The Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation rises at Chatham University

A new initiative at Chatham University is firing up a series of workshops this winter on grains and other tasty subjects as it works to advance our region’s food systems and stories.  

The Center for Regional Agriculture, Food and Transformation, or CRAFT, is connected with the school’s food studies program and its Falk School of Sustainability and aims to build on work Chatham already has been doing in the broad issues of food and sustainability. 

Directed by Chatham’s Alice Julier, CRAFT was launched in October and held a couple of workshops last year — on chocolate, pie and sourdough. But its project manager, Cassandra Malis, says the center now is “fully moving forward” with workshops for the public.

The first begins from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday in the Lodge Kitchen of Chatham’s Eden Hall Campus in Richland. Chatham food studies graduate Amber Webb, who runs the teaching kitchen at the Sampson Family YMCA in Plum, will lead an exploration and tasting program on “Cooking with Ancient Grains” of farro, millet, and kamut. 

The second part of the workshop runs from noon to 2 p.m. Jan. 20. Cost is $40 for each session or $70 for both, with Chatham alumni getting an additional 10 percent discount. 

Other workshops include Sourdough Bread Baking Basics on Jan. 20, Sausage from Start to Finish on Jan. 27, Yeast Bread Baking Basics on Feb. 10 and Building a School Garden: Gearing Kids Up for Farm-to-Table Fun! on Feb. 17. 

The grains and baking workshops are part of the new center’s Grains Project, which will have, as its heart, the Eden Hall freestanding outdoor bread oven. It’s to be built with proceeds from bread oven coordinator Shauna Kearns’ sourdough classes to match a grant from PNC. Ground for that could be broken this spring.  

Another center project that is starting, funded by Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, is to build a Western Pennsylvania Foodways Archive, a collection of written text, oral histories, interviews, recipes and images “using food as a tool to uncover a meaningful past.” This first chapter is to be a history of local grains, baking and bakeries titled “Babka and Beyond.”

The center also aspires to offer community services, including product development, research support, events and promotion and education and training. (Students already have started creating an all-local pizza with Oakmont’s Tomanetti Food Products, which will eventually sell it.)

Resources on CRAFT’s website include an interactive map of farmers markets, farm stands and CSA pickup sites; coming soon are maps showing the region’s agricultural capacity and Allegheny County’s food business capacity. 

“One of our goals is to be the house for food and agriculture research in the region,” Ms. Malis says. That said, they realize, “A lot of what we’re doing could be recognized nationally as well.”

In addition to running workshops all semester, Ms. Julier notes that “we’ll be starting pop-up dinners in a month or two,” again centered around the Lodge Kitchen, which the center plans to transform into its Kitchen Lab. 

The focus will be to teach not just the hard skills, such as cooking, but also, says Ms. Malis, “We want to really focus on the academic, cultural and scientific knowlege that goes with that.” 

Find details on the center, its people and events at You also can find the events on Eventbrite.

Bob Batz Jr.: [email protected], 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.