County Executive Dan Oronato has launched "Allegheny Grows," an initiative to encourage urban farming and community gardening on vacant lots and blighted properties throughout the region.
The program offers startup materials, as well as technical and educational assistance.
Nine municipalities will participate in the inaugural year. McKees Rocks and Millvale will create urban farms with the partnership of Grow Pittsburgh and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy; and Bridgeville, Elizabeth Borough, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Stowe Township, Swissvale, Tarentum and Verona will develop sunflower bioenergy gardens with GTECH Strategies.
Urban farms and community gardens offer a host of environmental, economic and social benefits, says Kevin Evanto with the County. Gardens can combat blight, cool urban areas and reduce runoff from rain and pollutants in the air. Additionally, explains Julie Butcher Pezzino with Grow Pittsburgh, "Gardens bring fresh produce to communities in the most simple way possible--by communities growing food themselves. They can save money on grocery bills and can supplement their incomes by selling their vegetables."
With $19,704 from the County, the McKees Rocks project will further expand the eight-bed farm already established in the Bottoms neighborhood by the McKees Rocks Community Development Corporation, Youth Advocate Programs and several borough residents. When completed, there will be a total of 15 vegetable beds.
With another $19,704 committed to Millvale, the County will work with the borough, Millvale Community Development Corporation and Allegheny River Towns Enterprise Zone to develop a brand-new farm of 15 raised beds on a cluster of vacant lots on Butler Street.
The County will provide between $4,000 and $5,000 to each Bridgeville, Elizabeth Borough, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Stowe Township, Swissvale, Tarentum and Verona for planting sunflower gardens on vacant lots in their business districts. With the assistance of GTECH Strategies, the communities will harvest the sunflowers to produce biofuel, and the sunflower seeds will be packaged and sold to the East End Food Co-Op and Whole Foods.
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Writer: Caralyn Green
Sources: Kevin Evanto, Allegheny County; Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director, Grow Pittsburgh
Photograph copyright Caralyn Green