Courtesy Grow Pittsburgh.

Five Pittsburgh schools will soon feature a Learning Garden, with 45 more schools to follow across Allegheny County over the next four years.

Grow Pittsburgh and The Kitchen Community recently received approval from the Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS) board to work with the District to design, build and launch Learning Gardens over the next six months at five schools that have previously expressed interest in having a garden. These schools include Pittsburgh Arsenal, Lincoln, Minadeo, Oliver Citywide and West Liberty.

The Kitchen Community (TKC), an organization committed to partnering with communities to accelerate real food culture at scale, has built and supported 300 Learning Gardens across four regions nationally; Pittsburgh will be the fifth community they join. However, this is the first time TKC has partnered with a local group like Grow Pittsburgh. “Pittsburgh is such an awesome city. The community has come together to truly reinvent the food scene,” says Kimbal Musk, co-founder of The Kitchen Community.

Grow Pittsburgh Executive Director Julie Butcher Pezzino says “working with The Kitchen Community allows Grow Pittsburgh to meet the increasing demand for school gardens, enabling even more gardens to be established. That is the key benefit in creating this partnership over the last year.” Pezzino says another benefit is that it allows her group to scale as an organization and bring their already strong Garden Educator curriculum to a wider audience.

Learning Gardens are unique because they are custom designed to meet the needs of the school; they offer raised beds that are accessible to all students, provide low-maintenance and built-in irrigation, and can be installed on a variety of surfaces. The ability to install gardens on hardscape and previously inaccessible spaces means more schools can participate. The Learning Gardens’ design and installation will be led locally by landscape architect Carla Lukehart, a newly hired project manager at Grow Pittsburgh.

Ongoing training, support and technical assistance will be provided by Garden Educators at Grow Pittsburgh. Schools will receive two years of direct support from both organizations and will then graduate from the program with more limited support in subsequent years. This structure is designed so that after two years the schools are capable of running a sustainable school-led garden program with limited outside support, which in turn enables more new school gardens to be established.

Grow Pittsburgh is accepting applications for phase two and beyond. The deadline to apply is May 13, 2016. Funding is from the Heinz Endowments, Henry L. Hillman Foundation and Richard King Mellon Foundation.

Maya Haptas has an M.A. in Historic Preservation Planning from Cornell University and is a freelance writer covering various topics from architecture and urban design to wellness and skateboarding. She is currently the assistant editor of Bigfoot Skateboarding Magazine.