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Edible Schoolyard Program Looks to County to Help Fund Expansion

Elementary and secondary schools in the Pittsburgh region are increasingly interested in integrating gardening into their curricula. At least, that’s what it looks like from where Jake Seltman is sitting.

Seltman is the director of educational programming at Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that provides gardening and farming education to people of all ages.

Seltman said that in the last six months he’s fielded 22 requests from schools and school districts to bring the Edible Schoolyard program to their schools.

Currently the program is only in place at six schools in the Pittsburgh Public School district, but Seltman and Grow Pittsburgh’s Executive Director Julie Pezzino are hoping to expand the program.

In order to do that, they need their funding sources to expand accordingly.

On Wednesday, Seltman and Pezzino gave a presentation to the Allegheny County Board of Health about the work they are doing. It’s the first step in an attempt to secure additional funding from the county for the Edible Schoolyard program.

Pezzino said the Allegheny County Board of Health has already been supporting other Grow Pittsburgh programming for the last three years. Additionally, the county is in the midst of launching a new initiative to combat childhood obesity.

“That made me think that the health department might be interested in our Edible Schoolyard program and … its hopeful expansion this coming year,” said Pezzino.

The expansion won’t look exactly like the current Edible Schoolyard program, which requires a large amount of Grow Pittsburgh’s time and resources.

“Rather than having 10 beds, these gardens might have closer to four beds,” Seltman said. “Rather than providing classes for four to six classes per week, these smaller gardens might only allow for students to come out once or twice a week.”

Seltman and Pezzio are calling the expansion an “affiliate program,” and the idea is that schools would be able to run the programs themselves without a lot of day to day involvement from Grow Pittsburgh.

“If we’re able to expand and really reach a great number of students and young people in this region, we need to come up with a model that will allow for the schools themselves to run the program,” said Seltman.

In addition to the “affiliate program,” Grow Pittsburgh plans to roll out a series of workshops based on the Edible Schoolyard model, but that are open to the public.

Seltman said, so far, he’s seen a lot of success with the Edible Schoolyard program, and he looks forward to the opportunity to expand.

“We’re talking about increasing movement and activity but also really focusing on improving eating habits,” said Seltman. “We’re finding that if students are involved in growing that food, they’re going to be more interested and willing to eat healthy food.”

Pezzino and Seltman are hopeful that they’ll have enough additional funding in place to expand the program for the spring 2014 gardening season.