local, punk-rock hub for wisecracks and “constructive dissent” – to connect new residents with hidden histories.

No matter how one might have known the local historian, they would always recognize her as a champion of the underdog. Peterson organized protests to halt the demolition of historic smokestacks at the Iron City Brew Works on Liberty Ave. Writing for the  Pittsburgh City Paper, she rallied awareness about the unhelpful practices of the Susan B. Komen Foundation.

The woman had real vision; she thought the homes of ordinary working people were worth saving, too, and that local preservation acts could be applied beyond the borders of the city’s “mansion-scapes.” Appreciation of the city’s rich architectural history was not, she believed, a practice reserved for the Mellons and the Fricks of the world.

Peterson purchased, rehabilitated, and sold at least twelve houses that others might have demolished. She turned each into cozy, welcoming homes – with their historic character intact [see image above].

Many others know her as the person who wrote a “Pittsburgh House History” for their properties. Peterson wrote an incredible 1,940 property histories during her lifetime; each document’s origins involved painstaking research to track down the properties’ purchase history through the County Recorder of Deeds office.

The historian added color and life to each home’s biography with maps, newspaper articles about the original owners, and historic photos she discovered on microfilm at various Carnegie Library branches.

Fueled by her incredible devotion to preservation and grassroots activism, Peterson helped found Lawrenceville Stakeholders in the early 2000s. The organization continues to advocate for reasonable development while working to stem the tide of “house flipping,” a familiar scourge that destroys neighborhood character by exploiting low-income and older residents.

Despite her wide-ranging interests, Peterson always saved her deepest care and concern for the friends she loved. This wide-ranging, colorful circle of people loved her back and rallied around her, taking care of her with increasing urgency and devotion over the final few years of her life.

When she died at home on Dec. 17, Peterson was surrounded by friends who had prepared her meals; brought her the IPA beers she loved; helped her complete house history research; cared for her beloved orange tabby cat, Wee-Bey; and took her on “bucket list” trips.

On Jan. 26, that circle and dozens more gathered in Lawrenceville to celebrate her life at Spirit (242 51st St.) – a venue where Peterson had enjoyed performances by musicians like queer icon Big Freedia, the veritable “queen of bounce.” Many toasts were raised to the local rabble-rouser who defied the odds, and outlasted her cancer years longer than expected, to leave an indelible mark on the city she loved.

Donations are being directed to two organizations that Peterson loved: “Lawrenceville Stakeholders, c/o 187 43rd St., PGH, PA 15201” and “Preservation Pittsburgh, 1501 Reedsdale St., Suite 5003, PGH, PA 15233.”

Read more stories from the February 2018 Bulletin (Vol. 43, No. 2) here!


The Bulletin – Neighborhood Focus – January 2018

Friendship Perk & Brew unlocks new potential

Story by Andrew McKeon, the Bulletin
ABOVE: Nick Redondo (right) enjoys a “Kodak moment” with friends and family at his new eatery, Friendship Perk & Brew (300 S. Pacific Ave.). Photo by Andrew McKeon.

Friendship – A few decades ago, when Nick Redondo worked for US Air, Pittsburgh’s one-way departures far outnumbered its new arrivals.

And now that his hometown has become a destination city, Redondo thinks residents old and new are thirsty for change – and for coffee and beer. His approach to quenching this new thirst: “Friendship Perk & Brew.”

Punctuated by old, black & white photographs, with a fireplace to take the chill out of a cold winter morning, the neighborhood eatery captures the high-contrast history of its namesake while also accommodating new palettes and tastes. Patrons can order a craft beer just as easily as they would a cup of coffee – or enjoy a variety of hot sandwiches, appetizers, and gelato.

Redondo and his sister/co-founder, Joanne, curated the store’s atmosphere and menu by simply polling their neighbors.

