Farmers Market Sprouts Anew

On the edge of the parking lot, Marianne Hunnell nudges the last table into place. Local farmers have already filled the rest with yellow corn and purple eggplant, striped squash and cabbages the size of bowling balls. Over the chatter of the early birds catching up with friends under the nearby gazebo, Hunnell hears the slow churn of the Monongahela pushing north to Pittsburgh. Mingo Native Americans once called the flat, rich farmlands around this elbow in the river “Delight.” Greensboro is still aptly named—this borough on the western edge of Greene County has long been known for its produce, some of which is piled atop the tables of the Greensboro Farmer’s Market and Fair.

For such a bounty, the market had meager beginnings. When Hunnell started planning it in January 2011, the market’s modest vendor fees weren’t enough to purchase advertisement, and local businesses were too tapped out to invest. “When you live in a small community, it’s the same businesses getting hit up all the time for money,” Hunnell explains.

Then she spotted an article in the local paper about The Sprout Fund accepting applications for their first-ever Seed Awards in Greene and Fayette Counties. “We said, ‘This would be a true blessing,’” recalls Hunnell.

Bettie Stammerjohn, executive director of the Community Foundation of Greene County, agrees. The Foundation typically supports ongoing community projects, but now Stammerjohn can tell new applicants about the Seed Award. She says that since the 2008 economic downturn, community foundations have been wary of risk. “It’s difficult to find funding for startup projects and pilot projects,” she says, “and to have the Seed Award here to provide that opportunity is phenomenal.”

The Sprout Fund first got involved in the area in 2008 when it partnered with regional funders including the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation and the Community Foundation of Fayette County to bring Pittsburgh 250 Community Connections grants to 14 counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania including Greene and Fayette counties in celebration of the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh’s founding.

Three years later the Sprout Fund was seeking to sow its Seed Awards outside Pittsburgh, and Greene and Fayette counties seemed the natural choice. One of the first six Seed Awards there energized Hunnell’s farmer’s market. “That got the ball rolling. That’s when we went straight out and got our signs,” says Hunnell. She estimates the big banner hung at the gazebo—not to mention the local musicians—helped draw a crowd of about a hundred every Saturday morning in late summer and early fall.

The Greensboro Farmer’s Fair and Market is about more than local products or good music. The market gives out-of-towners the occasion to discover Greensboro’s local grocery, restaurants, and bed and breakfast.

This small borough, whose industrial-age prosperity waned after World War I, welcomes any economic boost. The steamers that once plied the Monongahela no longer stop in Greensboro to pick up produce, glass, and pottery. A hundred years ago, those products may have been boated across the Fayette County line to Point Marion, just a few miles south where the Cheat River joins the Monongahela. Next to Greensboro corn, dock workers might have packed straw-filled crates of glass automobile gear-shift knobs, decorative trays, mugs, window glass, and dozens of other products made by the Houze glass factories.

Starting in 1899, Leon Houze (rhymes with “whose”) built a glass manufacturing juggernaut in Point Marion. Over the decades, Houze glass ended up everywhere, even outer space. It would be used in NASA vehicles, sunglasses, taxi cab signs, car engines, tumblers, military goggles, and the windows of the White House when it was renovated in the early 1950s. Houze’s methods for screen printing on glass were so innovative, pop artist Peter Max studied there in the 1960s.

Public Art Transforms Point Marion

In the latter half of the twentieth century, the steel, coal, and glass industries that had fueled Southwestern Pennsylvania shriveled up, leaving many industrial river towns bereft of their biggest employers. In 2004, the Houze Glass Corporation, Point Marion’s economic engine for more than a century, closed its doors.

Catherine McCollom, founder and principal of McCollom Development Strategies in Confluence, Somerset County, thinks it’s time that Point Marion and other distressed river towns fire up the new economic engine of ecology tourism and heritage tourism. In April 2011, McCollom Development Strategies created the Upper Mon River Towns Public Art Program, which will help five river communities in Southwestern Pennsylvania produce public art installations. They will be the focal points of a broad effort to improve signage directing river users to local businesses, build and improve boat launches, and organize boating trips.

A Seed Award will fund the public art installation at Point Marion. McCollom says that art is a vital part of the plan. “We can tell the press, we can tell visitors, ‘Don’t forget to check this out.’ And in telling them about the art project, we can tell them about Point Marion,” she says. The installation will incorporate pottery and glass to reflect the borough’s manufacturing heritage. This summer’s call for committee members drew out local craftspeople and artists who had never previously participated in community development.

