Tara Rockacy of Churchview Farm
Tara Rockacy works at the Library but also runs Churchview Farm, a third generation sustainable family farmette in the south hills of Pittsburgh. What better person to interview about farms and farming?
You can also read this article about her in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "On a hilltop in Baldwin, Churchview Farm sustains a family enterprise and its new subscribers".
How Did You Get to Be a Farmer?
I spent a large portion of my childhood on my grandparents' farm, picking berries with my grandmother, tagging along when my grandfather fed the pigs, cows and chickens, and playing with my cousins in the barns. My grandparents were homesteaders, feeding their family with produce they grew, meat and dairy from the animals they raised. Even in a time before all-natural chemical-free growing methods were widely practiced, they utilized them on their farm.
Farming as a lifestyle though didn't hold much interest for me until I was in my 20s and began growing vegetables in containers on the porches and roofs of my apartments. Later, I talked a landlord into letting me dig up half our front yard for a produce garden. By 2006, gardening and growing food was more than just a hobby for me, and my husband Todd and I moved to the small family farm of my grandparents to revive it and continue what they began.
Tell us about your typical day.
During the week my typical day is spent working in Collection Development at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. After work I usually head out to accomplish what farm work I can before either dark or exhaustion sets in. It's an enormous amount of work but of course it's something I love to do and is incredibly satisfying - my happy CSA members and the demand for our shares and produce from the public is so encouraging.
I certainly couldn't do it alone; I have the help of a friend who works on the farm once a week in exchange for her CSA share, my husband and parents who help me almost daily, and my friends who regularly offer to lend a hand.
Do you have any time left over for reading?
It doesn't leave time for much, but reading is something I could never go without. Right now I'm in the midst of several books - A Short History of the Honey Bee, a great book about companion planting called Carrots Love Tomatoes, and I managed to fit in an essay collection by Ian Frazier and a biography of Chan Marshall. I also recently finished the new story collection by one of my absolute all-time favorite authors, Mary Gaitskill, called Don't Cry. What I read doesn't change much over the winter but the quantity certainly does.
What vegetables are the easiest to grow in this area?
Obviously our growing season isn't that of the south or the west coast, but that isn't as limiting as one might think. One of the challenges of farming that I love and one of the best parts of eating seasonal, locally grown food is discovering how to use the seasons to your advantage. You learn how to grow for your area by finding the varieties that work best for you, and knowing what time of year is best to grow and eat them. Brussels sprouts, leeks and kale, for example, have improved flavor after a frost, and greens like arugula and mache not only grow better in cold weather but taste much better as well.
This year I'm experimenting with season extension by using frost-protective row cover - root crops like beets and carrots can also be grown under the cover and harvested fresh almost year-round without heated greenhouses if you follow a careful planting schedule. Right now I'm planting things typically thought of as spring crops (snow peas, salad greens, radish, kohlrabi and kale) because the weather will cool and they'll be ready for a fall harvest.
Which are your favorites?
My favorite fruits and veggies really do change with what I'm growing. Currently it's our fabulous heirloom tomatoes, patty pan squash, and raspberries.
What is a CSA?
CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) is a way for people to interact closely with the farm that is growing their food. By becoming a member of a CSA you know exactly how your food is grown and where it comes from, receive a variety of seasonal produce every week, and share in the risks and rewards of farming with the farmer. CSA members support local family farms, and in turn support the local economy. If you choose to be a member of my farm, or any CSA farm, you pay a set amount of money in the beginning of the season and every week you receive a bag of whatever produce and other items that the farm has available. It changes each week and extends beyond produce to occasionally include things like fresh raw honey from our bee hives as well as local raw milk cheeses, pastured (free range) organic eggs, and other items from the local farms we partner with. Memberships vary from farm to farm as far as price, size, and what is included.
For more information
For more information about Churchview Farm, visit
|To learn more about eating locally and farms in your area, visit the PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture) Buy Fresh Buy Local site: buylocalpa.org.|