“I’ve been soliciting my neighbors, asking them what they’d like to see or eat here. They’ve had a lot of input,” he said. “Even the folks who were opposed to it…once they finally come in and see what we’ve done with the place, they’re impressed and they keep coming back.”

Friendship Perk & Brew feels like a hub of old and new energies situated at 300 S. Pacific Ave. In the months since he opened up shop in September, Redondo has reconnected with a number of old friends and made many new acquaintances.

“When you go into a Starbuck’s, it’s all about Starbucks. Here, it’s about the neighbors,” he explained. “Nothing against Starbucks. I mean, they’ve been much more successful than I have, so I’ve got to give them credit.”

Redondo is fond of relaying local histories, telling the stories behind the street signs; mere minutes into a conversation with the Bulletin, he went “full oracle” and detailed a list of famous Friendship residents and local landmarks.

Zoned for commerce ever since it was constructed in the 1920s, the Perk & Brew building remains an outlier in the residential neighborhood of Friendship. Growing up across the street, Redondo spent his days hunting for pop bottles in the alley; returning enough bottles earned him candy or toys from the neighborhood store.

He even got his first job there, sweeping floors as a kid. So, it comes as no surprise that he chose to staff his eatery with area residents.

The building, which has been in Redondo’s family for decades, once housed a 7-11, and was most recently operated as a convenience store that sold six packs of beer. Upon meeting with angry neighbors and representatives from local community groups, who viewed the store as a “nuisance bar,” Redondo decided not to renew the previous tenant’s lease. “I wasn’t happy with the way it was being run,” he said. “A convenience store just didn’t suit the needs of our neighbors.”

While the first-time entrepreneur endeavored to cut through all the red tape involved in rehabilitating an old structure for modern commercial use, the property laid fallow for years. Now that Redondo has unlocked its potential, he is figuring out how to turn the eatery into a valuable community asset.

The ideas often come to him in serendipitous ways – like when a West Penn Hospital employee stops by for a chat and, as a result, Redondo has begun looking at hosting an indoor Bocce tournament at his establishment.

Mike Pochan, who met Redondo in 1977 (when they were freshman at Carnegie Mellon University), did not reconnect with his college chum until recently, when they bumped into each other at Friendship Perk & Brew.

Now, Pochan regularly drives in from the suburbs to loaf on S. Pacific Ave. He feels very comfortable there: “If it’s too snowy outside to drive home, or if it’s too late and I’m tired, I could always just sleep on that couch over there. Right, Nick?”

Redondo said he does not worry when Pittsburghers move away to other neighborhoods and cities because he knows that they will be back. And, when they return, new places like the Perk & Brew will remind them of home.

“What it’s about is community,” Redondo said. “It’s about Friendship.” The Friendship Perk & Brew is open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Thursday; and 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

The Bulletin – Neighborhood Focus – August 2017

East End Fruit Cart brings fresh food to underserved neighbors

Story by Andrew McKeon, the Bulletin

ABOVE: At the East End Fruit Cart in Mellon Park, Jamel Haden (left) helps customers like Lando DePaulo – and his dog Lemmy – find the right fruit on a breezy July day. Haden and his two teenage co-workers use the mobile cart to bring fresh fruit to underserved neighborhoods throughout the city’s East End. Follow the East End Fruit Cart story below. Photo by John Colombo.

East End – Last year, when Tim Lydon returned to his hometown of Pittsburgh after spending many moons living and working on farms out West, he could tell the city had serious issues with food. Not the kind of food issues we often hear about (i.e. “Breaking News: Pittsburgh loves pierogies”), but the kind that many local residents seldom even notice (i.e. food scarcity in underserved neighborhoods).

“I’m really interested in issues of food scarcity and availability here in Pittsburgh. In the East End, there are plenty of places where people have no access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Drawing on his understanding of the politics of food, Lydon decided that he could really make an impact by simply bringing fresh food to the people, in their neighborhoods.

