Who are the people behind the stands, creating goods and growing our foods? Some of them are new to our area, while some of them may be your long-time next door neighbor. Meet some of Mt. Lebanon’s farmers market vendors. For more information and to keep up to date on new vendors, visit The Original Mt. Lebanon Farmers Market and the Wesbanco Uptown Farmers Market websites.
Blackberry Meadows Farm: Uptown
Jen Montgomery and Greg Boulos didn’t grow up on farms, but when the two met in college at Slippery Rock University, they discovered their shared passion for growing food.
“Seeing our counters and coolers brimming with local organic food is awe-inspiring. But the people who buy our food are much more motivational,” Greg says. “The customers take the risk with us, and for that we endure the constant work, hot dry summers, and the hardships of owning acreage.”
The couple and owners of Blackberry Meadows Farm, located in Natrona Heights, are new to the Mt. Lebanon market, but Boulos says their goods are doing well among the Mt. Lebanon clientele. “We’ve gotten loads of inquiries to our CSA from South Hills and we are proud to be offering CSA pickup at the market!”
The couple are selling a lot of CSA memberships which include monthly doses of farm-fresh vegetables and they are also selling a lot of Garden Share subscriptions, where patrons are provided with seeds to plant on their own during the times of the year appropriate for that particularly crop.
“Our community of customers visit our farm and engage with the people who grow their food every week,” Greg says. “No reps or hired hands at our markets. Only the farmers are talking to our customers, the way it should be.”
Dillner Family Farms: Original
Jane Dillner’s job doesn’t end at 5 p.m. In fact, her work is never complete.
“Being a farmer is an abundantly rewarding occupation, aside from being overworked and underpaid and having a never-ending to do list,” she says.
Dillner and her family own Dillner Family Farms, in Gibsonia. She and her husband are third generation farmers and bought their plot from her husband Donald’s grandparents. There are about 15 employees working at Dillner’s, including about eight family members, neighbors and interns.
A typical summer day on the farm starts out with picking vegetables first thing in the morning. Then they pick flowers in the high tunnels, a type of long, semicircle greenhouse, before it gets too hot in the tunnels. Then the family and workers spend the afternoons packing products to be delivered to Pittsburgh farmers markets and CSA homes. Their most popular items are sweet corn, tomatoes, beans, peppers, lettuce, broccoli and garlic. They have recently purchased a second farm in Butler, where they hope to continue growing corn and black beans, and eventually raise livestock.
“The best part of owning a fruit and vegetable farm is spending time and working with our children,” Dillner says. “It’s important to love what you do and to take the time to spend with your family and be thankful.”
Devorah Naturals: Uptown
Deborah Seewald, founder and President of Devorah Naturals, enjoyed making body care products just for her family and friends. But her customer base continued to grow.
“Eventually I got requests for products from people who had heard about me through word of mouth and my hobby evolved into a small business,” Seewald says.
Seewald now sells to local businesses, including Rollier’s Hardware. She says her body butter is her favorite and also her most popular product. She and her staff of two part-time workers also offer customers face and body soaps, bath salts, oils and bug repellents. Seewald, a Chicago native, feels right at home among the market-goers.
“I’m cooped up in the office most of the week so it’s a pleasure to get out and connect with the great people in our community.”
GOODLife Juices: Uptown
Sherry Quinn didn’t always make juices. What started out as a love for yoga would turn into a knack for juicing.
“I wasn’t a great yoga teacher … but you put one foot in front of the other and you find your passion,” says Quinn, who lives in Mt. Lebanon on Florida Avenue.
Quinn’s passion is freshly squeezed. She discovered the benefits of natural juices while visiting yoga studios in New York City. Juice bars are as common as coffee shops there. Quinn was disappointed when she returned to Pittsburgh and couldn’t find the fresh juices anywhere. So she decided to make her own and share the nutrient-packed drinks with her own line, GOODLife Juices.
GOODLife Juices employs 14 people and offers flavors like Brazil Nut Milk, Beet-Reboot and Green Immunity, made from kale, spinach and other fruits and vegetables.
“It’s lovely to spend time with the people in the market and give back to my community. It’s really important that we don’t have to cross a bridge for healthy alternatives.”
J&D Cellars: Uptown
Some say victory is sweet. But for John and Dot Harvinson, owners of J&D Cellars Winery and Vineyard, victory is red and dry. What started out as a hobby with friends has turned into an award-winning job for John and Dot Harvinson.
John is a teacher at Trinity High School and Dot, who recently retired, worked as a technical support specialist for Ansys, an engineering simulation software developer. John says after 26 years of teaching, he started thinking about what he would like to do after he retires, and had wine on his mind.“Everyone kept saying you should start your own winery,” John says. “For Christmas one year my father gave me the money and said this is for your license.”
J&D Cellars have matched up against winemakers across the globe, winning gold, silver and bronze medals at the Finger Lakes International Wine Competition, the Tasters Guild International Wine Competition, and the Michigan Tasters Guild International Wine Competition.
