Enjoy, Explore, and Protect the Planet Sierra Club Allegheny Group, Pennsylvania Chapter

Meeting Archives

February 2009: Trails, Riverfronts, Local History

Trails, Riverfronts, Local History

Wednesday, 11 February 2009
7:30-9pm, Botany Hall, adjacent to Phipps Conservatory, Oakland.
Note unusual location!!!

Speakers include:
Bob Gangawere, former editor of Carnegie Magazine
Director of Friends of the River Front
with Brendan Wiant, Bally Design

Friends of the Riverfront logo

Trail sign, Heinz Plant, by Bally Design

Convention Center on the Riverfront

If you love the Three Rivers and you like to hike or ride trail bikes, this will be an exciting meeting. Bob and Brendan will spin out the tales of how the regional trials came to be… in very large part thanks to Sierra Club input in the early days. Out of all this have come the River Life Task Force, the Allegheny River Keeper, major support for the Three Rivers Rowing Association, the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, the Head of the Ohio and much more that we take quite for granted in 2009. But they weren’t here at all 25 years ago and thanks to these organizations, they enrich our lives and make a major contribution to Pittsburgh being such a “livable city.” There’s lots more in the pipeline too. Come and learn what was what is now and what is yet to come in a fascinating meeting.

If you enjoyed the goodies at the last meeting, check out what we produce in February. Adrienne Ungar has volunteered to help with food. And you can contribute to this part of the meeting too, if you’re so moved. Contact Adrienne at ahu101 at comcast dot net.

Contact Donald L. Gibbon, dongibbon at earthlink dot net, 412-362-8451, with questions.

January 2009: Terra Madre – Earth Mother, in Italy, Pittsburgh and the World Around

Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Phipps Garden Center, Fifth and Shady Avenues
Free and open to the public

Joint Meeting – co-sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh and Grow Pittsburgh

Food itself is becoming a more obviously central issue, the world around. We are firmly committed as a Club to the ideas behind Buy Fresh, Buy Local. Slow Food and Grow Pittsburgh share this commitment with us. It’s all about true “homeland security”, with minimum transportation between farmer and consumer, and better quality, with food picked fresh near by. It’s about a good living for our farmers.

Join us for a special report from Greg Boulos and Jen Montgomery, owners of Blackberry Meadows Farm and delegates to the Terra Madre conference in Turino, Italy, in October, 2008, less than three months ago. They were sent there to soak up all that was taking place while 5000 other farmers and chefs shared their livelihoods and home places. It’s one of the great gatherings of the world food and agriculture community – totally focused on maintaining quality of farming and farm produce in every place food can be grown. It will be an exciting report for all of us.

Then we will come back to Pittsburgh’s urban reality, where Grow Pittsburgh is making a tremendous contribution to the raising of food within the city limits. They’re involved in all sorts of projects, from Garden Dreams of Mindy Schwartz in Wilkinsburg to the Mildreds Daughters Farm of Barb Klein and Randa Shannon and many other imposing efforts. Miriam Manion is the Executive Director and she will share with us the organization’s dreams and need for help in achieving those dreams. Grow Pittsburgh is doing unbelievably exciting and worthwhile work.

We’ll end, as usual in meetings with Slow Food, with some excellent refreshments and conversation.

December 2008: Member Slide Show

7:30-9PM, Wednesday, 10 December 2008, Phipps Garden Center
Fifth and Shady Avenues, Squirrel Hill, PA
Free and open to the public

Great Bear Rain Forest, British Columbia, Donald L. Gibbon

Each year the December meeting is devoted to sharing members’ photographs from their travels around the region, nation and world. Since we skipped our usual September Member Adventure Program, we should have a backlog of photographs from member travels. Join us at the Garden Center on December 10th, bring a plate of cookies or cakes, see some great photographs, hear some funny stories, sure to include descriptions of his endless experiments in the Kitchen Sink by Luc Berger, and generally have a good holiday time together. We hope some talented members might bring some holiday music this year. This is always our best-attended monthly meeting. Notify dongibbon at earthlink dot net if you plan to bring photographs, especially if you’re still using 35 mm slides. Most will be on Power Point. Have your program ready to transfer to the laptop at the Garden Center, if you can.

Dudley Edmondson Nature Photography Show – Oct 8

In Celebration of Wild Places:
Connecting People to Nature

A show of the stunning nature photography of Dudley Edmondson

picture of Dudley Edmondson

On Wednesday, October 8th at 7pm at the Carnegie Library Lecture Hall in Oakland, the Sierra Club, Allegheny Group and six other groups (see below) will be sponsoring a slide lecture by African-American nature photographer Dudley Edmondson, who has spoken on this theme across the country at the invitation of the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

The slide program will be followed by a panel discussion of the challenges and benefits to the minority community of expanding participation in outdoor activities.


