NIF Grantee Spotlight: Grow Pittsburgh
Grow Pittsburgh is empowering residents and giving them a supportive space to spend time during the pandemic.
East Commons Community Garden at Allegheny Commons Park
Special thanks to Ryan Walsh, Director of Development and Communications at Grow Pittsburgh, for keeping us in the loop!
Can you tell us a little bit about Grow Pittsburgh?
Grow Pittsburgh is an urban agriculture nonprofit organization founded in 2005 with a mission to teach people how to grow food and promote the benefits that gardens bring to our neighborhoods. We use growing food as a platform to bring people and communities together, while inspiring them to be healthier individuals, learn new skills, care for the earth, and make our city and region a more livable and desirable place to be. We know that growing food helps to build healthy communities, and we act as a resource and guide to ensure that all residents have this opportunity. We work with people of all ages through our school garden program, community garden program, and farm education programming, which take place at our urban farm production sites around the region. In all of our programs, Grow Pittsburgh prioritizes low- and moderate-income communities.
How did you hear about the Neighborhood Initiatives Fund program?
I learned about the NIF program through a NEXTpittsburgh article about the opportunity.
Tell us about your East Commons Community Garden project.
Grow Pittsburgh worked with the Northside community in 2019 to transform dilapidated tennis courts at East Commons into a community garden in Phase I of this project. NIF is funding Phase II, which includes the installation of seating, signage, and seventeen additional raised garden beds, construction of a central shade structure, and extension of water service into the garden site.
How did this project come about?
Community gardens are people-powered. Before applying to be part of our Community Gardens program, Northside residents had spent a year organizing. They surveyed more than 100 neighbors and did neighborhood outreach to build a food-growing resource for the community.
For many years, the Allegheny Commons East Park tennis courts were abandoned and in disrepair. People would come to the space at night to deal and use drugs, leaving behind needles, broken glass, and other hazards. Those who live in the neighborhood and walked by every day saw the crumbling infrastructure and a possibility for change, which they’re now doing together as a community.
How will the grant funds advance your project?
In addition to the project description, this grant is helping to empower people of all ages to grow their own fresh fruits and vegetables and is helping to transform an abandoned lot into a safe green space and source of community pride.
How will this project improve Northside/Deutschtown communities?
This community garden has transformed an abandoned and dilapidated space into a useful and attractive resource. This garden provides Northside residents of all backgrounds with the tools, resources, and know-how to grow their own food. The garden addresses food insecurity for low-income residents by providing them with the tools, space, and know-how to grow their own fresh produce and is saving families money on their grocery bills.
Why are you excited about this project?
These Northside neighbors and their community partners are making progress on their shared vision, which is beautiful. In these stressful times more than ever, it’s encouraging to see neighbors connecting with the therapeutic benefits that gardening can provide, as well as the health benefits and nutrition that growing our own food offers our communities. As we all practice social distancing for public health, we’re thrilled to see so many in our community have turned to gardening as a form of solace and empowerment. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the garden has been an invaluable place for meaningful connections, albeit at a safe social distance. Enthusiasm for this garden has been high with more neighborhood interest than available spaces.
When can we look forward to completion?
We estimate that the project will be completed with the conclusion of this year’s growing season (October/November). The garden now has 32 accessible raised beds that are a combination of allotment beds for families to directly care for, as well as community beds to be collectively farmed for the neighborhood. The shade structure is currently being installed just in time for the summer heat.
How was your experience working with the URA?
Working with the URA has been a successful partnership on this project. We greatly appreciate Matt Reitzell’s clear communications, as well as flexibility given the changing landscape of the pandemic.
What would like Pittsburghers to know?
Grow Pittsburgh has helped residents start or sustain more than 100 community gardens in Allegheny County. Throughout our region, residents are banding together to build relationships, revive abandoned land, and grow food together. Folks who are interested in finding a nearby community garden to join or who wish to start one in their neighborhood should check out the Grower’s Map and Community Gardens information on our website: www.growpittsburgh.org.