Wine enthusiasts can visit John and Dot at their outdoor wine tasting venue, in Eighty Four, for winemaking … and Wine and Paint nights. “We have a lot of friends and relatives who love to help us,” John says. “They all want to see us succeed in our plans, so they help us at events and with bottling.”
Kern Farms: Uptown
The Kern family bought their farm in the 1930s but it wasn’t until the current owner, Kevin Kern, took over in 2004 that the farm became a full-time gig.
Kern and his wife, Nicole, do most of the farm work on their own. They raise chickens, and eggs are their biggest sellers, but they sell a lot of chickens and produce too. Nicole says her favorite part about owning and operating a farm include “the freedom of doing what we love, while being our own boss. And we like working together.”
Nicole, an avid cook, has several go-to recipes that she can use her own products to recreate, like pizza spaghetti pie, with farm fresh eggs. Nicole says she enjoys the opportunity to talk to buyers about their products at the markets.
“When we go to farmers markets, it’s normally just us. So just getting to know the people who raise the food is beneficial because you can ask us questions and we answer honestly,” she says.
Logan Family Farms: Original and Uptown
For Joann Logan, there is no typical work day. While many people plan their wardrobes around the weather, Logan, co-owner of Logan Family Farms, says her entire workday, schedule and livelihood are completely dependent on the forecast.
“Agriculture is so dependent on the weather,” she says. “The weather prescribes our days, even when one can get a haircut or have a doctor’s appointment.”
Logan and her husband are the co-owners of Logan Family Farms, located in Irwin and established in 1894. Although the farm took on the name “Logan” in that year after a marriage, Logan says her relatives ownership of the farm goes back to 1840.
The Logans’ specialty is dry aged beef. Although one of her son’s won’t budge from the Logan ground beef, the rest of the family members agree that their Delmonico steaks are their favorite products.
Logan says she enjoys coming to the Mt. Lebanon Farmers Market because of the patrons. “We love the people of Mt. Lebanon,” Logan says. “We could go to 10 other farmers’ markets on the same day in the Pittsburgh area but the support from the residents of Mt. Lebanon has warmed our hearts.”
Naturally Clean: Uptown
Rachel Breit started searching for alternative cleaning methods after having her first son, who suffered from asthma as a baby. “So I made the switch to green products in my own home and found it made a big difference,” Breit, a Mt. Lebanon native, says.
Now she and her fiancé, Curtis Radke of Canonsburg, are the owners of Naturally Clean, a line of organic, eco-friendly cleaning products. Breit started small, often using tips from blogs to create her own cleaning formulas. Today, Breit and Radke have expanded the eco-friendly concoctions to a cleaning service with five employees. Many of the products are infused with aromatherapy scents, like basil marjoram and rosemary.
The couple say the farmers market allow them to spread the word about their goods and services and inform people about the benefits of their natural products.
“We love getting to talk to people about the importance of green cleaning,” Radke says. “It’s not a gimmick or trendy or to make money. It’s something we really believe in and we use it in our own home.”
Mediterra Bakehouse: Uptown
At the Mediterra Bakehouse, they put their money—and their bread—where their mouth is.
“At the end of the day, if you don’t enjoy our bread as much as we do, we want to replace it,” Nicole McLean says.
Nick Ambeliotis, McLean’s father, worked as a food importer for more than 20 years for a company based in Cleveland. In 2001 he decided to pursue his own passion: bread baking. “He was very passionate about the idea that bread was made from ingredients of the earth: flour, water and salt,” McLean says. “He wanted to perfect this art.”
Some of the hottest items include the chocolate and hazelnut flavored biscotti and the cranberry pecan bread. There are currently about 50 employees working for the bakehouse and about 10 of those employees are family. But even those working at the Bakehouse who are not blood-related have a shared passion: a love of baking.
“There’s a family atmosphere and it makes coming to work each day seem that much easier.”
Olive & Marlowe: Uptown
When Heather Cramer was 12, she started cooking her own meals so her mom wouldn’t have to cater to her vegetarian diet. But what started out as a favor for her mom would shape her career.
Cramer, owner of Olive and Marlowe in East Liberty, started an olive oil and vinegar retail in 2011. She had previously worked retail, but decided she didn’t want to miss out on spending time at home with her two young children. “I could either go to work and send my kids to daycare or keep them with me at work,” she says. “Being self employed was what worked for me the most.”
Cramer even named the business after her two girls: 5-year-old Olive and 2-year-old Marlowe.
“I insist on working that one (the Uptown market), just because we’ve developed a nice customer base,” Cramer says. “It’s nice to come and make friends with customer I’ve got to know very well.”
Pittsburgh Pawtisserie: Uptown
When Megan and Tom Gerson first saw Lulu, the tiny white dog was underweight, dirty and afraid. “The first time I ever held Lulu, she buried herself in my arms and gave me a kiss, and I knew my heart belonged to her,” Gerson says.
