Award #29: Farm Truck Foods

22 Apr

FarmTruckFoodsGroupAwesome Pittsburgh recently awarded $1,000 to Farm Truck Foods for its team’s solution to Pittsburgh’s food desert dilemma.

As defined by the USDA, a food desert is any “urban-neighborhood and/or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” Seven food deserts are attributed to Pittsburgh, and the three co-founders of Farm Truck Foods want to see that number reach zero. Each of the co-founders possess health and food-related backgrounds: Michelle Lagree is a registered dietitian, Meredith Neel earned her Public Health degree, and Landon DePaulo earned a Food Studies degree and has experience with food trucks and local farming. The trio aims to offer a mobile food market targeting low-income communities via the buying and selling of local, nutritionally dense, farm fresh foods.

Farm Truck Foods’ overarching goal is to help bridge the gap between farmers and community members throughout Greater Pittsburgh, with the hope of empowering people to live happy, healthy lives. Its trucks will deliver fruits, vegetables, protein, dairy, eggs, and canned goods to low-income community members at affordable prices. Farm Truck Foods is also committed to forming relationships with communities in order to meet the needs of their residents and will accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps).

Says Ms. Lagree, “Our educational approach will be varied. We will provide nutritional information, teach activities to children, distribute healthy recipes, and demonstrate how the truck operates, covering topics such as preparation, clean-up, and exactly how our products are sold. Farm Truck Foods will make planned stops at places like community centers, YMCAs, and residential complexes.”

The $1,000 grant will help retrofit the team’s food truck to make it capable of storing and transporting necessary food stuffs. Additionally, the co-founders want to make the truck wheelchair accessible and install an awning for customers’ comfort when it rains.

Food Truck Farms’ supply chain and community stop sites have already been chosen, and Michelle, Meredith, and Landon are currently attending town meetings so that community members have the opportunity to meet them and to hear their commitment before bringing business to the streets. The team plans on having the truck fully operational by June 2014.

You can follow the new program at its Facebook page and web site. (Thanks also to WESA for covering the story!)

You can meet some of our recent winners, the Awesome Pittsburgh trustees, and other awesome people at our spring awards party on April 28, 6:30-8:30pm at Benjamin’s on the North Side. Check out the event’s Facebook page for more info.

Update 4-30-14: Check out Farm Truck Foods’ new Kickstarter campaign to raise $40,000 by June 4: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2136487442/farm-truck-foods-pittsburghs-mobile-grocer

Award #28: Urban RC in Homewood

12 Apr

UrbanRC-Marty1

Keith Reimink owns and operates DALIBORKAfilms, a small Pittsburgh-based film production company. His most recent documentary idea is the story of Homewood resident Marty McDaniels whose hobby is building and racing remote control cars (RC racing),. Marty’s project earned a recent Awesome Pittsburgh $1,000 grant.

For the past several summers, Marty has been creating a “bashing” track -a backyard, homemade racing track built from found materials – on an abandoned lot near his home. Marty hopes to repudiate Homewood’s reputation for violence by turning his hobby into a racetrack where kids and adults can race in a place free from fear and intolerance.

Mr. McDaniels spends every spare dollar he earns on car parts, limestone dirt for the track, and tools to make repairs on his growing collection of cars. Marty will collaborate with DALIBORKAfilms to showcase his unique hobby. Together, Keith and Marty will visit existing RC tracks in the greater Western PA area, talk to promoting organizations, and research various RC cars, all while building  their own track in Homewood. The film will be shot and produced entirely in Pittsburgh, utilizing post production facilities in the city as well.

Marty believes that:

“The vision is big, but we have to start small. By creating a fun, positive, racing environment that is accessible to everyone, we can raise awareness for the sport of RC racing and the positive effects it can have on urban youth and adults. Many people want to race but there simply isn’t a place within the city limits.  My goal is community awareness and involvement by creating a Pittsburgh RC track that everyone can be proud of.”

The grant money will be used to clean up the lot, add some professional touches–such as installing professional track tubing and buying professional grade dirt to give the track a smooth surface–and investing in landscaping tools. Mr. Remink’s additional plans include collaboration with like-minded Pittsburgh organizations in an attempt to draw awareness to as many positive aspects of Pittsburgh as possible.

You can follow the progress of the film and/or find out how you can help with Marty’s project by contacting Keith through his website or Facebook page.

 

Award #27: An Orchard for Isaac

31 Jan

hopehavenpig

Behind every awesome idea stands an awesome pig.  Or so veterinary surgeon Karen Phillips would argue.

Her work at both the Western PA Humane Society and the Animal Rescue League opened her eyes to the growing number of unwanted farm animals. Inspired by Isaac, a stray pig found on the Pittsburgh city streets in mid-winter, Dr. Phillips founded the Hope Haven Farm Sanctuary in 2013. Hope Haven’s mission is to rescue neglected pigs, goats, sheep, and poultry who have been surrendered at animal shelters, confiscated by local humane agents, or saved from factory farms. It took Karen over three years to find a property in Franklin Park with enough pasture land for a farm whose proximity was close enough to the city to entice visitors.  She spent an additional year clearing the property (an old junkyard), acquiring proper zoning, installing the barn and fencing, and filling out the paperwork to become an official non-profit organization.

