Pittsburgh, often called a “city of neighborhoods,” and surrounding Allegheny County is home to a vibrant network of public markets, most of which are independently-run farmers markets. Despite this robust network, market operators have found that there aren’t enough farmers to keep pace with the number of markets. In addition, Pittsburgh market operators have been looking to bridge jurisdictional divides, build broader capacity within their network, and develop partnerships with City agencies and nonprofit food and agricultural organizations. Bloomfield Development Corporation (BDC), the lead Market Cities partner organization, operates the successful Bloomfield Saturday Market. The success and tight management of this market has led other local market operators to rely on BDC for technical assistance—a role BDC does not have the resources or bandwidth to continue to fill on an ongoing basis.
The Market Cities Program began working with the Pittsburgh partners, along with the two other pilot project cities: Seattle, WA and Toronto, ON, in March 2020, at the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis. At the start of the pandemic, most of Pittsburgh’s markets were already closed for the season, but creating a plan for the 2020 season reopening proved challenging: individual market operators were tasked with advocating to the City that they provide an essential service, while also planning and adapting their operations to meet strict new public health guidelines.
To help markets accommodate new social distancing guidelines, the Market Cities team reached out to architecture and planning firm Arup. Over the course of several weeks, Arup, Market Cities staff, and the local Pittsburgh partners collaborated to develop a set of market layout standards for open-air, temporary markets to apply during the pandemic. The Bloomfield Saturday Market utilized these standards when it reopened in May 2020, and as a result, the market was able to include every vendor it had accepted for the 2020 summer season.
In response to the pandemic and participation in the Market Cities process, regular Pittsburgh-area farmers market networking meetings were organized, which solidified relationships between the local Market Cities partners and several other markets and market organizations in Pittsburgh, including many independent BIPOC-led markets. These meetings caught the attention of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, which subsequently offered to facilitate these meetings on an ongoing basis, as well as fundraise on behalf of the burgeoning network to continue building member capacity.