Growers help 12 gardens take root in Pittsburgh
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An unused baseball diamond became a field of dreams for gardeners in the South Side Slopes last spring. It was the biggest undertaking by the City Growers program, an offshoot of Grow Pittsburgh's urban agriculture advocacy.
Grow Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy joined hands to start City Growers two years ago in response to growing demand.
"We just kept getting calls," said Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh.
In two years, City Growers has helped 12 neighborhood gardens get started -- five in the city, seven in other county municipalities -- by providing seedlings, plants, supplies and expertise. Grow Pittsburgh helped start four gardens before 2010.
It is holding an information session from 10 to 11 a.m. today at its offices at 6587 Hamilton Ave., Larimer. Through Aug. 25 it is also taking applications from city neighborhood groups to become City Growers gardens next spring. The deadline is Sept. 7 for the rest of Allegheny County. Four applicants will be chosen in all.
For more information on City Growers and for a direct link to the application, visit www.growpittsburgh.org.
Off Mission Street in the Slopes, the garden at Bandi Schaum Park is sectioned off into about 90 plots surrounded by a chain-link fence that deer can't jump over. It is the second largest community garden in the city after Homewood Cemetery's.
The South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association applied for City Growers' support and also got the blessing of the city to adapt the unused ball field, said Mike Gable, deputy director of the city's Department of Public Works. It is the first City Growers' garden that Public Works also oversees.
The city's Redd-Up crew turned the soil. Fencing and storage bins for mulch were added for about $40,000, he said.
This garden, like all gardens Public Works monitors, has a waiting list, as do City Growers' other gardens.
Sarah Shea, a member of the South Side Slopes Neighborhood Association, said that while people turn up throughout the day to harvest and weed their plots, evenings bring the most people together, "and some people just show up to hang out."
"This is real impressive," Mr. Gable said during a recent visit. "You can come up here on any given night and 30 to 40 people will be working" on their plots. "This has created a great social event."
Glenn Fischer grows peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, squash, oregano and basil on his plot.
"This year, my New Year's resolution was to avoid grocery store produce," he said. "It's just always so disappointing. And there's a lot of sharing here among the gardeners."
Besides having Grow Pittsburgh's help, the gardeners' community is sharing seeds and contributes excess harvest to a box for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Ms. Shea said.
A nearby fire station filled 220-gallon bins with water for the gardeners' use and, in return, some of them took produce to the fire station, she said.
"This garden has also produced social capital," Marisa Manheim, City Growers coordinator, said. "One of the gardeners has a friend who has a horse farm and donated manure."
City Growers tests the soil of all the gardens it oversees every year. The gardens that are on land that once held buildings have to be raised at least a foot off the ground, Ms. Pezzino said.
Community gardens are popping up all over the city, a microcosm of the do-it-yourself, local food and urban farming support movement. The ones started by City Growers outside the city are supported by the Allegheny County Department of Economic Development so they are required to serve low-income neighborhoods.
City Growers' gardens are in the Hill, Homewood, Uptown, Lawrenceville, Brighton Heights, McKees Rocks, Millvale, Wilkinsburg, Penn Hills, Bellevue, Clairton and Natrona Heights. Grow Pittsburgh's older gardens are in Larimer, the Hill District, East Liberty and Friendship.
The city's Public Works department monitors a few gardens, including ones in Highland Park and Morningside.
But because some start without support from the city, Grow Pittsburgh or any other nonprofit, there is no accurate total.
First Published August 18, 2012 12:00 am