So, he created the East End Fruit Cart, a mobile fruit stand that he tows all over the city’s East End. Alongside three teenagers who run the fruit sales, Lydon posts up at a different public venue every day – from Monday through Saturday – to engage in a new kind of community outreach.

Created by a local artist, the cart and its cantilevered drapes are fairly impressive. But, the cart itself – and even the fruit – is only part of the story. What is most impressive is the intentional commerce that is at the heart of the project. On July 24,  the Bulletin visited the fruit cart under Mellon Park’s canopy shade, near the intersection of Fifth and Penn Aves.

“We’re in Homewood and we’re in Larimer, both places that have traditionally been considered ‘food deserts,’” Lydon explained. “We’re also in Oakland, which people might not think of as a food desert. Outside of the farmers markets, there’s nowhere to buy produce in Oakland.”

In response to a question from intrepid Bulletin photographer John Colombo (“Why don’t you take the cart to local farmers markets?”), Lydon replied that he did not want to cut into any other vendor’s profits. Since the fruit cart sources its goods from local grocery stores, he said, it would be unfair to vend at farmers markets, where most vendors sell their own farm-sourced products to make a living.

When looking for funding, he sought counsel from the BGC’s Rick Flanagan, Youth Development Director, and Rick Swartz, Executive Director. Lydon was eventually able to secure “Community Development Block Grant” monies, along with some fruit donations from Trader Joe’s and a cooler from the East End Food Co-Op.

“We just got $1,000 from Eat n’ Park yesterday,” he said. “Then, there is Bridgeway Capital, which is a nonprofit lending institution that has a department devoted to issues of food scarcity. We’re meeting with them next week.”

ABOVE: Tim Lydon (left) and Jamel Haden juggle fruit and responsibilities at the East End Fruit Cart in Mellon Park. Bringing fresh fruit to underserved neighborhoods, the fruit cart project seeks to address local issues of food scarcity. Photo by John Colombo.

With the grant money on its way, the project vision called for a six-week timeline. Since Lydon could not wait any longer, he took it upon himself to kick-start the fruit cart funding.

“Most of the money still hasn’t come through yet, but I knew this project had to start on June 26. So, I just bought everything on my own credit cards,” he said with a pause. “You could say I’m pretty committed to it.”

Local teenager Jamel Haden, a former Learn & Earn program participant and current BGC employee, works with Lydon to gather data on all the fruit sales. He even learned something about his own palette. “I’d never eaten Kiwi before, but I like it now,” Haden revealed. “I thought it was bitter until I first tried it.”

He asks customers what they think about things like a “fair price” for plums (the cart’s best-seller), then enters that information into a tablet, using Square technology to track spending patterns and what fruit sells best at each location.

“One thing we’ve found is that there has to be an educational component, because people need to know how to prepare fruits and vegetables,” Lydon said. “We need to team up with someone who can teach others how to make healthier choices.”

As part of the project’s social element, Haden and his teenage coworkers at the East End Fruit Cart sat down with representatives from 1Hood, a social justice organization that uses art to raise awareness and mentor young Pittsburghers.

“[1Hood founder] Jasiri X made a real impression on the kids,” Lydon said. “One of them has already applied for an internship [at 1Hood]. You know, it’s important for the kids to meet community leaders who look like them.”

The project’s ultimate goal is to form inroads with local residents and build a network of community supported agriculture (CSA). Lydon believes this idea could create more of a laser-sharp focus on bringing food to neighborhoods that do not have access to fresh foods

“We could identify a neighborhood – for example, Homewood or Lincoln-Lemington or Larimer – and then find kids from that neighborhood to be neighborhood ambassadors,” he explained. “They’d literally be going door-to-door to ask their neighbors if they want to order fresh fruits and vegetables. So, it would be like a CSA program run by kids in each neighborhood.”

Learn more about the cart and its mobile mission to bring fresh food to East Enders at

Click here for more stories from the August issue of the Bulletin (Vol. 42, No. 8)