Our First Pittsburgh Sustainability Salon

Two weekends ago, we attended a “sustainability salon” hosted by local green advocate/gardener extraordinare Dr. Maren Cooke.  On her blog, Maren describes sustainability salons as “basically a house party with an environmental theme,” including guest speakers, a potluck meal, interesting conversation, and a little music making.  The theme for this one, the fourteenth, was food: growing, sourcing, local, organic, etc.

I first heard about the sustainability salons through a lab-mate of mine.  I asked for information from Maren’s husband, a professor in the chemistry department here, and he put me in touch.

The salons are held in their house, an interesting and very green building.  Although the front looks like a normal house with an overgrown winterized garden, the main living area is a wide open space constructed from local wood.  The roof of the house is covered in both solar panels and raised-bed vegetable gardens.  We didn’t get to tour the roof because it was snowy, but I hope to see it soon.

Maren’s rooftop garden! Image from marenslist.blogspot.com

We probably learned the most at the whole event just by checking out the house, both inside and out.  We were particularly impressed by the wooden rack for drying reused plastic bags, a work in progress, and the sheer number of glass jars in the kitchen and pantry.  Not much plastic there.

After enjoying a glass of locally brewed beer, we sat down (with about fifty other people!) to hear talks from community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers, a representative from the local co-op, organic gardeners, and others to learn about topics anywhere from how to get involved with the CSAs and co-op to what permaculture is.  Most of the speakers had a particular message to convey, but I was particularly struck by a local organic garlic farmer who stood up to just say a few words about his business, modeled on the “small family farm.” It is truly sustainable operation, complete with large scale composting and many genetically distinct varieties of garlic. He even encourages growing your own garlic at home from his product! (Hey Monsanto, hear that?)

We didn’t stay for the whole night, but the event sure got us thinking about our own food choices and plans for gardening this spring.

To read more about Maren’s house and sustainability salons, you can check out her blog here!


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