How Jake Seltman is Growing New Shoots in Pittsburgh

Seltman is the new executive director of Grow Pittsburgh.

Photo by Laura petrilla


In January, Jake Seltman, 35, became more deeply rooted in a career dedicated to teaching, community service and agriculture when he became the executive director of Grow Pittsburgh in Homewood. “We want to be a resource for the city that will share the best practices we’ve experienced and to honor the experiences of the communities around us,” he says.

Seltman, who grew up in Point Breeze, started working for the organization in 2012 as director of educational programming. There he oversaw, among other things, the nonprofit’s school garden program. Before joining Grow Pittsburgh, he worked as an experiential educator in Washington, New York and Vermont with organizations such as Outward Bound and Farm & Wilderness. 

“I thought the director of educational programming job would be the perfect mix of honoring the 10 years of experience I had working outdoors and education in food and doing something for my hometown,” he says.

In that period, he helped to build Grow Pittsburgh’s school garden program, which operates in 13 schools in Pittsburgh. The program blends hands-on learning in outdoor gardens with classroom education such as cooking classes. 

“This process connects kids to their learning environment, to their own history, to their food and their peers. Getting your hands in the soil, caring for something and watching it grow can be really powerful,” he says. 

​Seltman also helped to form a partnership with Kimbal Musk’s The Kitchen Community’s Learning Garden Program; the two organizations plan to expand learning gardens to 50 schools in the next four years. 

Now, as the nonprofit organization’s executive director, he looks to expand its educational message to the greater Pittsburgh community in a fashion that’s increasingly inclusive and intersectional. The movement for the past decade has been picking up steam.

“Growing food in an urban setting isn’t a new concept. School gardens aren’t a new concept. Community gardens aren’t a new concept. But there’s the new wave of acceptance and interest in it, and it’s exciting to see organizations like Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers Cooperative and others prioritizing growing food. I’m excited to position ourselves to support that work and many others, and being an organization that works to connect the dots to make sure we can all move forward,” he says. 

It’s that commitment to combining leadership with listening that Seltman believes will push Grow Pittsburgh to grow into its next phase.

“For me to come in as executive director and impose my vision isn’t going to happen. We need to be adaptable.”  



Our family always grows lots of basil to make pesto. We freeze it in ice cube trays, transfer to bags and use it throughout the winter to remind us of the summer harvest. Our favorite vehicle for the pesto is on a pizza with olives, tomatoes and various cheeses.

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (OK to substitute half of the basil leaves with baby spinach, kale or any green)
  • ½ cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese 
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts 
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced 

Directions: Place the basil leaves and pine nuts into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a several times.  Add the garlic and Parmesan or Romano cheese and pulse several times. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.
While the food processor is running, slowly add the olive oil in a steady small stream. Occasionally stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

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