May 26: Musical fundraiser for Sust Enable film

Sust Enable: The Metamentary is an unique grassroots film project based in Pittsburgh, PA that explores "what does sustainability mean?" and "what would it look like to embody sustainability?"

This "Meet-Up" is meant to introduce our documentary film project to YOU. Come to relax, socialize, and enjoy the fine coffee and tea beverages created at this great coffee shop.

The owner of Lili, Rob, is nice enough to offer to stay open past normal shop hours to allow us to have this event. So, there will be coffee and tea for purchase to benefit Lili. We will have snacks, music (by the film's producer, Caroline Savery), and interactive presentations about sustainability.  

6-8 p.m. at the Lili Coffee Shop (3138 Dobson Street, Pittsburgh 15219).  There is a $5 to $15 sliding scale donation (but of course, no one will be turned away due to lack of funds) to help fund the production this great film. Cash only, please.

May 25: Public meeting on Urban Ag

How to Apply for an Urban Agriculture Zoning Permit -- Do you have or want to have honeybees or chickens on your property, or sell veggies from a farm stand at a community garden site? Need to apply for the City of Pittsburgh's new Urban Ag Zoning Permit?  Come get questions answered and learn about the process to help you apply in an efficient way.  Representatives from Burgh Bees, Grow Pittsburgh, the Penn State Cooperative Extension and the city planning department will review the application process for the urban ag zoning permits. We will cover the basic application procedure, explain how to properly fill out the application and demonstrate all materials needed to make the application process smoother.

6-7:30 p.m. in Meeting Room 1 of the Carnegie Library of Homewood.  Limited to 60 participants;  please RSVP by Monday,  May 23 to:  In the subject line please put RSVP Urban Ag Meeting.

This meeting is sponsored by Burgh Bees, Grow Pittsburgh, the Penn State Cooperative Extension and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council.

May 21-25: "Queen of the Sun" bee documentary

Honey bees are an integral insect for our society, pollinating over 40% of our food crops.  But recent research is proving that honey bees are on the decline and need our help.  Honey bee colony collapse has wiped out nearly 5 million colonies in the U.S.  While not fully understood, it has been linked to many causes.  Air pollution can destroy the scents that flowers emit, making it hard for bees to find their food.  Pesticide and insecticide use and the importation of foreign bees with novel viruses are other causes.
Queen of the Sun is a newly-released documentary describing this phenomenon, with screening release dates in different cities across the country beginning this month.  The film will be featured in Pittsburgh from May 21-25 at the Melwood Screening Room of the Pittsburgh Filmmakers.  Visit for more information about this issue, screening details, and how you can take action.

May 21-22: Plant sale in Squirrel Hill/Frick Park

I have brought homegrown vegetable, herb, and perennial seedlings and transplants to a couple of community plant sales for two years now, and this spring I'm adding a home-based sale.  I'll have a selection of heirloom tomatoes and tomatillos, cucumbers and chamomile, lavender and thyme, gourds and greens -- as well as seeds, potting soil, and organic soil amendments.  You'll have an opportunity to visit my little permaculture oasis in Frick Park, and and a portion of sales will benefit the Colfax PTO.   

Saturday 9 a.m. to 12 noon;  Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at my house in Frick Park.  Please email me for directions:  maren dot cooke at gmail dot com.  

May 21: PGH: a Peaceful Gathering of Hands

It's a festival, it's an expo, it's a Peaceful Gathering of Hands!  The intention of this event is to unite a diverse range of groups and people from all over the city.  During this free and collaborative event, we'll all stand in a circle  holding hands every hour on the hour from noon to five pm.  We're asking each group to paint a banner demonstrating how they are creating a more peaceful Pittsburgh.  Feel free to bring food, instruments, art, and a vision for a Peaceful Pittsburgh and Planet.  

12n - 5 p.m. on the big hill near Schenley Oval, next to the ice rink.  For more information, call Kevin at 412-298-5341 or email .

May 19: Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project training

The Mountain Watershed Association and the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh will be holding a Marcellus Visual Assessment Training in Pittsburgh on May 19, 2011 as part of the new Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project.  This project, which is being piloted in the Youghiogheny River watershed but is expected to spread throughout the southwestern Pennsylvania region, provides citizens with tools and knowledge to responsibly monitor Marcellus shale development to aid in community and environmental protection.

The Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project offers basic Visual Assessment Trainings that provide information on monitoring Marcellus shale development. Participants will learn to use their senses of sight, hearing and smell to identify potential issues resulting from drilling operations; this approach is unique because no technical equipment is necessary.  Data gathered through this process is uploaded using simple online forms and eventually is integrated into FracTracker, an interactive data platform providing citizens with a common place to learn about and share information on Marcellus shale
gas operations.  Visual Assessment Trainings also provide information on permitting and regulations, air and water pollution, the use of FracTracker, how to file a complaint, and safety.  After completing this basic training, participants will have the opportunity to sign up for further instruction in air or water monitoring.

This event is free and open to the public, and citizens in areas where Marcellus shale extraction is occurring or proposed are encouraged to attend.

6-9 p.m. at the Bridgeside Point building, 100 Technology Drive, Pittsburgh 15219 (Map).  For more information about the event, visit or contact Veronica Coptis at the Mountain Watershed Association: 724-455-4200, ext. 4#.

May 10: GASLAND screening and discussion

Please join Sustainable Monroeville for a screening and community discussion 
of the documentary film  GASLAND. The largest natural gas drilling boom in 
U.S. history has swept across the country, as the drilling technology of 'fracking' 
or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a 'Saudia Arabia of natural gas'  beneath 
our feet. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his 
land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey to find out.

7-8:30 p.m. at the Monroeville Public Library Gallery Space

May 10: Feeding the Earth workshop

Learn why composting is one of the most hopeful frontiers in our world, and ways that each of us can help move it in the right directions.

Controlling Invasive Plants
Over the past two decades, backyard composting has become increasingly popular among households in many countries, and growing numbers of institutional food-waste generators (restaurants, cafeterias, supermarkets) have begun to divert their organic waste to composting facilities. In this slide-show-based lecture, Nick Shorr argues that these twin movements may offer a shift in our relations to Nature that is of historic proportions.

7-9 p.m. at the Phipps Garden Center, 5th & Shady in Shadyside, Pittsburgh. $10 per session ($15 for couples). Includes hand-outs and refreshments. For more information, email Nick Shorr, or call him at: (412) 488-7490 ext. 232. To sign up for a Feeding the Earth workshop, click here! Prepayment is not required for registration.

May 4: Air Toxics Guidelines Public Meeting

Allegheny County continues to release more toxic chemicals than Beaver, Butler, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties combined!  These chemicals damage our environment and harm our health. The Allegheny County Health Department uses the Air Toxic Guidelines to control future sources of pollution. The existing version was established in 1988, making it over 20 years old.
 Currently, a committee of academics, industry professionals and environmental advocates is working to develop a new document for the Health Department. These are some of the questions the committee is debating:
Should the Air Toxic Guidelines be a Regulation that is enforceable in the courts?
Should the cumulative pollution impact of all industry in an area be considered?
Should the guidelines address all sources of pollution, or only new ones?
Who has the final say on whether or not a permit gets issued?

Public officials need to hear community input to make the new document used for permitting pollution sources and protecting the air we breathe as strong as possible!

A public comment session will be held at 6 p.m.  at the Avalon Borough Building, 640 California Avenue, Pittsburgh 15202.  For more information please contact Julie St. John at or 412.765.3053.

May 4: House Concert with Randal Bays & Davey Mathias

Randal Bays and Davey Mathias 
I don't often post musical events here, but this one doubles as a visit to a local urban permaculture homestead (our house in Squirrel Hill):  Join us for a lively evening with Randal Bays and Davey Mathias on Irish traditional fiddle and guitar, along with (mostly true) stories.

Randal Bays is a self-taught American musician (based in Seattle) whose mastery of the intricate art of Irish fiddle playing has earned him an international reputation among fans of Irish music.  He’s known as an exciting and dynamic performer on both fiddle and fingerstyle guitar whose music grows out of a deep respect for the ancient wellsprings of the Irish tradition.

As one reviewer put it, Few players have his subtle and warm touch.  His playing is light and fluid yet still has a sense of power and passion.  He's simply a joy to listen to.” (Dirty Linen Magazine, April 2001).  Bays's 2005 release, “House to House” was selected by the Irish Times as one of the top five traditional recordings of the year, and the Cork Examiner called him "a rare beast, a master of both the fiddle and the guitar.”  