Panelists include:

Dudley Edmondson and his camera
  • Bill Strickland, president and founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild
  • Mamie Parker, former asst. secretary, US Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Mario Browne, Center for Minority Health, University of Pittsburgh
  • Sarah Jamella Martin, Wilderness Educator, Pittsburgh Public Schools
  • and Dudley Edmondson.
owl in flight
photo by dudley edmondson

Program co-sponsored by:


Contact Donald L. Gibbon (dongibbon at earthlink dot net) with questions or offers of help with the program!

The Allegheny Group received the following note from Donald Gibbon, coordinator of the Edmondson event. He has received some inquiries about on-going work with the minority community, especially in elementary education. If anyone is interested in this area of environmental education, please contact Don at 412-362-8451 or dongibbon at earthlink dot net.

Introduction: In October 2007, Birding Magazine published an interview with the then-unknown-to-me African American nature photographer, Dudley Edmondson. He expressed a passionate desire to get more minority folks, particularly young people, involved in outdoor activities. I invited him to Pittsburgh to send this message in person to the public, particularly the minority community. In the interim, TRBC and five other organizations joined together to co-sponsor his visit on October 8th. One of the panelists, John Robinson, also African-American, is now a wildlife biologist and accomplished birder who leads ABA-sponsored trips. He also has an article in an upcoming issue of Birding. Here’s a thank-you-note I sent to participants in the event. The evening program is also posted with this piece. DLG

09 October 2008

To: Sponsors, Panelists, Volunteers and Dudley Edmondson, Technical Support Staff
From: Donald L. Gibbon
Subject: Thanks for jobs well done and for support

I wanted to let all of you know as individuals and as a group that your work was uniformly appreciated and admired. We did a good thing last night, together. We brought together what is probably the largest strongly diverse audience in Pittsburgh history devoted to honest appraisal of the role of the natural world in our collective health, emphasizing minority health, and we did it in an atmosphere of mutual caring, respect and honesty. There was a great deal of authenticity in the presentations. No one was hiding anything personal. And there was celebration of both the wonders of the natural world and of each of the panelists’ accomplishments in and with it. The journeys described were very different, but all important and interesting. The speakers were succinct and articulate. It was one of the most interesting panel discussions I’ve ever heard, with no “flat spots.” It really moved along.

We learned some important lessons. One of them was how to save money on advertising. Our paid radio advertising produced not one attendee. We might have planted some seeds that way, but they were expensive seeds. Internal organizational advertising by sponsors (Sierra Club, Venture Outdoors, Three Rivers Birding) – plus the fine article in the Post-Gazette on October 7th by Don Hopey – turned the most tricks. One of the attendees, LaVerne Baker Hotep, almost guaranteed us a better turn out next time through her AM talk-radio program. Now that’s the kind of help we need!

Dudley Edmondson is the real thing: a fine nature photographer and an open, friendly, thoughtful, articulate, sometimes very funny speaker. His description of spending pre-dawn to post-sunset winter weekend days alone in a tiny photographic blind for three whole years was mind-bending. And the photographs he shared were just stunning, amazing. His presentation was warm, self-revealing, beautiful. His personal honesty set the tone so that panelists were also encouraged to reveal their own struggles and journeys.

A large crowd milled around the speakers and thronged the organizational display tables for at least an hour after the program. People were making important connections. People who had never been in the same room together quickly found acceptance for their offers to work together. It was exactly what we wanted.

Dudley’s vision of a future in which the minority community is committed to public land preservation and the personal joy of the natural world challenges us of all races to work harder, to reach out, to make our passion for the natural world truly inclusive. As Thoreau said, and as we believe, “In wildness is the preservation of the world.”

Thanks again to all involved.

September 2008 – Orchids in the Northside; Green Burials

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 7:30-9PM
Phipps Civic Garden Center, Fifth and Shady Avenues
Free and open to the public
Growing Orchids on Pittsburgh’s Northside? Yes, Indeed– at The Horticulture Technology
Program of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild!
And, at the other end of the scale,
Green Burials for Pittsburgh
a green burial in a forest

This program will feature “flowers for the living” from the program to train youth in commercial horticulture– yet another fascinating program to build the capacities of Northside youth to face the work world with confidence. Gary Baranowski, director of the Horticulture Technology program at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild, will explain how they produce $18-20,000 worth of flowers and hydroponic vegetables in the huge greenhouse on Metropolitan Street… and prepare young people to do this professionally.

