Urban Ag Week Highlights Urban Farms and Their Hard Working Farmers
In celebration of our commonwealth’s first “Urban Ag Week,” the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (PFPC) hosted the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture (PDA) for a tour of urban gardens and farms located in Mt. Oliver Borough, Northside and Homewood neighborhoods of Pittsburgh on Tuesday July 17,
This event brought together local and state officials, including PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker, urban agriculture practitioners and other members of the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council.
The first farm featured along the tour was the Mt. Oliver Borough Community Garden which is run, in large part by the Bhutanese Community Association of Pittsburgh with the support of the Mt. Oliver Borough. Community members which came to the U.S. mostly from agricultural backgrounds utilize the garden to do what they do best, strengthen community connections and make culturally appropriate foods available for their families. The garden combats isolation and depression that immigrants often experience after relocation and the Borough appreciates the communities dedication to caretaking the formerly vacant lot. This garden is a great example of the kind of thoughtful collaboration that all involved parties benefit from.
The second location on the tour was Ballfield Farm. A former abandoned ballfield, the Pittsburgh Project turned this site into a place to teach youth how to grow vegetables. After a number of years the Pittsburgh Project turned the farm over to its members and now serves as the farm’s fiscal sponsor. Individual and families join the farm for a small annual fee. The leadership of the farm rotates and the membership makes communal decisions each year regarding what crops will be planted. Ballfield Farm is a unique community garden for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that members don’t have assigned garden plots. Members farm the entire garden commnically, taking what they need for their families.
Before the last stop along the tour attendees enjoyed a lovely lunch at the Kingsley Association that was catered by Republic Food Enterprise Center of Fayette County. True to their mission, Republic Foods sourced much of the lunch from nearby farms. During the lunch Secretary Redding read a Urban Ag Week proclamation signed by Governor Tom Wolf.
The final stop along the tour was at the Homewood Historical Community Farm, a Black Urban Gardeners & Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op (BUGS) project. BUGS formed in 2011 as a group of 12 adults and 17 children; a nascent organization with the goal of growing food together and teaching their children to farm. BUGS membership requires that every member select and work actively on a social justice cause that they are passionate about. BUGS recently raised their very first hoop house across 2 formerly vacant lots in Homewood. Plans for the location are thoughtfully laid out in drawings; a therapy garden, compost area, chicken run and year round growing are just a few of the exciting details.
“We are thrilled to see the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognize and support the role of urban agriculture,” says Dawn Plummer, PFPC Executive Director. “Delighted to have the PDA come to the Pittsburgh area and have the opportunity to show off our region’s robust network of dedicated urban growers and their projects. These urban gardens and farms grow more than nutritious food--they grow inter-generational gardeners, healthy soils, community connections and pride.”