Going to the market is more than a household chore for Elisa Beck.
For this Monroeville resident, it’s more like going on a scavenger hunt for new and exciting foods, not to mention a visit to family history and a quest to make Pittsburgh a greener, more sustainable place to live.
That’s quite a shopping list.
It’s not any old supermarket that makes Beck feel this way. It’s Schwartz Market on Carson Street in Pittsburgh’s South Side — a neighborhood grocery store doing business in the same location since 1938. The market was the family business of Stan Beck, her husband, until they sold it in 1986. (They still own the building.)
If the Becks have their way, the Schwartz Market, in cooperation with its new owners, will become an unofficial environmental demonstration project — a place were energy efficiency, sustainable local farming, recycled space and resources all function harmoniously together.
“My dream is to transform this into a living building,” Beck said. “What is a living building? A living building produces energy (or is energy neutral) instead of uses energy.”
She’s well on her way. Already Schwartz channels heat from its massive refrigeration units in the rear warehouse to heat much of the building. It is working toward composting all its meat scraps, produce and cardboard.
But to Beck, a living building means much more than brick and mortar. It means sustainability — for the structure as well as the neighborhood.
So in addition to making the building itself green, Beck and the store’s owners are making their commerce green, too. The store is carrying more locally produced foods — everything from Bulgarian soup to salad dressing — organic produce and fair trade coffee. The kielbasa Schwartz’s meat cutter is famous for, is now available without monosodium glutamate — a food additive commonly used as a flavor enhancer — and there are long-range plans to sell free-range meats.
Many of these products weren’t available in this neighborhood market as recently as a year ago. So last August, Schwartz hosted a cooking demonstration to show longtime customers, many of whom had never used these products, how they spice up recipes.
Upstairs, the family hopes to make it an incubator for green businesses someday. They’ve already made the space available to students from George Washington University as a model for their special design plans.
The market is also partnering with other businesses on green practices. Schwartz is composting not only its own organic material, but the Beehive’s and Gypsy Café’s as well.
The market is now a partner in the Buy Fresh Buy Local Campaign of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture.
Beck, who is a developmental optometrist by day, already has a long resume in the field environmental work.
A founding co-chair of the United Jewish Federation Environmental Committee, she also founded Sustainable Monroeville, a grassroots effort by community volunteers and the municipal government to come up with new ideas to make their eastern suburban community greener.
But the Schwartz Market project is different, Beck said, because it has so many more possible dimensions. It’s a project that can educate the neighborhood about sustainable habits, it can be a showcase and market for urban farmers, cooks and other food producers. It can be a central location for recycling of waste, and a potential incubator for green businesses
“This can be the epicenter of Main Street sustainability,” Beck said.
(Lee Chottiner can be reached at email@example.com or 412-687-1000, Ext. 304.)