And he will be followed by Pete McQuillen, speaking on the possibilities of a completely different approach to the end of life than mausoleums and stainless steel caskets, truly a “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” final scene, “Green Burial Pittsburgh”.

Conversation and refreshments follow.

Contact Maren Leyla Cooke, maren at huarp dot harvard dot edu.

August 2008 – The Power of the Atmosphere

Wednesday, August 13, 2008 7:30-9PM
Phipps Civic Garden Center, Fifth and Shady Avenues
Free and open to the public
The Power of the Atmosphere:
The Physics and the Art of It

thunderstorm over pittsburgh

Dr. Neil Donahue, Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at CMU, will talk about the power of thunder storms.

storm storm
falling - a painting by Clayton Merrell
“falling” by Clayton Merrell

And Clayton Merrell, Associate Professor in the Art Department at CMU, will talk about the beauty of the sky – including storms – as expressed in his astonishing artwork.

This will be a stunningly beautiful and intellectually fascinating evening. Don’t miss it!

There will be lots of opportunity for conversation and refreshments after the talks.

Contact Don Gibbon (dongibbon at earthlink dot net) with questions.

July 2008 – The Last Stand of the Great Bear

Wednesday, 9 July 2008 7:30-9PM
Phipps Civic Garden Center, Fifth and Shady Avenues
Free and open to the public
The Last Stand of the Great Bear:
The Grizzly Bears and the Wolves of the Great Bear Rain Forest


Six years ago, Don Gibbon and his wife, Linda Bazan, had their first visit to the Great Bear Rain Forest. Since then they’ve returned and visited on two sailing cruises to learn about and be a part of the effort to preserve this astonishingly beautiful place on the upper northwest coast of British Columbia. This is a rare intact ecosystem, with everything still there that ever was there, from gnats to grizzlies.

Join us this evening for a showing of the National Geographic film, “Last Stand of the Great Bear,” one of the truly fine nature movies of all time. SPECIAL FEATURE: If we can pull off the technology, we will talk directly to one of the researchers in the Great Bear by video conference call to ask any questions you might have.

This is something all ages can enjoy, vintage Sierra Club wilderness stuff. Free and open to public. Contact dongibbon at earthlink dot net with questions.

June Group Meeting a Spectacular Success

by Don Gibbon

I’ve been going to Sierra Club meetings for about four decades, but this was the first time I’ve ever seen the speaker given a standing ovation! Richard Piacentini, director of the Phipps Conservatory, spoke on the 36 milllion dollar renovations to the Conservatory infrastructure, from the design and building of the new (almost) underground entrance to the working plant propagation sheds in the back. It may sound dry here, but with his passion for his subject and his heartfelt approach to energy conservation and sustainability, he projected the most amazing vision of what’s possible for Phipps, Pittsburgh and the world. Clearly Pittsburgh is at the very forefront of world consideration of sustainable building. A complex and comprehensive team of architects, designers, engineers and construction people has been embraced by excited funders to develop totally new ways of dealing with old problems. Out of this is coming the world’s first large “living building” where water, electricity, waste water treatment, heating, cooling… all is taken care of on-site, with minimum to no emissions. They’ll even feed the CO2 they make back to the plants! This is AMAZING and EXCITING – Piacentini is the man to lead it. You wanted to stand up and cheer! This is the way America should be greeting the challenges of global warming, petroleum scarcity, water shortages. This is LEMONADE FROM LEMONS… and damn good lemonade at that!

We followed that with and equally interesting but slightly less passionate discussion of bees and honey by the Burgh Bees leader, Christina Neumann, complete with six-grain bread, organic butter and honey from the flowers of the dreaded Japanese knotweed (perhaps the only redeeming virtue of this horribly invasive plant!)

You missed a good one if you missed this one!

June 2008 – Two Parts of the Solution

Wednesday, 11 June 2008, 7:30 – 9PM
Phipps Civic Garden Center, Fifth and Shady Avenues
Free and open to the public

Two Parts of the Solution – Building Energy Conservation and
Connecting to Urban Youth through the Beauty of Orchids

We have an incredible luxury this month, with two of the area’s great leaders in their respective environmental fields.

First we have the executive director of the Phipps Conservatory, Richard Piacentini, with a discussion of the astonishing green building program at the Phipps. This is what has made Pittsburgh a national leader in Green Building Technology.

