Applications now available for second year of Urban Farming Initiative

Allegheny County announced that applications are now available for the second year of the Allegheny Grows urban farming initiative, which encourages the development of community farms on vacant lots and blighted properties.

During the inaugural year of Allegheny Grows, the County offered startup materials, as well as technical and educational assistance, to develop urban farms in McKees Rocks and Millvale. The County also assisted Elizabeth Borough, Millvale, Sharpsburg, Swissvale, Tarentum and Verona in creating community gardens.

Applications are now available online (look under “Features”) or by calling Allegheny County Economic Development at 412-350-1198. In order to participate, municipalities must be eligible to receive Community Development Block Grant funds, meaning 46.7 percent or more of their populations qualify as low/moderate income households. Two communities that meet the specified requirements will be selected to develop urban farms in 2011. The application deadline is November 18.

During 2010, Millvale community members built 12 raised-bed vegetable garden plots. A group of 15 volunteers and a Boy Scout troop take care of the farm and donate the produce to the Millvale Farmers Market, which accepts low-income food assistance vouchers. Next year, Millvale plans to develop an orchard and expand its farm to adjacent vacant lots that are prone to flooding. The produce grown in McKees Rocks is donated to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

Urban farms offer a host of environmental, economic and social benefits. Vegetation can reflect as much as 20 to 25 percent of the sun’s radiation, reducing the heat island effect and cooling urban areas. Garden soil is absorbent, and it reduces runoff from rain and helps to minimize surface erosion. Urban farms reduce pollutants in the air by absorbing carbon dioxide and other substances. Small open spaces in urban areas provide crucial corridors for retaining native wildlife and supporting migratory species.

Urban farms offer fresh produce and healthy food opportunities, especially in economically challenged communities where access to abundant nourishing food choices is often absent. The farms become gathering places for residents, fostering social interactions and civic pride, which often helps to reduce crime. Green space also has strong potential to increase property values and encourage investment.

Allegheny County is partnering with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Grow Pittsburgh, an urban agriculture non-profit organization and community gardening service provider, to administer the Allegheny Grows program and to provide technical assistance.