Image courtesy of Bible Center Church.

For some communities in and around Pittsburgh, fresh, nutritious food comes in short supply. That’s why the UpPrize social innovation challenge decided to solicit ideas on how to feed the region for their new Healthy Food Access category. On top of competing for the chance to win thousands of dollars in prize money, the finalists also receive perks such as educational classes, valuable consulting services and mentorships to help further their missions.

“What we’ve experienced with UpPrize is the ability to create a more inclusive innovation system here in Pittsburgh, because not everyone is always included in that space,” says Stephanie Boddie, a senior consultant for one finalist, the Oasis Project.

Meet the UpPrize Healthy Food Access finalists below:

412 Food Rescue’s Good Food Project

412 Food Rescue Cooking Demo (edited)
412 Food Rescue cooking demo.

Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue and a NEXTpittsburgh contributor, is no stranger to the Pittsburgh food advocacy scene. For UpPrize, she and her team decided to turn some of the surplus food they collect into healthy, affordable prepared meals with the Good Food Project.

“It’s important to address food waste and its potential to understand how it impacts hunger and our city’s resilience,” says Lizarondo, who created 412 Food Rescue with Gisele Fetterman.

The project wants to redirect the 40 percent of quality food that 412 Food Rescue claims goes to waste each year and deliver it to those who need it the most.

“It’s breathtaking how much potential there is and really hard to wrap your head around because the amounts are almost unbelievable,” says Lizarondo.

The Good Food Project includes plans for a commissary kitchen in Millvale operated in collaboration with the community development organization New Sun Rising. There they plan to create SNAP-eligible products and distribute food through Just Harvest’s Healthy Corner Stores. They will also launch a food truck that sells low-priced meals made from recovered ingredients.

Bible Center Church’s Oasis Project

 Oasis Farm and Fishery's solar-powered laboratory. Image courtesy of Bible Center Church.
Oasis Farm and Fishery’s solar-powered laboratory. Image courtesy of Bible Center Church.
Oasis Farm and Fishery’s solar-powered laboratory. Image courtesy of Bible Center Church.

When the Homewood-based Bible Center Church looked at ways to tackle food insecurity in the surrounding community, they opted for the Oasis Project.

“Most faith-based organizations in food spaces typically approach it more from a charity perspective with food pantries and soup kitchens, which are very helpful to people, but we wanted to do something different,” says Stephanie Boddie, a Pittsburgh Food Policy Council steering committee member who spearheaded the project along with Dr. John M. Wallace, Bible Center Church’s senior pastor and a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

The church decided to turn some of the vacant Homewood properties it had acquired over the years into the Oasis Farm and Fishery, an urban micro-farm with a fully solar-powered greenhouse and hydroponic and aquaponic growing systems. Set to launch this summer, the project is expected to provide food to a neighborhood where 40 percent of residents lack access to fresh produce and meat and serve as a living lab where area youth from pre-K through high school would learn about sustainable farming practices.

Boddie calls the project “an opportunity to move forward with the transformation of Homewood’s food landscape,” where there are no supermarkets and corner stores lack nutritious food items. She says it would also add to their focus on STEAM education programs, only in this case, the “A” in STEAM stands for agriculture instead of art.

“This is a really great way to inspire and engage youth in science because they get to see the fish grow from eggs, and see how fish waste is used to feed the plants and make fertilizer for soil,” says Boddie, adding that students in Homewood schools tend to have a very low proficiency rate in science.

Some of the farm’s output will also go to the Everyday Cafe, a community eatery the church launched last year.

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.