He will be followed by Gary Baranowski, director of the equally astonishing orchid growing program at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild/Bidwell Training Center greenhouse on the North Side. Bidwell and the Guild are national leadership models in successful development of urban youth, building motivated young people with useful skills and great self-esteem. This is an inspiring story. And you won’t believe the scale of the orchid-growing program, in a half-city-block ultra modern greenhouse!

We’ll also have an update on Burgh Bees, the urban bee-keeping operation, with Christina Joy Neumann. She was taken ill before the last meeting, but will be with us with samples this time!

Refreshments and conversation follow the meeting. We had raw milk, fresh baked cookies, six-grain bread and organic butter last time. It’s sure to be something good this time too!

Contact Donald L. Gibbon, Program and Environmental Education Chair, dongibbon at earthlink dot net for more information.

May 2008 – Urban Homesteading and Honeybee Update

Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:30-9pm
Phipps Civic Garden Center, Mellon Park
Fifth and Shady Avenues, Squirrel Hill


Urban Homesteading: a Serious Commitment to the Good Life
And a bonus: Honeybee Update

Greg Boulos and Jen Montgomery of Blackberry Meadows

With Greg Boulos, Jen Montgomery and others, proud owners of Blackberry Meadows Farm, one of the oldest and finest organic farms in the Pittsburgh area, and Christina Joy Neumann of BURGH BEES

Co-Sponsored by Slow Food Pittsburgh

Greg Boulos and Jen Montgomery are quite a pair. After “apprenticing” for a year at Blackberry Meadows Farm, out near New Kensington, they’ve “bought the farm” for real. They’re not new at this game though, both being graduates of the Slippery Rock University Sustainable Agriculture program and having farmed already for a number of years. Their farm had been organic for some 15 years when they bought it. They operate a fairly large CSA and Greg also has for some time taught the principles of making biodiesel fuels. AND to top it off, Slow Foods has selected them as the Pittsburgh representatives to Terre Madre, the giant all-world gathering of farmers and cooks in Turin, Italy in October of this year. What a thrill! We’re delighted to meet with them, share some of their past experiences and look forward to Turin. WAIT!! There’s more!

Christina Joy Neumann will share her knowledge of the present situation with honey bees in our area. She represents Burgh Bees, an organization whose major interest is supporting both urban and small-scale beekeeping endeavors. Understanding and working with pollinating “keystone” species, such as the honeybee (Apis mellifera), truly enriches our human lives, as well. (Too bad you missed the amazing movie on bees at the Environmental Film Festival last month!! There’s always next year!)

We’ll have some treats of local foods to share too. Join us! It will be a “We love good food” fest!

Review of Polar Bear Survival Tour

April Film Festival

by Donald L. Gibbon

Well, it’s a shame, but you probably missed it! Tucked into the Environmental Film Festival on April 19 was the visit by Chad Kister and his nationwide Polar Bear Survival Tour. This was the “sleeper” of the Festival. Even I as the Festival organizer didn’t know just what was going to happen at this program… but it was amazing. After almost twenty years of working one way and another to protect the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), I finally understand the whole issue, thanks to this remarkable young man, Chad Kister. (more…)

April Film Festival

Wednesday and Saturday
April 9th and 19th, 2008


adjacent to Phipps Conservatory, across from Schenley Park Visitors Center

Note: these presentations are NOT at Phipps Civic Garden Center in Squirrel Hill!

Sierra Club’s Environmental Film Festival

“The festival for hard-core environmentalists and those who have the nerve to become one”

You’ll leave infuriated, inspired, uplifted and enraged all at the same time. With any luck, you’ll also leave determined to help the Sierra Club in the fight to protect the most valuable parts of the planet.

** All starting times are approximate except for 6pm sharp! **

Wednesday, April 9:

  • 6 pm: The Real Dirt on Farmer John (82 min)
    One man’s crazy journey to wholeness through farming. This one is just fabulous and heart warming.

  • 7pm: Secret World of Gardens – Honey Bees (22 min)
    Voted “The most eye-popping series!”

  • 8pm: My Father’s Garden (56 min)
    An emotionally charged documentary about the use and misuse of technology on the American farm. Deeply sympathetic to all farmers and to rural culture. Sundance Film Festival, Earthwatch Film Award, CINE Golden Eagle.

  • 9pm: Net Loss – The Storm over Salmon Farming (53 min)
    An old Chinese proverb, ‘The fish sees the bait, not the hook; a person sees the gain, not the danger’, warns of the unexpected consequences of new technologies.

Saturday, April 19:

  • 6pm: Deconstructing Supper – Is your food safe? (48 min)
    A ride every contemporary eater will want to take — a thought-provoking and entertaining journey into the revolution in modern food production, and its effects on our lives.

