Pittsburgh community garden receives major grant to expand its operations | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh community garden receives major grant to expand its operations

click to enlarge Pittsburgh community garden receives major grant to expand its operations
Photo: Courtesy of Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden
Volunteer Sheila McCall works in the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden
Urban gardens and farms have become a major point of focus throughout the country as a way to utilize vacant plots, provide green space, and combat food insecurity in areas that lack sufficient access to grocery stores. Recently, Pittsburgh went a step further when two nonprofits committed to permanently protect urban gardens and farms with a new program.

Now, a local community garden has received funding to keep its mission going.

On Aug. 16, Pure Farmland, a plant-based protein brand created by Smithfield Foods, announced the recipients of its nationwide 2021 Pure Growth Project grant program. Among the 55 organizations selected to receive financial support was the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in the North Hills neighborhood of Bellevue.

Grants ranged in amounts from $1,000 to $20,000 and went to community gardens and farms across 29 states. The Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden was awarded a grant for $5,000.

Maddie Sheinfeld, coordinator for the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, says the community-supported garden had its first growing season in 2011 following a “generous donation of land from the Sirianni family.”

“They requested that the garden be named in honor of their mother, Rosalinda, who farmed on the property for many years alongside her husband Luigi,” says Sheinfeld. “Rosalinda and Luigi emigrated from Italy and grew a variety of crops, including several heirloom varieties of figs — which some members of the family still keep.”

She goes on to say that the garden, which is overseen by “thousands of dedicated volunteers,” has since yielded more than 45,000 pounds of fresh produce, all grown with “organic methods.”

Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides support to urban gardens and farms throughout the city, outlines the garden's many features, including a high tunnel, rain barrels, large compost bins, an information kiosk, a rain garden, fruit tree orchard, apiary, geocache, Little Free Library, and a bioswale.

The garden is part of North Hills Community Outreach, a nonprofit described on its website as serving people in crisis, hardship, and poverty in Northern Allegheny County. Sheinfeld says they have been able to deliver nutritious food for 1,000 to 1,500 families who utilize NHCO’s three free food pantries.

“We strive to provide the best food we can to our clients and offer everyone the opportunity to eat well,” says Sheinfeld, adding that, beyond stocking the pantries, the garden also hosts volunteer groups throughout the season, and provides youth engagement and learning activities at the Bellevue Farmers Market, among other initiatives.

The garden’s services have been especially needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Sheinfeld, as many families have been dealing with food access due to a number of factors. Sheinfeld says the garden has been able to serve an additional 500 families through food pantries and the group is “currently working to expand our production capacity.”

Michael Merritt, senior director of marketing for Pure Farmland, says the company awarded $100,00 in grants to “valuable green spaces throughout the country” in 2020.

“Through on-the-ground visits and virtual discussions, we saw the direct impact of the funds and how they helped these amazing organizations grow, from greenhouse development and construction of raised beds to fostering educational programs so residents can learn skills to produce their own food," says Merritt.

Merritt adds that the company decided to expand the initiative and increase the total amount of grants to $125,000 as a way to “empower these deserving organizations to continue to do good in their communities.”

Sheinfeld says the garden plans to put its $5,000 Pure Farmland Award towards constructing a “four-season, high performance, passive solar greenhouse — also known as a bioshelter.”

“This project will utilize sustainable technology and serve as an educational model for a year-round sustainable urban food production system,” says Sheinfeld. “It will allow us to increase our food production during the winter months to provide nutrient-dense, cold-hardy vegetables to the families that we serve through our three food pantries.”

The bioshelter is expected to also serve as a space to grow vegetable seedlings that will then be distributed to those wanting to start their own gardens, and to “propagate edible perennials and culinary herbs.”

“We're very excited about the potential of the bioshelter project to positively impact our community and clients,” says Sheinfeld. “Enriching the urban agriculture landscape of the North Hills, improving year-round access to fresh produce, and offering the skills and materials for people to grow their own food are all important parts of our garden's mission, and we can't wait to increase our capacity to do this work.”
Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden. 119 Davis Ave., Bellevue. nhco.org/garden