Some Pittsburgh City Council members want to turn city-owned vacant lots into plots for urban farming. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, councilors say there are increased concerns about a lack of access to food.
Council President Theresa Kail-Smith says she knows of several locations in her own district that could be used to grow food for neighbors, including sites in Fairywood, Sheraden and Esplen. She and councilors Deb Gross and Erika Strassburger are proposing legislation that would identify similar publically-held sites in each of the city's nine council districts.
“The land is sitting there vacant and not being an asset to the community,” Kail-Smith said. “We can make this a real asset to many neighbors. You know there's grocers closing all across the country, and so there's a lot of food deserts.”
Kail-Smith said that while the coronavirus has made things worse, need for the program goes beyond the current pandemic. The city already has an urban gardening program, but under the current rules, residents must pay to use a plot.
“I want something that people can go and just take care of their neighbors and help people,” Kail-Smith said. “There's people who can't afford a dollar, let alone the $20 we're charging per plot.”
Grow Pittsburgh, an advocacy organization in support of urban gardens, has receieved more queries about such opportunities in the area.
"Urban gardens are particularly important in times like this," said Jake Seltman, the group's executive director. "We’ve seen a spike in interest, so we’re doing things like webinars and training about organic gardening, gardening 101."
The bill proposed Tuesday is the first piece of legislation Kail-Smith said will be needed to expand gardening opportunities. She said she hopes council will have the program in place soon enough that communities could have a harvest by fall.