Pittsburgh’s growing community spends the winter preparing for the onset of spring. Here’s a touch of green (news) for your winter day:

Allegheny Grows Community Garden Selections for 2015

Each year since 2010, the Allegheny Grows project chooses two neighborhoods in which to build community vegetable gardens. This year’s selections? Sharpsburg and Crafton.

Crafton’s garden will be built on a former volleyball court; Sharpsburg’s project will entail a significant facelift to an existing garden plot located behind the town library.

Sign Up Now -- Keep up with the ideas and people advancing Pittsburgh!

Allegheny Grows runs on a two-year cycle. During the first year, the community receives education, tools, plot planning, technical assistance, supplies and support. “In year two, we decrease our support,” says Julie Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh. “By year three, the goal is that the gardens will graduate to be independent entities.”

The program is a partnership between Grow Pittsburgh, the Allegheny County Economic Development (which obtains federal funding through the Community Development Block Grant Program) and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (which provides assistance with irrigation and water supply).

“When we started the program, we thought we would take a cookie-cutter approach” to building the gardens, says Pezzino. But she learned that as her staff meets with the communities to learn their needs and interests, “each garden develops to have its own identity.”

In Bellevue, the volunteer-run garden was built to supply fresh vegetables to the local food pantry. “The food pantry receives 100% of the food,” says Pezzino. In Lawrenceville, volunteers who run the the community garden emphasize children’s programming because the garden gives neighborhood kids an opportunity for green time in an urban zone.

And because each community has its own individual terrain—and thus its own strengths and limitations—garden designs are unique to each neighborhood.

In Bellevue, terraces were cut into a hillside and all the beds are in-ground. In densely populated Lawrenceville, the garden is built on a small city lot with 12 raised beds.

Past gardens have been built in Homestead, Millvale and McKees Rocks. If you are interested in having your community apply for Allegheny Grows 2016, look for the application process to begin this summer.

Green Sinner Flower Farm Expands

Two-thirds of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are grown in Colombia, 2,500 miles away. That’s a long way for your bouquet to travel.

Green Sinner, a florist in the Pittsburgh Public Market, has been working to cut that distance. Last year on a one-quarter-acre plot Lawrenceville, the farmers grew some 2,000 stems and greens for local use—but this provided only one-third of Green Sinner’s needs for their CSA, weddings, events and deliveries and their micro-farm is maxed out.

20141128192732-IGG-garden

“We literally grew on every square inch we had,” says Jim Lohr, co-owner of Green Sinner. “We grew on the roof, up the wall and used interesting Japanese techniques we learned. ”

Recently, Green Sinner acquired a four-acre plot on Observatory Hill to expand their growing efforts.

“We have friends from other cities that say, ‘You have a four-acre farm five minutes from downtown?”

“Only in Pittsburgh,” laughs Lohr.

The overgrown, wooded hillside requires some tending before it can be a working farm—beds need to be built, knotweed needs to be tackled, row covers and a hoop house need to be purchased. Green Sinner is running an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign that will help to cover these costs. Funders receive subscriptions to the cut flower CSA, terrarium classes, flower deliveries or seeds and plants.

“Ten or so years ago, the slow food movement began. Now people are paying attention to flowers,” says Lohr, “And we’re bringing it to Pittsburgh.”