Crafton residents now can take a walk through the park, rather than the grocery store, to find fresh produce.
Inside Crafton Park is a gated garden in its first year that features more than 50 types of produce, including lettuce, peppers, tomatoes and watermelon.
As of last week, about 900 pounds of produce had been harvested, and most of it was donated to the Crafton Ingram Food Pantry.
Still, resident Andrea Marquis, who spearheaded the effort and sought donations, welcomes all Crafton residents to check out the garden. All she requests is that anything harvested is weighed on a scale at the site and recorded in a book there to help organizers apply for grants.
Andi Sevacko, who heads the food pantry, said the garden has helped the pantry spend less to purchase food from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
“The access to fresh produce has been a tremendous help,” she said.
The food pantry at 80 Bradford Ave. has grown in recent years and now serves about 110 people monthly, said Sevacko, who praised Marquis for her efforts
“Someone brought up the idea of a community garden last summer, and next thing I knew, I couldn’t stop thinking about it,” Marquis said.
She sought support at Crafton council meetings and applied for a grant through Grow Pittsburgh, an urban-agriculture nonprofit organization, which is working with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. By September, council agreed to allot organizers the park’s former volleyball court site. Shortly afterward, they received a grant that provided seeds, mulch, a shed and educational programs.
“It’s come a long way in a pretty short time,” Marquis said.
Today, the garden has an email list of 125 people and a Facebook page with 370 likes. “It’s been really neat how much support we have received.”
Grow Pittsburgh funded the project as part of a two-year grant. The first year includes 100 percent involvement, while in the second year, the organization will be more focused on making the garden sustain itself.
Rayden Sorock, a community garden manager at Grow Pittsburgh tasked with Crafton’s garden, said his trips already have begun to decrease because of the garden’s success.
“I’ve been impressed with the level of excitement and capacity all the members have brought to the project,” Sorock said. He estimates they will finish the year with 1,300 pounds of food, the amount many gardens produce in their second year.
Sorock’s next big task will be helping to create a mechanism to capture rainwater off a pavilion to use for the garden, rather than continuing to use municipal water.
“We want to take away the financial burden of the garden as much as possible, so they can focus on the most important stuff — the community building,” he said.”
The garden has been a team effort, with local Girl Scouts setting up bird houses, volunteers creating signs marking each plant and the borough’s Shade Tree Commission helping plant flowers around the fenced area.
About six core garden members spend multiple days a week maintaining the garden, including Suzanne Witkowski, who spent July 29 watering plants and weeding soil.
Witkowski, who works in the production greenhouse at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh Oakland neighborhood, created a grid-like system for the garden but said her favorite part has been interacting with the community.
“A lot of people come here to learn,” she said.
For information on upcoming meetings, visit www.facebook.com/craftoncommunityfarm.
Alex Felser is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5810 or [email protected].