Art Austin lives around the corner from the LifeSpan Steel Valley center for seniors in Clairton along Miller Avenue.
All this summer he's been checking for the weekly farmstand that was there in previous years.
His investigations had disappointing results. The produce program, which had been in operation for about 10 years, lost backing from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
But when Austin approached the center on Thursday, he discovered a table out front loaded with collard greens, onions, corn and other seasonal produce.
“I've been looking to see if this was here,” said Austin, who bought a tomato, zucchini and bag of beans. He said the farmstand plays an important role in the city. “We don't have a grocery store here in town.”
LifeSpan community services operations director Kim Rollinson said the agency serving Allegheny County seniors wanted to restore the farm program for exactly that reason.
“LifeSpan is providing this as a service to the community,” she said, noting the stand isn't just for senior citizens. She said the produce program is supported by funding from Jefferson Regional Foundation and produce supplied by Harvest Valley Farms of Gibsonia.
Rollinson said the stand will sell only locally grown produce that is in season. She said offerings will expand as the harvest season comes into full swing.
Though the stand was attracting steady interest its first day back, LifeSpan officials say traffic will increase once people realize it has returned.
“Once word gets out it will be booming,” said Michelle Craven, a LifeSpan regional manager. In previous years, demand has been so great the center has given numbers to customers lining up in the morning to buy produce.
The farmstand will continue through October. It opens at 10 a.m. and usually runs to about 2 p.m. or whenever the produce runs out.
The stand is one of many programs offered by LifeSpan, which receives much of its funding from the Allegheny County Agency on Aging.
LifeSpan has 13 centers throughout the county, with centers locally at 4231 Shady Ave. in Munhall, Olympia Shopping Center in Versailles and Century III Mall in West Mifflin.
The program recently closed an extension center at the old West Mifflin borough building along Lebanon Church because of the borough's recent move into a new facility along Lebanon Road.
Rollinson said West Mifflin deserves many thanks for enabling LifeSpan to offer programs at the old facility for several years. She said programs that had been in the old borough building are being offered at the Century III and Munhall centers.
Beside the relocation of the West Mifflin programs, LifeSpan said there has been a boost in recent weeks of the number of meals it serves through the home delivery program because of the closure of the Clairton Meals on Wheels kitchen at the end of June.
In the next few weeks, Rollinson said the Olympia Shopping Center facility in Versailles will become home to a fitness center thanks to funding from UPMC. She said that should be open by August.
Back at the Steel Valley Center in Clairton, a motorist stops his pickup truck by the produce stand and asks if there are any melons or cantaloupes yet.
“Not yet,” he is told. “Try back again next week.”
Norma Reza, site coordinator for the Clairton center, said it's good to have the farmstand back.
“They've been asking me when we're going to have it,” she said.
Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or [email protected].