Karen applied for an Awesome Pittsburgh grant, requesting funds specifically for an orchard in Isaac’s memory. Unfortunately, Isaac only lived on the sanctuary for two months before he died from a neurological disorder. He was a wonderful ambassador for the farm, and a new fruit orchard will honor him and ensure that he continues to inspire and educate all who visit.

The plan is to situate the orchard next to a pond.  A variety of fruit bearing trees will be planted, i.e. apple (a pig favorite), pear, and peach.  The orchard will provide nutritious fruit for all the sanctuary’s deserving animals and will help control feed costs.  In addition, the trees will act as protective cover to over 30 ducks and geese who frequent the pond.  The fruit trees’ substantial branches will shield them from predators such as hawks and owls. A natural walking path through the trees will be part of the visitor experience, expanding the sanctuary’s tours out of the barn and onto the land.

Says Awesome Trustee Leah Helou,

“This project really spoke to me because there is such a strong need for places offering sanctuary to farm animals who are turned over to shelters.  Karen’s idea to plant an orchard that will help feed more than 80 animals, give them shelter from predators, and beautify their haven is fantastic.  This is such simple and pure project, and yet it meets several needs and provides critical sustainability to Hope Haven Farm.”

The grant will enable the purchase of large, mature fruit trees from a reputable local nursery, and will pay for planting and maintenance equipment and organic insect sprays and fertilizers.  In order to ensure a proper installation of the orchard, Karen plans to collaborate with the knowledgeable staffs at both Grow Pittsburgh and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation.

Karen shared her unbridled enthusiasm with all the trustees after she found out she had received the grant:

“We are extremely excited about this opportunity to strengthen our non-profit sanctuary, nourish our deserving animals, and educate and enlighten a Pittsburgh audience. We are very appreciative for the opportunity to bring this project to fruition, and we are honored to be the first animal-oriented project funded by Awesome Pittsburgh.”

Hope Haven Farm invites you to track its progress, volunteer, and even donate through its website and Facebook page

Award #26: Kiss for Peace!

14 Jan

Kiss for PeaceLast month’s Awesome Pittsburgh grant was awarded to Nima Dehghani and Behzad Tabibian, for their winsome Kiss for Peace! Project. It seemed particularly well-timed for the holidays; the project promotes peace, love and hope—ideas which are especially inspirational between the end of an old year and the start of a new one.

Nima is an artist, director and playwright who is currently enrolled in the MFA program at CMU. Behzad Tabibian is a Master of Information Science student at the University of Pittsburgh. Their goal? To reduce misunderstanding and bring people in Iran and the United States closer together.

The project asks both Iranian and American citizens to post photos of themselves blowing kisses. On November 4, the anniversary of the 1979 embassy takeover in Tehran, Nima and Behzad used their web site and Facebook page to motivate readers to blow a kiss and post the photo. “Come on – 34 years of hostility is enough. Let’s move on,” the site declares. To show their willingness to overcome a history of hostile relations, participants added personal messages of friendship. The site enthusiastically received more than 300 pictures in two days from Iranians and Americans, including sentiments such as:

  • “Let’s start a new era with a kiss”
  • “Iranian people love American people”
  • “After 30 years of distrust now it’s time to shake hands”

The mutual affection which was visually revealed made a huge impact; the story was picked up by several international news agencies including the BBC. In fact, more than 168,000 people have visited its site since the launch.

 “Promoting peace and mutual understanding between the people of Iran and the U.S. is both smart and downright awesome. Kiss for Peace! is a successful online project and this public performance invites Pittsburghers to participate in a timely political dialogue,” says former Awesome Pittsburgh Trustee Ayanah Moor.

This public performance component is part of a broader project called Netformance, in which political issues are taken out of their conventional context and infused with a fresh perspective dependent entirely on user participation.

Explains Dehghani, “In light of Pittsburgh’s long history in embracing creative art works, we would like to project images on a city building, to invite observers and pedestrians of Pittsburgh to participate in real time and post their photos (their kisses!) on the website which then will be projected back on the building. With enough public participation, the campaign could receive wide media coverage and to help create a more positive political atmosphere for the two countries to resolve their differences and move towards a warming of relations.”

Netformance places audience at the heart of an art work and looks to use innovative technology in an effort to have people’s opinions heard. The founders are looking for an appropriate building location for the project; they are currently considering Bakery Square, Market Square, Station Square, the cultural district or downtown as potential spaces. You can follow their current project, “Letters from Iran,” at http://letters.netformance.org/janejohn?lan=en

Award #25: The Drop Project

14 Dec

Image

 

Our 25th award goes to Ann Payne and Kristen Reynolds, two graduate students of Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability. Their vision is to grow and diversify watershed stewardship by increasing awareness of the human-water relationship as well as promoting lifestyle choices that support a healthier watershed.