Planting New Seeds in Fayette & Greene Counties

The Sprout Fund’s ability to kick-start young, creative people into civic engagement through creative projects is a big reason the Benedum Foundation funded the new Seed Awards in Fayette and Greene counties, according to Benedum Vice President James Denova. He hopes that the Seed Awards will spark economic growth in places that are outside of Pittsburgh’s foundation community. “Now it can happen in places like Point Marion or Greensboro,” says Denova, “in the same way it can happen in East Liberty or Lawrenceville.”

It’s happening in three other Greene and Fayette county communities, too. Seed Awards are supporting Snow, Ice, and Art, an environmental project in Ohiopyle State Park, Building Interest in Buildings, a photography project to reintroduce the historic buildings of Brownsville to its residents, and Green Arc Green Art, a recycled art project for developmentally disabled adults in Ruff Creek. The fall and winter round of Seed Awards promises to nourish yet another new crop of vital projects.

Even a dilapidated caboose can be revitalized by a Seed Award. Point Marion’s glass and Greensboro’s produce might have reached Connellsville, Fayette County, on the old Baltimore and Ohio railroad, or B&O, now part of CSX Transportation. When the coal-fueled industries in Southwestern Pennsylvania neared the end of the line, B&O abandoned one of its cabooses in Connellsville. The city eventually moved the rusty car to Yough Park, near where the 141-mile Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail enters Connellsville along the Youghiogheny River. There the caboose sat, decaying slowly into history.

When Emma strong heard about the caboose, she sensed an opportunity. Strong is part of the SCA Trail Town Outreach Corps, a collaboration that promotes sustainable development in communities along the GAP. All the Trail Towns—except Connellsville—had a place where curious GAP hikers and bikers could get maps and other information. Strong thought the caboose would make the perfect trail welcome center. But looking at the rust-streaked paint and rotting wooden interior, she could see it would take a lot of hands.

Completing an application for a Seed Award helped Strong engage community members in the Connellsville Caboose Welcome Center project. Local vocational students would refinish the metal exterior and build stairs and a wheelchair ramp. The city road painter agreed to repaint the caboose B&O red. A scale train modeling club would provide a historical write-up of the city’s history with the railroad.

In September, the Seed Award paid for Welcome Center signs and for local artists to adorn the caboose with a mural of kayakers and bikers. A local father-and-son carpentry team refinished the interior. CSX recently donated ties, spikes, and plates to mount the caboose on rails. Eventually, the Welcome Center will beckon hikers and bikers of the GAP with maps of the trail, brochures about local businesses, and a guest book.
Strong says that the Trail Towns program will assess the Welcome Center’s impact on the Connellsville economy. “The Seed Award is perfect for a beginning project,” she says of the caboose’s rehabilitation. “It will lead to bigger things in the town.”

Rivers, rails, and trails have long brought those bigger things to Southwestern Pennsylvania. The Seed Awards can now help Greene and Fayette counties tell their own big stories.

But it’s important to remember that at the heart of Seed Award projects are the small stories of one person connecting with another. Marianne Hunnell sees that at the Greensboro Farmer’s Fair and Market. “It’s bringing the community together,” she says.

After setting up the last vendor’s table next to the gazebo, Hunnell waves to an elderly man whose face is still flushed from his morning walk. He asks her where he can find fresh jam for his toast. Hunnell smiles. And just like that, they’re neighbors.

Upcoming Seed Award Funding Opportunities

In March 2012 The Sprout Fund will award another $12,500 to innovative community projects in Fayette and Greene Counties through the Seed Award Program.
Applications for the next round of Seed Award funding are due Friday, March 2nd at 5pm.

Brainstorm with The Sprout Fund!

To learn how you or your organization can take part in this exciting funding opportunity, The Sprout Fund invites you to join us for our graphically-facilitated community brainstorming sessions. These sessions are your opportunity to think creatively about your communities and explore ideas that might be a good fit for the Seed Award program.

  • Sprout will be in Fayette County on Wednesday, February 15th, 2012 from 5:30-7:30pm at the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce, 65 West Main Street in Uniontown.
  • Sprout staff will also be available to answer questions and discuss project ideas on Friday, February 17, from 10am – 12 noon at the Panera Bread Co. in Uniontown (Fayette County), and on Friday, February 24, from 10am – 12 noon at Rising Creek Bakery in Mount Morris (Greene County).  RSVP is required.

To attend, please RSVP via email to seedaward@nullsproutfund.org or call (412) 325-0646.