Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and urban gardening within the city limits are a way to get fresh and seasonal foods onto every Pittsburgher’s plate. The goal for these green thumbs is that everyone has access to fresh and healthy food. With 1 in 5 city residents facing food insecurity, having spaces that grow accessible and nutritious food is vital for our community.
What’s a CSA?
While we can picture what a farm looks like, not everyone is familiar with urban agriculture or CSAs — even if there is a farm like this right in your neighborhood.
The concept of Community Supported Agriculture involves paying into a membership where you receive shares or products from a farm or collective of small growers. As a CSA member, you are supporting local and regional farmers, and in return, receive a box of produce and fresh food weekly, biweekly or monthly depending on the program.
Not only are many of these CSA projects helping to reduce the gap between garden and kitchen, but the growers are also helping to fight food insecurities and access issues that exist in our local communities.
Pittsburgh urban gardens
On Beltzhoover Avenue in the Allentown neighborhood is the brick-and-mortar Soil Sisters Plant Nursery. Not only are TayRay and Raynise Kelly selling houseplants to fellow plant lovers, but they also have rooted connections with the community garden nonprofit, Grow Pittsburgh. The Kelly sisters are inspiring future growers with their Sprout Summer Camps, which encourage kids to learn about and love playing in the dirt.
Through its training workshops, Grow Pittsburgh builds a community to provide fresh and accessible produce. Educating backyard gardeners and encouraging urban farmers puts fresh food directly where it is needed the most.
Bridging the divide between what grows in the ground to what appears on your dish, Amboy Urban Collective is introducing Filipino food to Pittsburgh from the ground up, literally. Founder Rafael Vencio was born and raised in the Philippines and favors seasonal ingredients with a Southeast Asian twist. If you can’t snag one of his CSA shares, be sure to find Vencio running his stand at the Lawrenceville Farmers Market.
Hilltop Urban Garden operates 107 acres of land dedicated to growing produce and community through farming. Not only are they producing locally grown crops, but they are also engaging in agricultural-based education for both adults curious about farming as well as youth. The importance of Hilltop is that the St. Clair neighborhood has been classified as a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture. Food deserts are typically low-income communities that don’t have easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Urban gardens like Hilltop can provide these areas with an abundance of healthy foods.
Garfield Community Farm is another permaculture paradise that offers opportunities to learn through workshops and volunteering. In addition to its subscription CSA, Garfield Community Farm gives back with monthly donations to Valley View Church Food Pantry.
Get your hands a little dirty and dig into Steel City Spore, Pittsburgh’s urban mushroom farm. This locally sourced and sustainably farmed McKees Rocks space is making it easier to find fantastic fungi. In addition, Steel City Spore is expanding with a new space in Rockwell Park across from the East End Food Co-op in North Point Breeze. Not only can you also find its fresh mushrooms at city farmers’ markets, but you can join them with 3 Rivers Outdoor Co. on mushroom identification hikes to learn more about safe foraging and cultivation.
How you can help
Food justice and social justice go hand in hand. In addition to joining a CSA and volunteering at a community garden, consider donating to 412 Food Rescue, which helps to eliminate food waste and stabilize regional food insecurities. The program takes surplus food and reallocates it to nonprofit partners in need.
Grow Pittsburgh hosts events regularly that include volunteering and other garden-related happenings. In the past, the nonprofit has partnered with the East End Food Co-op, PASA, and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council. Follow Grow Pittsburgh’s events page to stay in the know.
For more information
If you’re on the lookout for more CSAs around Pittsburgh, check out this comprehensive list published by VisitPittsburgh. Local Harvest also provides an informative directory, not only showcasing where to buy local produce through community-based agriculture as well as farmer’s markets. For regional resources and events showcasing local CSAs and growers, follow Farm to Table Buy Local. Promoting locally grown agriculture and improving access to fresh, healthy food, the nonprofit runs an annual conference, serves 30 counties in Western Pennsylvania and publishes a Western PA Local Food Guide.