Jen Montgomery is dreaming of greener pastures. Sitting in the greenhouse of her South Side apartment, four stories above afternoon gridlock on East Carson Street, Montgomery, 30, said the glass-enclosed room is enough space for a few plants, but it doesn’t compare to the 85-acre farm she recently bought. “You are what you eat,” she said. “It’s true with plants, too.” Montgomery; her husband, Greg Boulos; his brother, Dave and their friend, Heath Gamache, are the new owners of the certified organic Blackberry Meadows Farm in Fawn. They plan to relocate at the end of the month.
Well-educated and environmentally aware, the partners are focused on building the local economy and reducing their carbon footprints, Montgomery said. Many Pittsburghers have the same attitude and do what they can to further this cause, she said. But most don’t buy a farm. The foursome aren’t giving up city life for the country on a whim. They worked at Blackberry Meadows last year in preparation for running it. Allegheny County real estate records show the partnership paid $600,000 for the land.
Montgomery, in fact, has worked on farms for the past nine years. She, Greg Boulos and Gamache have their master’s degrees in sustainable systems from Slippery Rock University. Gamache, 36, of Evans City is a science and reading teacher at Ingomar Middle School in the North Allegheny School District. “First and foremost, we want to show people they can save money by buying locally,” said Greg Boulos, 32. “It’s important to show people that it’s not only doable, but that it benefits everyone.”
Blackberry Meadows is one of about 400 certified organic farms in Pennsylvania and one of only two in Allegheny County, according to Pennsylvania Certified Organic, a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency.
Dave Boulos of Plum quit an information-technology career last year to ride tractors at Blackberry Meadows and design the farm’s Web site. “I just decided I didn’t want to work for anyone else anymore,” said Boulos, who turns 31 Tuesday. “I didn’t want a 9-to-5 the rest of my life.” They’ll earn money by selling 150 varieties of organic fruits and vegetables at the East End Food Co-op and farmers’ markets in the Strip District, East Liberty and Monroeville. Greg Boulos said getting people to shop locally and buy organic are their immediate goals.
“Look at all the problems the industrial food industry has had,” Boulos said, referring to the USDA’s meat recall in February, the largest in U.S. history. “When people buy locally, they know exactly where the produce is coming from, and more people are becoming aware of what they’re putting into their bodies.” Long-term goals include herding sheep, building eco-friendly homes and hosting farm education classes. For now, they’re working on keeping their produce in the Pittsburgh region. “We want to make what we’re doing worthwhile”, Boulos said. “We really want to help the farm system stay as close to home as possible.”