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  Renew America Success Stories

Green Harvest Program of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank

Contact:
Lisa Scales
Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank
P.O. Box 127
McKeesport, PA 15134-0127
tel: (412) 672-4949
fax: (412)672-4740
email: foodbank@nb.net
No Internet Link Currently Available

 

Description

The Green Harvest Project of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank helps to promote a sustainable food system through the creation of community gardens, the sponsorship of community-supported agriculture (CSA), the development of a produce recovery program and the distribution of organically grown fresh fruits and vegetables to inner-city and other residents.

Through its four programs -- the community gardens program, the Longview Food Bank Farm, the gleaning program and the Farmstands Project -- Green Harvest succeeds in providing low-income individuals fresh fruits and vegetables, in raising local awareness about environmental values, in strengthening inner-city communities, and in reducing the total environmental impact of local agriculture.

All aspects of the Green Harvest project are interrelated and work to meet the common goals of reducing hunger and improving the environment.

In the early 1990's, faced with the news that contributions of food from local and national sources would soon decline, and that assistance from the federal government's surplus commodity program called the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) had already begun to decline, the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank developed the Green Harvest project as a way to become more self-sufficient in its mission of providing food for the hungry in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Community Garden program was designed both to provide inner-city residents a reliable and sustainable source of organic produce and to help foster community involvement. "You can't even put a price" on the benefits of community gardens, says Linda Brown, the tenant council president in the Arlington Heights housing community, site of a community garden. "I've seen attitude changes. People are more motivated; they're feeling good about themselves, and they started attending more [tenant council] meetings. [The garden] gave a sense of community pride."

To redirect "waste" food into the Food Bank's coffers, Green Harvest developed a "gleaning" program that teaches volunteers how to "glean" from a participating farmer's field the fruits and vegetables that are generally left to rot after the traditional harvest has ended.

Finally, Green Harvest helped develop the Longview Food Bank Farm, a farm that serves two community needs. A portion of the farm's produce is given directly to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank. Another portion of the farm is offered up in shares: for $350, residents receive two grocery bags of vegetables each week produced by the farm between June and November. Dubbed community-supported agriculture (CSA), it is the only program of its kind in Western Pennsylvania.

Finally, in 1993, the Farmstand Project was begun to ensure that low-income urban residents without community gardens would still have access to fruits and vegetables. The project, modeled after a Boston program, establishes produce stands in inner-city neighborhoods.

"First, we needed to bring healthy fresh produce to the inner city. Second, we wanted to establish an employment component to provide some entreprenurial skills to local residents. And lastly, we aimed to establish a strong rural-urban connection by ensuring that Pennsylvania farmers supply the Farmstands with their own home-grown goods," said Joyce Rothermel, executive director of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Program Highlights

Community Gardens

The Community Garden program has been active since 1991. Community Gardens offer a multitude of environmental and community-strengthening benefits. For one, vacant inner city land is revitalized through the planting of the gardens, and soil quality is improved by the use of compost and rock minerals. In growing their own food, communities become more self-sufficient and reduce the use of dangerous pesticides and herbicides. By learning about organic gardening methods, community members develop a growing appreciation regarding the relationship between humans and their environment.

Longview Food Bank Farm

The Longview Food Bank Farm serves two goals: first, it grows food directly for the Food Bank, providing the Food Bank a reliable source for produce. Second, by offering "shares" in the farm, Longview enables roughly 100 families to receive fresh produce during the summer and fall, making the farm an example of community-supported agriculture (CSA).

The Longview Food Bank Farm produces its organic fruits and vegetables with minimal environmental impact. The "secrets" of the Farm are numerous: The Farm works to maintain healthy soil through the use of compost and rock minerals, erosion is minimized through the use of contour farming, a healthy biodiversity is maintained by planting up to 50 crop varieties, and ground water is protected as synthetic pesticides and herbicides are not used. By engaging in rotational grazing, the cattle raised on the farm have a minimum impact on ground water and overgrazing is reduced.

Finally, the Longview Farm shares its knowledge with the community by sponsoring presentations on lectures and activities focusing on organic food production and the preservation of plant varieties.

Gleaning

One fifth of all food produced in the United States for human consumption is wasted annually. To help distribute some of this 130 million tons of food, Green Harvest trains volunteers to "glean" farmers' fields -- retrieving the perfectly edible fruits and vegetables that remain after traditional harvesting is complete.

The Farmstand Project

Farmstands are small produce stands located in inner-city Pittsburgh communities, providing low-income Pittsburgh residents with affordable fresh fruits and vegetables. Modeled after the Boston Food Bank program called City Farmstands, the Farmstands were developed to meet the needs of inner-city residents who often live in communities with few grocery stores or farmers' markets. Farmstands accept cash, Food Stamps, and WIC Farmers' Market Coupons.

Farmstands are sponsored by community-based organizations that employ neighborhood residents to manage the stands. The managers determine their weekly produce orders, receive deliveries from the Food Bank, perform all record keeping, and distribute unsold produce to a nonprofit agency.

Vital Statistics

*Program Management/Partnerships: The Green Harvest Program is managed by the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, a nonprofit food distribution warehouse that serves 372 agencies to help feed the hungry in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

The Farmstand Project is supported by grants from The Center for Rural Pennsylvania, in cooperation with research performed by Pennsylvania State University. The Federal Government provides support through the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program.

Green Harvest has also received funding from the McCune Foundation, the Public Welfare Foundation and Share our Strength.

*Budget: In revision.

*Community Served: Nearly 29,000 households in the Greater Pittsburgh area who receive assistance through the Food Bank's network of 372 member agencies -- 56% of all individuals receiving assitance are children under the age of 18; the 81 households in 1994 who are shareholders in the Longview Food Bank Farm; local residents who are able to purchase organic, fresh produce at local Farmstands.

*Measures of Success:

  • Generated more than 120,000 pounds of food for the hungry in 1994.
  • Since 1991, Green Harvest has helped residents in 12 communities establish community gardens. These gardens have yielded more than 30,000 pounds of organic food that has been distributed free of charge to community residents.
  • Sharps Terrace, a public housing community in Sharspburg, won first place in the Greater Pittsburgh Civic Garden Club's community garden award in 1993. This award enabled them to secure a grant from the Three Rivers Community Fund to help beautify the housing complex.
  • Since its inception in 1993, the Farmstands have distributed nearly 60,000 pounds of produce in five urban communities and raised more than $19,000.
  • Fifteen residents are currently employed to manage the various Farmstands.
  • Since its beginning in 1992, the Longview Food Bank has grown and distributed nearly 70,000 pounds of free produce to Food Bank member agencies.


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