County Urban Farm Effort Expands in Second Year
A new “urban farm” in Bellevue will help North Hills Community Outreach achieve one of its top goals for the more than 1,200 families it serves each year.
The fresh tomatoes, peppers and beans raised there this summer will aid the social service agency in assuring “adequate healthy nourishment for the people who use our food pantries,” executive director Fay Morgan said.
Bellevue’s new garden will be part of the second year “Allegheny Grows” urban-agriculture effort. Bellevue, Wilkinsburg and Penn Hills were selected last week to participate in the expansion of the program.
Their projects were selected from among proposals submitted by a dozen municipalities and their local partners.
The community gardens and urban farms that Allegheny Grows sponsors offer environmental, economic, social and educational benefits, project manager Iris Whitworth said. She works for the county’s economic development office.
Communities and projects were picked based on strong municipal leadership, enthusiasm of local volunteers, suitability of their garden site and community need, Ms. Whitworth said.
The effort has the support of County Executive Dan Onorato. “Allegheny Grows builds on the county’s ongoing initiatives to revitalize older communities and distressed municipalities through sustainable development and strategic investment,” he said in a statement.
This year’s budget for Allegheny Grows is about $75,000. In addition to setting up new projects in the three communities, the funds will be used to cover second-year costs for garden projects begun last year in Millvale and McKees Rocks.
Gardeners in both communities will get seedlings and technical advice. Millvale’s project also will receive rain-collecting barrels, and McKees Rocks will get help in edging its garden beds and making them accessible to people with disabilities.
The money for Allegheny Grows comes from federal community development block grants.
Local partners in each community will work with “Grow Pittsburgh,” which was formed in 2005 to encourage city gardening, and with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is well known for its summer flower gardens. Working with various partners, it plants 140 of those in 20 counties.
The organization also has been long involved in support for vegetable gardening, Judy Wagner said. She is the director of the conservancy’s community gardens and greenspace programs. Its community garden projects were common in the 1980s as the region’s steel industry collapsed, she said. Many families turned to growing food for themselves and their neighbors.
More than a year ago, the conservancy and Grow Pittsburgh teamed up to teach people how to grow food in urban setting.
Conservancy staff will work on design and construction at all three sites while Grow Pittsburgh will take lead in training volunteers.
Bellevue’s project will be on Davis Avenue on a 13,500-square-foot tract owned by North Hills Community Outreach. The land had been donated in 2008 by Terrie Amelio, of McCandless, to the social-service agency. The site will be named the Rosalinda Sirianni Memorial Garden in honor of Mrs. Amelio’s mother, Ms. Morgan said.
Most of the labor for the organic farming effort will be provided by volunteers, who will be supervised by a part-time community outreach employee, Ms. Morgan said. Produce grown there will be donated to food pantries.
Bellevue will supply water for the garden, and two foundations are among those aiding the effort. The Comcast Foundation will provide funds to hire the part-time coordinator, and the Grable Foundation has given money to pay local youth helpers to work with the volunteers.
Wilkinsburg’s urban farm will be part of a 2-acre site on Jeanette Street in the city’s Hamnett Place neighborhood. The land is owned by Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, which already is involved with several housing renewal projects in the community. Allegheny Grows will be working with a citizens organization called Hamnett Place Community Garden Association to plant and care for the site.
The site will have 16 individual plots and can be expanded to more than 20, garden association president Rachel Courtney said. Another portion of the vacant lot will be converted into a play-and-learning area for neighborhood children.
Local residents are already planning their own plots. “A woman from Jamaica has told us she hopes to grow things that she can’t find in the grocery stores here,” Ms. Courtney said.
“Buildings are not what make communities,” Karamagi Rujumba said. “People make communities.”
That is why his employer, the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation, is assisting in the Allegheny Grows effort, he said. Mr. Rujumba is coordinator of landmarks foundation programs in Wilkinsburg.
The garden and adjoining children’s “learning space” should teach people practical gardening skills and give them a sense of ownership in their community, he said.
The Hamnett Place project also has received funding from the Heinz Endowment, the Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation, Allegheny County and the state.
Penn Hills will provide water and leaf-mulch compost for an expanded community garden that occupies the site of a former municipal ballfield in the 1100 block of Jefferson Road.
Local Boy Scouts last year helped to clear and prepare the site for gardening as an Eagle Scout project, Ed Zullo, president of Penn Hills Community Development Corp., said.
The site had been divided into a dozen raised garden beds, and plans for this spring call for almost doubling that number to 22 plots.
Gardeners last year raised vegetables both for their families and donated baskets of tomatoes and peppers to two local food pantries, Mr. Zullo said. That effort likely will expand to benefit a third pantry this year.
His agency’s partnership with Allegheny Grows could mark the start of efforts to create additional agricultural sites across Penn Hills, he said.
Community gardens offer multiple benefits, supporters say. They provide fresh, healthy food and they can improve the appearance of blighted land. Their vegetation helps to reduce storm-water run-off, and the flowering plants growing there help support bee colonies and other pollinators.
They also have less obvious advantages. “Neighbors in Millvale really enjoy working together,” the conservancy’s Ms. Wagner said. “You are growing your community as you are growing vegetables.”
Mr. Zullo agreed that gardens can serve as a development tool. “We get neighbors of different generations and different races interacting,” he said. “Old people teach young people, and neighbors compete over who has grown better tomatoes.”