Care of the Earth, Care of People, Share the Excess

garfield farm bioshelter
Bioshelter at Garfield Farm

There is probably no better way to explain the ethics of permaculture than to discuss a place that exemplifies these ethics. One such place is Pittsburgh’s Garfield Community Farm. Garfield Farm has been designed and managed as a permaculture project since its inception.  I have been privileged watch the farm develop and to work there part time each summer over the past several years.

First, about the three permaculture ethics: Care of the earth, care of the people and fairly sharing the excess are at the core of permaculture design. Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren states that these ethics are intended to help guide our transition to a sustainable, regenerative future. ( )  Care of the earth requires us to keep in mind that our design work should strive to heal and promote the health of our local and global environment. We only have one planet. Care of the people helps us to keep in mind that we must design systems that provide for our human needs, food, shelter, energy, access to nature and community in a manner that promotes health and wellness. Sharing the excess may sound political or religious. Perhaps it is, but this ethic is based on the knowledge that accumulation of excess material things by one leads to want in another, and often with it, a degraded environment. By fairly sharing resources, when we are able, we fulfill the first two ethics while building strong communities.  

Garfield Community Farm ( ) is a project of Open Door Ministries, a Presbyterian Church in the Garfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. This urban farm was founded, and is directed by Assistant Pastor John Creasy, and the Board of Directors of the Open Door Church.  Day-to-day operations is run by a small core of staff, with much assistance from volunteers from the church and the community. The farm’s stated mission is: We seek to learn, teach, and practice organic gardening and farming in the places that have been neglected and abandoned, in and with the neighborhood of Garfield.

This mission is achieved on a 2.5 acre site which was formerly abandoned houses. The farm features a passive solar bioshelter, with a small flock of resident chickens and a couple of pet rabbits; garden beds, poly-tunnel, food forest orchards, perennial landscapes, and community gathering areas.


Care of the earth is integral to the mission here. Gardening methods and energy systems, such as solar electric panels and passive solar bioshelter, are chosen to be earth friendly. While working to regenerate the farm’s soils with compost and organic mulches, the farm is also working to enhance biodiversity. Habitat for beneficial creatures is maintained between the gardens. A resident Cooper’s hawk and owls patrol day and night for rodents. A great diversity of songbirds share the mulberries and elderberries and help control insect pests and weed seeds. Goldfinch, grey catbird, Baltimore oriole, scarlet tanager, bluebirds, nuthatch and downy woodpeckers are just a few of the species present.  Last year, a five-lined skink, a native lizard long thought to be extirpated in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, was found living in the compost piles at the farm.

Care of People is indeed the core mission of the farm. Garfield Farm provides access to fresh seasonal produce to an under served neighborhood. Each week during the growing season a produce stand built on a small trailer, known as the mobile market, is set up in several locations to sell farm products. People care is further achieved by educational activities, community engagement, and by giving people an opportunity for a direct connection to nature. The farm hosts several annual events to build and celebrate community, engaging neighbors, volunteers and church members with food, music and conversation.

The third ethic, to Share the Excess, is also integral to the farm’s design and activities, and extends from the ethic to care for people. The property spans three city blocks. Farm spaces are open to neighbors and visitors to relax in the pavilion, walk the labyrinth, enjoy nature and sample fruits from trees and bushes. Farm produce sold at the mobile market has a two tier pricing system. Customers have the option to pay the lower, “what you can afford” price, or the standard, “what you can pay” price for higher income customers. Often produce is purchased from a local farmer’s cooperative and is sold at cost to increase the food options offered. The farm’s beekeeper donates most of her honey harvest to the farm for sale as well. Any excess produce, when there is excess after the mobile market sales, is given to a local food bank. The farm also provides the opportunity for volunteers and church members to share their time in good work.

This discourse only begins to describe the manifestation of these three ethics at Garfield Community Farm. In a world of changing climates, growing urban populations and diminishing resources, projects like Garfield Community Farm are leading the way to a regenerative future of livable cities, where we all care for the earth, care for the people and share the excess.

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