It was pouring rain and the day wouldn't break 40 degrees — too cold and wet to do much gardening. But there was a sign of progress that recent February day at the Garfield Community Farm.
After pulling up in his pickup truck, Owen Finegan, an inspector with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection, jumped out to take a look at a partially excavated hill just under the water tower near the intersection of Cornwall and Wicklow streets. Minutes later, John Creasy, the director of the farm, heard Finegan say what Creasy has been waiting to hear for two years.
"Go ahead and start," Finegan said.
Creasy is building a bioshelter — a greenhouse containing its own ecosystem. He received approval from the city's zoning board to add the structure in January, after two years of dotting i's and crossing t's to get a special exception to build on a lot without street frontage.
"We are above reproach now. We've gone through every single process," Creasy says.
Built into the side of a hill, the bioshelter's north and west walls will be underground to provide insulation in the winter and cooling in the summer. It will rely on solar power and be managed to give plants all they need to grow with as little assistance as possible. Rabbits and worms housed inside, for example, will help create and break down waste that will be returned to fertilize the soil.
The 30-by-20-foot structure, supported by a Sprout Fund grant, will be on about 2.5 acres of land that Creasy and his crew of volunteers have been slowly expanding into urban farmland. The vacant lots, once city-owned and planted at first by the group as part of the city's greening initiative, are now owned by the nonprofit, which hosts educational field trips and runs a farmer's market every Wednesday June through September.
"We're definitely helping get vegetables and produce into people's hands," Creasy explains. "That's why we do all we do."
The bioshelter, expected to be completed this spring, will increase production and fulfill a goal they've had from the start.
"The bioshelter is one of the bigger dreams out there," Creasy says.