Megan Higgins
Megan Higgins

Just in time for summer, we catch up with Megan Higgins Palomo, heritage nursery director for Tree Pittsburgh, which will open its new $2.6 million campus in Lawrenceville in September. Megan, who learned the nursery trade by working alongside her father at their family-owned business in West Deer, PA, lives with her husband in Friendship. She is passionate about providing high-quality trees for planting initiatives around Pittsburgh.

What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

On June 30, I’m looking forward to the WYEP Summer Music Festival.

This fall, Tree Pittsburgh is giving away 1,000 trees to the public — for free! We have a sign in our office that says, “Keep Calm and Plant Trees.” I think this is great advice for the current state of the world, when it can often feel like you don’t have a lot of power to make a difference. Planting a tree is an easy thing anyone can do that has so many real and measurable benefits. Hopefully each one of the trees we give away will go on to provide shade, wildlife habitat, clean air and happy memories to their new owners for many years to come.

Best part of your job?

I love working for an organization where I feel part of a greater purpose. It’s satisfying to know that the work Tree Pittsburgh does makes our city stronger. I also love that my job is quite unique. There are very few people still growing trees from seed and it’s become a bit of a lost vocation. I really enjoy sifting through old horticulture books and testing different methods to get our seeds going. My grandfather was a nurseryman and used to wander the forests of Western PA scouting for seeds. I wish I could have learned more from him before he passed away, but I like knowing that I’m following in his footsteps in a way.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ll tackle this week?

Installing a new irrigation system at the nursery. The site where our nursery is located is completely off-grid, so we use solar panels for power and pump water up from the river for irrigation. This adds an extra element of problem-solving to our infrastructure projects, to say the least!

Your wish for Pittsburgh?

Despite all the innovations Pittsburgh has seen over the past several years and being touted as a “Most Livable City,” Pittsburgh still suffers from some of the worst air quality in the country. Poor air quality should have been left in our city’s industrial past, but it’s still holding Pittsburgh back from being the truly great city it could be. My hope is that we can make this serious health concern a priority and put real measures in place to clean our air for good.

Megan Higgins Palomo at the Phipps May Market with Tree Pittsburgh.

Best thing about Pittsburgh or Western PA?

My favorite thing about Pittsburgh is that it’s a fairly big city with a small-town vibe. You can’t go far without running into someone you know and people are very invested in their communities. I think it’s what makes the city appealing to both native Pittsburghers and newcomers alike. I also love that the steep topography of Pittsburgh has created pocket communities that have such unique and different characters from one another. When I moved to Denver after college, I remember being homesick for the sharp green hills and quirky neighborhoods of the ‘Burgh.

If you could expand the T to one neighborhood, where would it go?

I always thought it would make so much sense to run a T line from Downtown to Oakmont along the Allegheny Valley. Imagine the traffic jams that could be avoided on Route 28 and Allegheny River Boulevard.

Who should be the unofficial Mayor of Pittsburgh?

Rick Sebak, obviously.

What is the one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

I don’t follow sports. I know… what kind of Pittsburgher am I!? But I love rowing and started an all-women’s rowing team called the Steel Magnolias. In my opinion, there are few things better than spending a summer evening out on the river.

Right: Megan rowing with the Steel Magnolias.

Best day-trip escape from the city?

One of my favorite day trips from Pittsburgh is hiking at McConnells Mill State Park, followed by a cold beer and live bluegrass at North Country Brewing in Slippery Rock. I especially love making this trip in the fall when the leaves are in peak color and you can stop at a farm stand along the way for fresh apples and cider.

Where will we find you on a Sunday morning?

Hiking in Frick Park with my dog, Luna. One of the best things about Pittsburgh is our amazing park system. You can take a few steps into one of our expansive parks and almost completely forget you are still in the middle of the city.

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Jennifer Baron

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator...