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Civic Impact

Grant lets North Hills vacant lot garden get heirloom tomatoes, other special veggies to pantries

When food pantry patrons see heirloom tomatoes that aren't quite as perfect looking as the grocery-store variety, they are sometimes reluctant to pick up those veggies -- "even though they taste a lot better," says Rosie Wise, garden and youth coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach's two-vacant-lot garden in Bellevue. "The carrots will still have the greens on them, and people won't take them," she adds. "We really want people to understand what field produce looks like."
A new $10,000 grant from Whole Foods will help create an educational component to NCHO's Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, which opened just last year, after several years of clean up and preparation. Besides the heirloom tomatoes and carrots, it delivers kale, herbs, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, swiss chard, lettuce, summer and winter squash, spring peas and broccoli to NHCO's two food pantries in Bellevue and Allison Park and to another pantry in Sewickley.
The group is planting a fruit-tree orchard now for peaches, plums, cherries and apples to harvest in a few years, and building permaculture principles into the place -- using the natural insecticide of mint plants, for instance, to keep destructive bugs from the fruit trees. Members are still installing the high tunnel: an unheated greenhouse made from plastic sheeting over hoops that extends the growing season in those 800 square feet of garden from mid-March into December.
"What's unique about the garden is that there is no age limit for volunteering," Wise says. Kids help harvest and take ownership of their own area of the garden, and the Whole Foods funding "will be very helpful in getting more youth involved. The kids who come, some of them don't really know what a tomato plant looks like, or how things grow." NHCO plans to use the money to hire another part-time garden worker, buy tools and other supplies, and recruit more volunteers.
Whole Foods workers will also help with the garden, and have allowed the NHCO to set up an information table at the store. Overall, says Wise, the Whole Foods help "really gives us a support system -- not just funds but getting the word out about the garden."
Writer: Marty Levine
Source: Rosie Wise, North Hills Community Outreach
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