This is the first installment of our four-part series, “Sowing Soil with Soul,” featuring Black urban farmers who grow food to sustain their communities.
Peace, love, friendship and food have come together in an urban farm in Pittsburgh that began in 2018 with a plan of 10 raised beds and has now grown to more than 85.
The Peace and Friendship Farm, a volunteer veteran-led urban farm, sits on a busy street corner in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Kent Bey, the president and CEO of Project Love Coalition, which owns and operates the farm, is a military veteran himself. His passion for helping veterans led him to start the farm.
To learn more, Terina J. Hicks of Soul Pitt Media met with Bey one afternoon in August for our four-part series, “Sowing Soil with Soul” in partnership with Soul Pitt Media. The series highlights Black urban farmers who grow food to sustain their communities.
LISTEN to the interview
Terina J.Hicks: The Peace and Friendship Farm sits on a busy street corner in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh. On this August day, the fence is broken down.
Kent Bey: Just in the past couple of days, there was an accident. A vehicle smashed through our gate that we use to keep the deer out. So now the gate is partially down. They have been walking in here, and we can kind of see some of their tracks. I’m not really a hunter or a tracker, but I know deer footprints when I see them.
Hicks: That’s Kent Bey, the president, CEO of Project Love Coalition, which owns and operates the farm. Despite the deer getting in, the raised beds are full of vegetables. I ask him, what’s growing?
Bey: So what we’re looking at now… behind you, we have corn back there, as well as a lot of tomatoes right up under your arm. These two rows here are all tomatoes. And what’s in front of you is all melons. So we have cantaloupe melons here, as well as watermelons.
Hicks: This urban farm does more than grow vegetables. It has a special mission.
Bey: We advocate on behalf of veterans in the areas of housing, workforce development and community building.
So pretty much have like almost a quarter acre over here that we’re working with to do different things to help educate veterans on how to become entrepreneurs in the agricultural industry, either as farmers or ranchers, or just to learn a new job skill through workforce development in agriculture.
Hicks: How has the community response impacted you? Has it encouraged you to continue on with this venture, with this project, and do you view the community any differently as a result?
Bey: The community has been very receptive and especially a lot of the old-timers, you know, because what we’re doing here, for the most part, reminds them of what they used to do when they were younger. Many of them come from down south. Like my family, we come from down the South agricultural belt. And we ended up in the Hill district.
I used to watch my grandmother and some of the other old-timers next door when I used to live in Homewood as a child. And anywhere they had a patch of dirt, they would throw some seeds down there, and they’d be growing their tomatoes and peppers and collard greens.
Those were some of the most delicious tomatoes I’ve ever, ever had in my life. They were just so delicious. All you needed was just a sprinkle of salt. And I would just sit up under my grandmother and let her do all the cutting and give her the look when I was ready for another slice. Yeah, me and my grandmother were the best of buds.
Hicks: So how do you see your project as building equity and the community around the issues of food here?
Bey: We’re drawing attention to the fact that there are needs that we would like to have addressed. And we’re creating a platform for people to gather and to be able to share their thoughts in regard to what are their concerns. And certainly, this opens the door for people to understand that, look, we need fresh fruits and vegetables in our own neighborhood. We shouldn’t have to travel outside of our neighborhood to just get fresh fruits and vegetables.
Hicks: Has anyone from the community come to help you with this garden? Do you have a team that helps you with the vegetation and so forth?
Bey: Everything is on a volunteer basis, even me, you know, I don’t get paid to do this. You know, I trick myself into coming here all the time by giving myself a fancy title of ‘executive steward.’ Right? Because it just sounds so fancy. It makes me feel important. (laughs)
So, you know, I come here and, you know, I feel good about what I’m doing, opening the door for the neighbors in the community to come on through and express interest of wanting to grow some okra, some tomatoes, some collard greens — you know, stuff that are very popular with people of African descent in the neighborhood.
“Look, we need fresh fruits and vegetables in our own neighborhood. We shouldn’t have to travel outside of our neighborhood to just get fresh fruits and vegetables.”
And it let them know that, hey, the opportunity is there. And as soon as they can slow down from their life of hustle and bustle, guess what., we’ll be here. Come through every Saturday, Saturday morning, around 10, 11 o’clock, guess what? Get your hands ready to get dirty. And get those seeds in the ground. You take care of it half of the time and I’ll take care of it the other half at a time, and we could work it out like that.
Kent Bey is the president and CEO of the Project Love Coalition. He tells us the organization is building capacity to launch an agricultural business training program for veterans next year.
See Kent and others at a roundtable event at the University of Pittsburgh entitled, “Environmental Path to Joy and Liberation” from 2:00 – 4:00 pm on Friday, October 21. Join him at Eco Fest at the Peace and Friendship Farm on Saturday, October 22.
Soul Pitt Media has award-winning online, print and podcast platforms with a mission to uplift the Black community in Western PA and surrounding areas by telling their inspirational stories and sharing resources that educate, inform, and empower. Visit Soul Pitt Media, which is woman-owned and minority-certified, at thesoulpitt.com.
Funding for the series comes from the Pittsburgh Media Partnership.