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North Hills Community Outreach is raising crops, environmental awareness

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Kristy Locklin | For the Tribune-Review
Taylor Thorp (left), an AmeriCorps member, and Alyssa Crawford, garden and youth coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach, tend the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in Bellevue. NHCO uses the Bellevue green space to stock its food pantry shelves.

When Taylor Thorp plants seeds in the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden, she’s also helping young minds bloom.

The 25-year-old AmeriCorps member works at the North Hills Community Outreach (NHCO) green space, located on Davis Avenue in Bellevue, where she’ll create learning opportunities for local kids and adults interested in organic gardening.

Thorp, a New Jersey native who moved to Pittsburgh three years ago, isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty in the name of education. This week, in addition to harvesting 30 pounds of crops, she fished five baby turkeys out of a nearby drain.

“All of high school and college, I worked on a friend’s farm during the summers. We did everything from working farmers markets, staking tomatoes, picking produce, prepping the fields and watering plants in their greenhouses,” says Thorp, who starts her first year of nursing school this fall at Duquesne University. “I joined AmeriCorps because I am passionate about giving back to my community and making sure my life has a positive impact wherever I go.”

During open volunteer hours, which are held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Monday and Thursday, April through October, Thorp plans to present lessons on everything from reducing your carbon footprint to healthy eating. She’ll also man NHCO’s stand at the Bellevue Farmers Market each Wednesday from 3 to 7 p.m., providing different activities for children to learn about gardening, the environment and nutrition each week.

The garden is more than an outdoor classroom, it’s a living food pantry.

Teresa Amelio, the daughter of the garden’s namesake, donated the property — which is less than an acre — to NHCO under the agreement that it would be used to stock the organization’s three food pantries — located in Millvale, Allison Park and Bellevue — with more than 100 varieties of plants, mainly annual vegetables and fruits.

The garden’s first growing season was 2011. Last fiscal year, 222 garden volunteers gave 1,397 hours to plant, tend and harvest 4,499 pounds of produce. Local scouts have erected fencing, built storage sheds, tended composting bins and created a rainwater management system for the garden. In addition to giving their time and expertise, local gardeners can donate surplus crops to NHCO. Gardening supplies, especially straw bales, also are needed.

Alyssa Crawford, NHCO’s garden and youth coordinator, says volunteers are enthusiastic, showing up during snow storms and scorching heat to help out.

“I think any time you’re in a garden, it’s a learning experience,” she explains. “By way of volunteering, you learn some stuff. This year we’re making an effort to do more formalized education. Taylor has already built a good rapport with the kids.”

For more information on volunteering at the garden, contact Alyssa Crawford at 412-307-0069, ext. 3311, or at [email protected]. No reservation is required unless you are a group of five or more. Church groups, sports teams, scouting troops, schools and corporate outings are welcome.

Kristy Locklin is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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