After wandering into a wild session on a rainy night in Portland, Oregon in 1978, Randal took up the fiddle and started teaching himself to play Irish traditional music.  He was influenced by many of the Irish musicians in the Northwest, including Kevin Burke, Michael Beglan, Michéal Ó’Domhnaill, and many more who passed through, including James Kelly, Joe Burke, etc.  He eventually met the Clare fiddler Martin Hayes in Seattle and agreed to provide guitar accompaniment for Martin’s landmark debut recording in 1993.  This led to the first of many trips to Ireland, where Randal’s fiddling found great acceptance among fans of traditional music.

In recent years Randal has toured and recorded with many of the finest Irish musicians, including James Keane and Daíthí Sproule (in the band Fingal), James Kelly, John Williams,  Martin Hayes, Tony McManus, Aine Meenaghan, Roger Landes, and Dave Marshall.  He has performed all over the U.S., Europe and Canada, including appearances at major festivals such as the Gaelic Roots Festival in Boston, the San Francisco Celtic Music and Arts Festival, the Festival Des Musiques-Vivantes in France, the Willie Clancy Summer School and Festival in Ireland, Catskills Irish Arts Week, Augusta Heritage Week, and many more.

Randal is a dedicated and thoughtful teacher of Irish fiddling, often in demand for workshops and music camps, and is a co-founder of the Friday Harbor Irish Music Camp in the San Juan Islands.  He’s also composed original scores for several award-winning films and documentaries.  You can learn more about him and hear sound clips at .  A bit of video from a recent house concert with stellar guitarist Davey Mathias, from South Carolina, is available on YouTube.  More videos of Randal with other musical partners are there as well, in the Related column.

Davey Mathias (based in Columbia, South Carolina) has played guitar since the age of 9 and has studied a wide variety of traditional styles. He honed his DADGAD guitar accompaniment, learning from Dathi Sproule and Paul Brady, with a nice mix of his own thoughtful style. He brings an authentic and respectful sound that complements Irish traditional music beautifully and has performed with Irish music masters such as Liz Knowles, Patty Furlong and Asheville’s Half Nine as well as Randal Bays.  Davey is an accomplished tenor banjo player, as well, and applies his warm, laid-back banjo sound to the Irish melodies.

Doors open at 6:30, concert at 7 p.m.;  a session is likely to follow, so bring instruments if you play!  Suggested donation is $15, with all proceeds going to the artists.  Seating is limited, and reservations are required;  RSVP to Maren via email or phone (412-251-5814;  please don't call after 9pm).  Please let me know if you're coming (even if it's a maybe) as soon as possible, and I'll send you directions for car, bike, bus, or stroll through Frick Park as you wish.  Likewise, let me know if you realize you can't make it after all, as there may be a waiting list.  If you're driving, please carpool if possible (I'm happy to help connect people), as parking can be tight on our street.


"Bays is the genuine article."  -- The Rough Guide to Irish Music.

May 1: Spring Garden Symposium at Phipps

Home gardeners, gather at Phipps' historic Botany Hall for a talk with local gardening gurus.  Guests are invited to join Doug Oster and Jessica Walliser, along with Phipps staff, for an informative, one-day symposium at historic Botany Hall. 
The symposium, which will include talks, a question and answer session, garden giveaways, light refreshments and admission to Phipps Conservatory, is designed to help participants get the most out of their home gardens. Oster, an Emmy Award-winning producer, television host and writer, is Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener and is co-host/producer of KDKA’s “The Organic Gardeners” Sunday morning radio show, along with Jessica Walliser, who also can be heard on WYEP and is a writer/editor for a number of gardening publications, including Organic Gardening and Urban Farm.

During the symposium, Oster and Walliser will each present a video of their home garden, then analyze one another’s garden spaces. Doug will give a presentation entitled, “Tomato Talk with Doug: Grow your Earliest, Biggest and Best Tomatoes Ever,” followed by a talk with Phipps’ integrated pest management specialist Scott Creary about organic and eco-friendly ways to keep bad bugs at bay, and a presentation by Walliser about back yard gardening. The symposium will wrap up with a joint talk presented by Oster and Walliser entitled, “Specialty Gardens: Great Ways to Re-Think how you Garden."

9 a.m. - 1 p.m. in Botany Hall (the small but grand building just to the left of the Conservatory).  Light refreshments and admission to Phipps are included in the cost of admission. Seats are limited. Registration required: 412/441-4442, ext. 3925.