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$30,000 grant to help Bellevue garden grow

| Monday, June 19, 2017, 10:39 a.m.

A $30,000 grant can go a long way to help a garden grow.

North Hills Community Outreach's Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Garden in Bellevue will gain an improved drip irrigation system, among other things, as a result of winning one of two grand prizes for community gardens in the 2017 Seeds of Change Grant Program.

Alyssa Crawford, garden and youth coordinator for North Hills Community Outreach, which services the North Hills and Sewickley Valley communities, said the grant will allow the organic garden, which provides fresh produce for clients of the organization's three food pantries, to get a more efficient irrigation system, a new lawn mower and supplies for educational programs.

Water slowly drips through holes in tubing set on the soil, so the soil can absorb it, and the leaves of the plants don't get wet, which helps keep them from getting diseased, said Crawford, 29, of Pittsburgh's Bloomfield neighborhood.

“It's the best kind of irrigation,” she said.

Crawford said she goes to schools and scout troops to teach youths about gardening and they get seeds to grow.

The garden, which is about three-quarters of an acre, has a wide variety of crops. The harvest on one recent day consisted of lettuce, arugula, peas, radishes, strawberries, black raspberries, kale, chard, currants and herbs, Crawford said.

“I was very happy and maybe a little surprised (to learn the garden won the competition) because there were so many applicants,” she said.

Almost 600 community and school gardens participated in the grant competition this year, according to Seeds of Change, an organic-seed company based in southern California.

From March 30 to April 19, supporters could vote for their favorite garden once a day. The 25 community gardens and 25 school gardens that received the most votes became finalists.

A panel of judges reviewed the finalists' applications and scored them on various criteria. The highest-scoring gardens in each of the two categories received the top prizes. The winning gardens were announced last month.

Among the criteria were the effort to teach people where their food comes from, the impact on its community, the need of the community, the quality of the organization, the need for funding and community involvement.

Sharon Wolf, executive director of North Hills Community Outreach, said that last year, the garden provided 4,500 pounds of produce for 1,400 families served by the organization's food pantries in Hampton, Bellevue and Millvale.

“The stuff that they get from the garden is really, really fresh, fresher than what most of us eat for our produce,” said Wolf, 61, of Franklin Park.

She said 150 youths from local schools came to the garden last year to learn about gardening and help out.

Wolf said it was wonderful “that people would take time out of their days, for many consecutive days,” to vote the garden into the finals.

“It means everything to us that the community supported this project,” she said.

Madelyn Dinnerstein is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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