A 21st Century Journalism Project

Finding a Balance

In Organizations on April 3, 2012 at 1:53 pm

By: Josh Petruska

Organizations across the nation have instituted programs and projects aimed at providing fresh and sustainable alternatives to fast food and convenience stores.  According to a study conducted in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) nearly 6 percent of U.S. households did not have the food they wanted or needed.  Food deserts, a name given to those areas where residents have no access to fresh food are increasingly common.  Two reasons for this are a lack of supermarkets in urban areas and limited or no access to these places.  Instead residents of low-income communities are left with inadequate and unhealthy alternatives.  Fast food joints and local convenience stores are plentiful, but offer very few if any healthy choices.

Trying to live a healthy lifestyle in these areas is not only hard because of the shortage of access to healthy foods, but in many cases food is also typically more expensive.  In most suburban areas prices for food are markedly lower than their urban counterparts.  Unlike people living in more affluent areas where supermarkets and fresh produce stands are a dime a dozen, residents in at-risk neighborhoods must also travel greater distances to find a grocery store, which also takes money out of their pocket.  In fact it is less likely for people living in mixed-race, primarily in high poverty areas to have access to supermarkets.  As a result, diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes are shown to be more prevalent among those living in food deserts.  The Food Research and Action Center notes Body Mass Index, which is used to measure excess body fat, is notably higher among low-income people living in low-income communities.  Many initiatives are being undertaken to curb the health problems seen in low-income communities

Community gardens have sprouted up in many cities from coast to coast   Simply put a community garden is a plot of land where residents in communities can go to learn the process of urban food production.  One such organization that teaches urban city dwellers the ins and outs of urban agriculture in Western Pennsylvania is Grow Pittsburgh.

Grow Pittsburgh has been operating since 2005

The owners of Mildred’s Daughters Urban Farms and Garden Dreams, two Pittsburgh based community gardens, formed Grow Pittsburgh.  Grow Pittsburgh, a non-profit organization, began offering educational classes and programs to interested community members in 2005.  Since then Grow Pittsburgh has successfully implemented multiple projects and programs to serve the urban landscape.

“We’re facing some serious public health crises such as diabetes and obesity in both child and adult populations, and a lot of this could be curbed if people ate more fruits and vegetables,” executive director of Grow Pittsburgh Julie Pezzino stated.  Pezzino explains the formation of a dozen new community gardens in the area have brought greater food access to communities in the city and county.

Braddock Farms, which sits on a previously abandoned lot, is in its fifth full growing season and is considered one of Grow Pittsburgh’s most successful undertakings.  The Braddock farm site relies on exhaustive planting methods and an all-organic approach of growing.  Fresh produce, vegetables, and herbs from the site are sent to local restaurants.  In addition to producing mostly organic and fresh produce; Braddock Farms also manages a fresh market stand for local residents.  The Braddock Farms aims to create a sustainable venture that educates community members.  “Our Braddock Farms and Frick Greenhouse program demonstrate sustainable food production in a city environment, and our community gardening program puts that knowledge in the hands of community members,” Pezzino explained.

The Edible Schoolyard has become increasingly popular in the Pittsburgh Public School District

Another project Grow Pittsburgh has undertaken, which has become widely popular in the Pittsburgh community is the Edible Schoolyard.  The program, which has been implemented in six Pittsburgh city schools focuses on educating children about healthy lifestyles and the importance of a healthy diet by implementing gardening activities into school curriculums.  Every spring students at one of the six schools prepare garden beds and plant seeds.  The students then harvest their produce and sample it when they arrive back to school in the fall.  At the end of the growing season a live cooking demonstration is carried out by local chefs called Chef in the Garden.  Much of the produce that is harvested during the school year is distributed to students, a culinary arts program at a nearby high school and food banks throughout Pittsburgh.  The hope is that by fostering a curiosity of a healthy diet at a young age will enlighten current and future generations on the benefits of having healthy eating habits.

Pezzino stresses the importance of educating young people early about living a healthy lifestyle. “Nowadays many kids, especially in urban environments, don’t know where their food comes from. They think it comes from a grocery store. And many of their parents don’t know a lot more about it,” Pezzino stated.  Not only do students benefit from the gardens, but community members are also encouraged to participate in the program.  Classes discussing how to begin and tend a garden are offered to willing participants and in some instances the gardens at these schools are designated as community gardens where everyone can take part in planting and harvesting.

The programs instituted by Grow Pittsburgh are a step in the right direction to making sure people in at-risk communities are receiving a proper nutritional lifestyle.  Grow Pittsburgh provides an affordable and healthy outlet to people living in communities where access to things we take for granted are not as easy to come by.  Grow Pittsburgh does more than just provide a way for people to live healthy.  It educates and strengthens the bonds between members of a community.


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