When Gerson, Larchdale Drive, brought Lulu home from a shelter in Ohio she quickly learned that ingredients found in many dog foods—such as wheat, corn and soy products—upset little Lulu’s tummy. So Gerson decided to take the additives out of the equation by baking her own treats at home. Two years later she is the owner and head-baker at Pittsburgh Pawtisserie.
Pittsburgh Pawtisserie offers dog owners homemade canine treats, like Pumpkin Parsley, Apple Cinnamon and Tomato Basil. Before she dehydrates her products, Gerson tries the treats herself. She likes Apple Cinnamon the best, while Lulu jumps for the Tomato Basil.
Gerson says her favorite part about owning Pittsburgh Pawtisserie is it allows her to stay home with Lulu and the feedback she gets from pleased customers, both human and canine.
“That’s the reason I started Pittsburgh Pawtisserie, to make dogs happy,” Gerson says. “When I hear that it is working, it absolutely justifies the late nights baking and the almost two years of research that I put into this before we started selling.”
Simmons Farm: Uptown
The staff at Simmons Farm jumps from about 10 to 50 in the busy growing season. Robert Simmons, the fourth generation owner of the farm in Peters Township, is getting ready for the change of seasons.
In October there will be pumpkins, hayrides and fall tours at the farm. Some of the other produce that will be in season this September and October include tomatoes, sweet corn, cucumbers peppers broccoli cauliflower, peaches, apples, mixed fruits and veggies. In the summertime Simmons Farms hosts agriculture camps where kids learn from Penn State agriculture professors.
Simmons likes the markets most, which he says seemed to have really exploded four years ago, because they cut out the middleman and get goods to customers faster.
“It’s picked that morning, put right on the truck and taken straight to the market,” Simmons says. “Our purpose since the very beginning has been to sell directly to the customer. That’s what we’re all about and that’s what I like about the markets.”
Stone Church Acres: Uptown
After living in California for 27 years and retiring from their jobs at Chevron Corporation, Diane and John Varner returned to their roots …. and plant some roots.
The Varners moved to the area so they could take care of Diane’s parents and ended up taking care of a farm as well. They bought Stone Church Acres, in Finleyville.
The Varner family starts work at 7 a.m., taking care of chickens, weeding and planting on most days. On market days they get up at 6 a.m. so they have more time to wash and pack produce. Even Diane’s parents like to help. “They are in their 90s but they enjoy the work,” Diane says.
The Varners sell mostly varieties of sweet corn and tomatoes. For them, it’s on the inside of their foods that count.
“We plant crops for taste, not necessarily looks,” she says. “We have strawberries that are small but taste good!”
Wood Street Bread Company: Original
When William Bartelme was laid off after working for Westinghouse for 10 years, he didn’t despair. He started baking. Wood Street Bread Company has now been in business, at its Wilkinsburg location, for 20 years.
Co-owner Deanna Bartelme, Bartelme’s wife, says her husband began reading books about bread baking and taught himself, while she took care of the businesses bookwork. There are seven employees working for Wood Street including William, Deanna and their daughters.
Deanna says she and her husband don’t have any immediate plans for expansion and are happy to continue selling their fresh breads to local markets.
“We could, but that means hiring more people, buying more ovens … I think we’ll stay the way we are. William wants to make a good product. A little bit of a good product instead of a lot of a bad product.”
Wu’s Shaved Ice: Original
Tim Wu boasts 34 different flavors of shaved ice. Wu, owner of Wu’s Shaved Ice and a South Fayette resident originally from Upper Saint Clair, started selling shaved ice in 2006 after family friends encouraged him to start the venture. He now has eight employees.
Wu’s biggest sellers are blue raspberry and cherry, but his favorites are birthday cake and black cherry. Wu doesn’t plan to expand his business anytime soon, but he is looking for a bigger vehicle. His favorite part about owning his shaved ice business are the friendly customers, especially in nice weather.
“It seems like the sun makes them happy,” he says.
Tupelo Honey Teas: Uptown
When Danielle Spinola and her husband, then boyfriend, left China in 2001, she came back to the states with a taste for tea. “We toured the Jade Buddhist Temple and were dumped into a tourist trap gift shop … except this was a tea shop,” Spinola says.
While there, a native gave Spinola and her husband a tour and tasting. “It was the best tasting stuff I had ever had,” she says.
She left China with plans to bring the oriental teas to the Steel City market and in 2007 she started Tupelo Honey Teas. “I dream up the recipes, blend them, bag them and sell them,” Spinola says. “I also wear the hat as the accountant, the marketer, the sales person.”
At Spinola’s shop location, the Tea Loft in Allison Park, houses more than 90 varieties of tea flavors, like Cinnamon Plum, Peach Lavender and Jasmine Pearl. She also sells to several vendors in the area and her products are always evolving.
“It isn’t complete nor do I think it will ever be complete…but it is still a fantastic menu with something for everyone.”