Their vision will come to life through The Drop Project, an interactive exhibit designed by Payne, Reynolds, and their faculty mentor, Dr. Molly Mehling, Assistant Professor of Ecology and Sustainability at the Falk School. The award-winning project idea will include a month-long series of exhibits and activities held at Assemble, a community space for arts and technology, in Garfield’s Penn Avenue arts district. This project serves as their master’s thesis and it is the first exhibit of Water Connects, Mehling’s long-term, art-science project to improve water quality in the region.

Ann is a visual storyteller, marketer, and wordsmith. Kristen is a geoscientist, avid kayaker, and water nerd. Dr. Mehling is an aquatic-landscape ecotoxicologist, photographer, and sustainability professor. Together, their goal is to demonstrate the plausibility of a collective sustainable future for all. The Drop Project will allow the participants to have a sensory experience that draws them into a stream ecosystem. Visitors will bump their way through stream rocks made from used fabrics and will learn about the visible and invisible pollution that stress our waterways, which includes everything from plastic to pharmaceuticals. They will engage in creative, unconventional approaches to allow visitors to understand the problems, but also the personal practices, or “little drops” that can truly make a difference.

A major objective for The Drop Project is to connect stakeholders and provide a playful experience to learn about water. Water is a valuable and contentious resource in the Pittsburgh region and around the world. The Drop Project seeks to connect communities to action organizations, government agencies to non-profits, artists to scientists, and recreationalists to resource managers. Ann and Kristen plan to use goods from Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse and make as much by hand as possible, thereby using the grant money to go towards the purchase of additional materials for the April exhibit at Assemble, as well as toward web site and basic project promotion. The Drop Project is to be completed by mid-summer of 2014, with the exhibit in April.

You can join Awesome Pittsburgh in donating to the project by visiting its website and you can follow its project on Facebook and Twitter.

Award #24: PittMesh

8 Nov

PittMeshTwo years ago, Meta Mesh founder Adam Longwill wanted to make a private Wi-Fi connection to his friends’ houses. After testing various antenna designs and routing technologies for a year, he decided not to limit his network to just his friends. He recruited a team on-line, and one year ago, founded his company, Meta Mesh, LLC, to build a free, public wireless network. One month ago, he became a Certified Wireless Network Administrator. Today, Awesome Pittsburgh is backing this awesome idea.

Adam’s idea has grown into a project to build a city-wide wireless mesh network, called PittMesh, wherein each access point is independently owned so that there is no single point of failure or control.  Anyone with a wireless-enabled device can connect to the network and anyone with a compatible wireless router will be able to expand the network. His team designed the PittMesh so that anyone can join by buying and configuring inexpensive, commercially available Wi-Fi hardware.

A mesh network eliminates the centralized middleman of a traditional Internet Service Provider (ISP). Instead of traffic going through a series of Internet routers potentially hundreds of miles away, a mesh network’s traffic is routed by the shortest and fastest possible path locally.  By eschewing a traditional ISP, users can enjoy the benefits of more secure privacy and of low-cost connectivity within a geographic area. Members of the PittMesh Network will gain access to all the local resources and anonymity that an “off-the-grid” network affords, while simultaneously expanding the network even further.

Adam provides background:

“This is a novel but not new method of networking. Mesh networking has the potential to change the way we communicate within a geographic area, to disrupt ISP monopolies, and to solve the networking privacy issues that have recently come to light. The solution is low-cost, low-maintenance, community-owned wireless routers placed throughout neighborhoods.”

Says Awesome Trustee Mike Capsambelis,

“We are excited to help Meta Mesh pilot a wireless mesh network in Pittsburgh. We were impressed by the technical elegance of their approach — a distributed, intelligent wireless network with no single point of failure — and by the fact that it shifts the power of connectivity from corporations to the community. We’d love to see this spread through neighborhoods throughout the city and offer people a true alternative to traditional Internet providers.”

Awesome Pittsburgh’s $1,000 grant will enable the purchase of necessary routers and antennas.  While the project is in early stages, there are ways to become involved now. Meta Mesh has produced a short video about PittMesh which concisely explains the basic principles behind the project.  Currently, interested parties can contact Adam directly to donate or volunteer to be a wireless node host in the South Side. Meta Mesh will provide and install a free wireless router.

Join Us at the Awesome Pgh Party Nov. 7

2 Nov

Our next Awesome Pittsburgh party is:

Win Prizes!  Match your wits and trivia skills with other Awesome Pittsburghers as we all play along with Buzz Worthy Pub Trivia.

Meet Our Recent Award Winners!  Jasmine Cho of Cupcakes and Culture / Yummyholic, will be there to talk about her series of Asian culture inspired events for young professionals. Brandon Boan will tell us about Tip Type – the Linotype and photo lithography studio he is re-creating out of the former business of his mentor, Rudy Lehman, with help from an Awesome Pgh grant. And, we will announce our yet-to-be-revealed October award winner – our 24th award!

Meet the Awesome Pgh Trustees! Do you have an awesome idea and are wondering if it would be a good candidate for an Awesome award? Is your project all planned out but you aren’t sure what information to include in your application? Come to the party to catch one of our Trustees and get his/her feedback so you can optimize your application.

Meet Other Awesome People!  Just come to the party to meet others excited by innovative ideas and have an awesome time!

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