First community garden in the works in Homestead

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Hannah Wolfson and Ellie Valentine each began to look into establishing the first community vegetable garden in Homestead after reading about the Allegheny Grows program.

"It was the insane prices at the grocery story," Ms. Wolfson said. "People need healthy food at reasonable prices."

"There are so many ways gardening can help our community," Mrs. Valentine said, citing improved health and nutrition, restoring a sense of neighborhood, fueling intergenerational fellowship and more.

Soon the women joined forces and are among the organizers of the new 80-by-100-foot community garden at the corner of East Seventh Avenue and Amity Street.

At 9 a.m. April 27, the first gardening activity will take place when volunteers build beds.

Crops planned for the first growing season include tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, beans, greens for salads and cooking, zucchini, sweet and hot peppers, fresh herbs, melons, berries and pumpkins. Flowers also will be grown.

Some yield will be donated to the Rainbow Kitchen Community Services in Homestead to give to qualifying needy families.

"It will be a great benefit to the people we are serving," kitchen director Donna Little said.

Organic foods will also be sold at the Rainbow Kitchen farm stand in the parking lot of Citizens Bank, 345 E. Eighth Ave., on Wednesdays beginning in mid-June.

Deliveries to senior living facilities also are planned.

Allegheny Grows, which is funded by the Allegheny County Office of Economic Development, was formed through the partnership of Grow Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to assist communities wishing to start community food gardens.

To be eligible, garden groups must have a partnering nonprofit, such as Rainbow Kitchen.

Amity Harvest, the name organizers gave to the Homestead garden under the umbrella of Here We Grow Homestead, Here We Grow, meets the other criteria of a suitable site on public or nonprofit-owned land with lead levels below a specific threshold.

The vacant site is owned by the county.

Allegheny Grows will provide building materials and soil, expert technical support and seedlings at no cost to the borough.

The garden program lasts for two years, with the goal of garden self-sufficiency by the community by the end of the second growing season.

Schools, churches, civic organizations, community groups, senior centers, public libraries and more are among the resources envisioned as lending a helping hand. Community advocate Sharon Ford is particularly interested in creating more offerings for local youth.

"It is a perfect avenue to bring everyone together," she said.

For youngsters, the garden provides an opportunity to learn about nature, science, nutrition, teamwork and ecology; for adults, it fosters quality time outdoors with children and healthier family eating; for seniors, it improves intergenerational connections through mentorship and promotes physical activity and social interaction.

As part of the program, Ms. Ford, Ms. Wolfson and Mrs. Valentine attended 15 hours of gardening instruction through Grow Pittsburgh in February.

Ms. Ford said officials of the Steel Valley School District and Propel Homestead have expressed interest in the garden as a learning tool, as evidenced by the upcoming visit to the site by Barrett Elementary School students in honor of Earth Day. Youngsters may also volunteer to work in the garden.

Ms. Ford said she hopes older students film the growing process as a documentary. Canning and culinary classes are also potential garden upshots.

Mrs. Valentine said the greatest benefit to youths is simply "getting involved."

"Being outdoors and doing things with others to help the community builds a sense of unity," she said. "It lets children know it's their place and they belong."

Details, to volunteer or to collaborate as an organization, contact Mrs. Valentine at 412-513-7878. Open house at the garden will be June 15 at an undetermined time to coincide with the Great Allegheny Passage ribbon-cutting in Point State Park. That event will be in celebration of the trail completion and the ongoing Three Rivers Arts Festival.

neigh_south

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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