Best of the Burgh: Addressing Inequities Through Gardens

Grow Pittsburgh plants seed for teaching and helping communities one garden at a time.
Shiloh Farms4

PHOTO BY CHUCK BEARD

As far as fantasies go, cottagecore’s yearning for a patch of land to tend to crops seems impossible in a city like Pittsburgh. But dreams of getting one’s hands deep in the dirt to grow food aren’t as unlikely as they may appear.

While Pittsburgh might not have space for sprawling rows of crops that disappear over the horizon, nestled throughout the neighborhoods are Grow Pittsburgh’s community gardens, community farms, commercial urban farms and school gardens.

Grow Pittsburgh is a resource for gardens and gardeners focused on providing education, infrastructure and supplies. It offers tool rentals for members and provides compost, topsoil, mulch and straw for local gardeners. The programs range from general garden planning to more specific guidance on raising particular plants, giving people at any stage of experience the opportunity to jump in.

The organization started after Mindy Schwartz, of Garden Dreams Urban Farm and Nursery, and Barb Kline and Randa Shannon, formerly of Mildred’s Daughters Urban Farm, found they were all fielding questions about how to start garden projects. They founded Grow Pittsburgh in 2005 as a place where people could find answers.

Since then, the organization has expanded and evolved. In addition to its school gardens programs, where students grow crops and learn new recipes to bring home, Grow Pittsburgh has developed programming to help people start community gardens. It has also widened its lens to help provide support for existing gardens, from grants to fencing.

“I think we’ve all found that the starting up of gardens is sometimes the easiest time to get energy and get momentum and get resources, and then after a few years, it can be challenging to sustain that support,” director of community projects Rayden Sorrock says.

Existing gardens provide access to green space and fresh produce, which can greatly impact communities. They offer oases in the city’s food deserts and allow people to supplement their food supply, which has become increasingly urgent as the COVID-19 pandemic shakes food instability.

“I think we’ve come to understand the work that we do in more of a social justice lens, in that we are trying to address a lot of the inequities that create situations where people don’t have a lot of access to healthy food,” Sorrock says.

Regardless of your reason for wanting to get your hands dirty, Sorrock advises that people get involved with garden projects.

“We hope that when folks are looking for ways to support, both financially and with their time and their skills,” Sorrock says, “they’re looking to the projects that may be struggling or are in neighborhoods where people are struggling more, and will help to divert resources where people need it most.”

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