  • 7pm: Polar Bear Tour with Chad Kister (62 min)
    Polar bears and global warming. And Great Bear Rain Forest – save grizzlies too!

  • 8pm: The Crabs, The Birds and the Bay – Spring miracle on Delaware Bay (19 min)
    Shot in a way that makes New Jersey’s bay shore look like the stunningly exotic place that it really is. CINE Golden Eagle.

  • 9pm: Natural Connection (46 min)
    5 EMMY Awards, Best of Category, Best Educational Value, Best Scientific Content and Best Conservation Message, International Wildlife Film Festival, Missoula.

March 2008

WEDNESDAY, 12 March 2008, 7:30PM to 9PM


adjacent to Phipps Conservatory, across from Schenley Park Visitors Center

Note: this meeting is NOT at Phipps Civic Garden Center in Squirrel Hill!


This program will begin with a striking film on the global water situation and end with a review of Pittsburgh’s own supply issues, presented by Tyler Gourley, Regional Water Management Task Force. (Note: about one third of Pennsylvania’s counties are under drought watch status right now).

The film is titled “Thirst”. See the reviews below. It has won literally dozens of important awards at festivals around the world.

“A moving and inspiring film about one of the biggest water issues of our day… it sounds a clarion call for citizens and governments to reaffirm that water is a public trust, not a commodity to be exploited for private profit. I hope THIRST is viewed widely, discussed at town meetings and in legislative debates, and that it energizes citizen involvement in water decisions. A powerful — and needed — film.” Sandra Postel, Director, Global Water Policy Project

“Beautiful and engaging…” Carl Pope, Sierra Club Executive Director

“THIRST is a remarkable film. The looming freshwater crisis is the greatest environmental and human rights crisis of our time. Not surprisingly, the move is on by powerful corporations and governments to commodify and cartelize the world’s water supplies for power and profit. THIRST is the story of this assault and the fight to stop it.” Maude Barlow, National Chair, Council of Canadians and Co-author, with Tony Clarke, Blue Gold, The Fight to Stop Corporate Theft of the World’s Water

Time for lots of discussion afterwards.

2007 Monthly Meetings in Review

This is a review of the monthly Allegheny Group meetings in 2007. Please join us for more programs like these at future meetings!

Jan 10: Polyface Farm, So’Journey Farm, Slow Food

Feb 14: Hays Woods/Nine-Mile Run, Valentine’s Day Sierra Club-Style: a Heartfelt Thanks.

Mar 14: County Comprehensive Plan – Peter Wray

April 11, April 21: Film Festival – Being Caribou, True Cost of Food, Return to Balance: A Climber’s Journey, Jungles w Frans Lanting, Yosemite: Storm of Beauty

May 9: Mildreds’s Daughters. Terra Madre – Urban Gardening. Four Frozen Farmers – Neal and Suzanne, Greg and Jen

June 13: Coal Mining – long wall, mountain top removal. Phil Coleman/Senator Barry Stout/Jim Kleissler/Sandra Brown

July 11: W. PA Hardwoods – a Wonder and a Resource. Tree Climbing Demo. Wood working – Chris Tyner. Jim and Pam Webster, Tony Kelly – Big Trees in W PA

Aug 8: Horse logging – Troy Firth. Firth Maple Products. Home-made Maple Ice Cream. Logging Team on-site.

Sept 12: Member Adventure Show. Chris Laird, BWCA. John Grunick, Nepal

Oct 10: Patty DeMarco- Rachel Carson, Wind Power. Golden Eagles and Wind Turbines- Powder Mill

Nov 14: EF Schumacher. Environmental Economics. CMU –Lester Lave- commentary on video.

Dec 12: Member Slide Show and Holiday Celebration – Food and Music

The Challenge of Knowing Your Home Place

from “A Sense of Place” by Scott Russell Sanders

The following was part of the keynote address given by Scott Russell Sanders at the October 2004 Spirit and Nature Conference sponsored by the Sierra Club. We have taken it as the guiding set of principles for the monthly meeting program of the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club. If you attend those meetings, eventually we will answer all of these questions! (ed. Donald L. Gibbon)

If we aim to nurture a practice of conservation, we need to cultivate an intimacy with land in ourselves and we need to encourage it in others, especially young people. For parents and teachers, this will mean poring over maps with our children, asking them to read the history and lore of our region, taking them outside to learn the animals and plants and terrain, setting them tasks in service to the community and the local landscape. Even as our young people are gaining a deep local knowledge, we need to help them understand their lives and their homes within the great web of winds and waters and weather, animal migration, glacial history, continental drift, and cosmic evolution.


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