Family-Owned Churchview Farms Lovingly Keeps Farm to Table Legacy Alive
by Dan Gigler
July 7, 2022
It’s a late June afternoon and Tara Rockacy’s Churchview Farm is a riot of color: the sky above is a deep azure, complemented by golden rays from the low-hanging sun and lush greenery in every direction is offset with firework pops of wildflowers.
Warm breezes feel like velvet on the skin to a dozen diners enjoying wine and laughs under a custom-made wood and tin pergola.
Chef Michael Godlewski and his team have prepared a five-course gourmet charity dinner to benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh. It’s composed heavily of an abundance of organic produce harvested steps away in the farm’s fields.
“This,” Mr. Godlewski, executive chef and owner of the forthcoming EYV restaurant on Pittsburgh’s North Side said “is my happy place.”
A tranquil scene like this is the platonic ideal of what Ms. Rockacy has created on this undulating 13-acre patch of land in Baldwin Borough, which is wedged against the border of the city’s Hays neighborhood. But it belies the backbreaking year-round work that goes into it.
The land has been in her family since her Hungarian-born grandfather Emil purchased it in the mid-1930s. But the original farm carved out of his had essentially faded away until the 45-year-old former librarian acquired the farm from her family in 2009. She’s since revived this slice of suburban agriculture that otherwise likely would’ve been sold to developers for townhouse development.
“To be able to do this every day and keep my family’s legacy alive — not to mention working with the region’s best chefs to grow and promote beautiful healthy food is incredible,” she said, before adding, “But it’s not for the faint of heart either.”
She grows nearly 150 varieties of heirloom tomatoes that ripen into more colors than a wall of paint swatches, with names to match like “Cosmic Eclipse,’ ‘Roman Candle’ and ‘Green Zebra.’ Her fields yield 800 pounds of tomatoes a week from the end of July and into October. That’s in addition to the other peppers, fruits, vegetables and herbs that comprise her organic nearly 300-crop inventory.
She manages this annual bounty with the help of three full-time paid employees and a team of regular volunteers who are quite literally paid in produce. They weed, plant, water and harvest crops, and feed the dozens of clucking chickens and bleating goats.
Volunteers include students in the Chatham University Masters of Food Studies Program, who receive academic credit and culinary industry professionals interested in their locally sourced products.
Pittsburgh-area chefs like Mr. Godlewski host gourmet farm dinners throughout the warm weather months both for charity and profit, and in 2021 Ms. Rockacy hired prominent Pittsburgh chef Csilla Thackery to be a chef-in-residence. She’s developed a slate of new programming including tasting dinners and family-style meals dedicated to her Hungarian heritage.
Each year she undertakes a new capital project to enhance the sustainability of the farm, including the addition of solar panels on two structures that generate electricity and goes back to the grid.
Raelynn Harshman is the bar manager at Dish Osteria on Pittsburgh's South Side. The restaurant frequently makes use of Churchview’s produce on both the food and drink menu. She’s volunteered here for the past eight summers.
“Being out here is so soothing and working in the dirt is almost Zen-like,” she said. “Everything just melts away.”