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Community garden in McKeesport rallies support from nonprofit

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 3:36 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Grow Pittsburgh garden coordinator Rayden Sorock teaches Kiwanis Community Garden volunteers how to collect soil for sampling. Soil at the garden along Walnut Street is being tested for nutrient value and contaminants.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Kiwanis Community Garden volunteers Sharon Tardio and Shari Holland roll out the rain barrel the McKeesport garden received last week from Grow Pittsburgh.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
The Rev. Cheryle Stone of Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport gathers onions during a recent visit to the Kiwanis Community Garden of McKeesport on Walnut Street.

The Kiwanis Community Garden in McKeesport is getting support from a nonprofit organization dedicated to urban farming.

Pittsburgh Grows recently visited the space along Walnut Street to deliver a rain barrel and compost bin and take soil samples. Volunteers from the local garden applied for assistance from the nonprofit, which is affiliated with gardens in Homestead and Clairton through a subsidiary organization, Allegheny Grows.

Organizers broke ground on the McKeesport garden two years ago and support and interest from local charities has grown. Volunteers affiliated with city churches, nutrition programs and health clinics were among those present last week when community garden coordinator Rayden Sorock visited the site.

Sorock's first order of business was demonstrating how to take a soil sample for testing. Sorock used a coring tool to collect soil from several of the garden's 32 raised beds. Though the beds are filled with commercial top soil, Sorock said testing is still a good idea.

The testing will determine what nutrients are present in the soil and show if any contaminants from land surrounding and under the beds are present.

“The soil is really rough here,” Sorock said of the grounds around the garden beds. “There can be issues with heavy metals, especially lead.”

Samples collected from the garden are being sent to a lab at the University of Massachusetts.

In addition to gathering soil samples, Sorock delivered a 133-gallon rain barrel. The vessel will be used to collect rain that falls on a pavilion that was built at the garden site last year.

Garden volunteers say produce grown at the grow space is feeding children and families.

The Rev. Cheryle Stone from Bethlehem Baptist Church said elementary school age children from a day care program at her church regularly visit and tend the garden.

“I want them to know where food comes from,” Stone said.

Shari Holland, who works for the Latterman Family Health Center and wrote the application for the Grow Pittsburgh grant, said she has served clients kale chips made with greens from the garden.

The McKeesport garden charges rent space. The cost for a single bed is $20 for the first year then $10 per year after that. Right now, all garden boxes are claimed. Garden volunteers said they are considering expanding in future years by building long beds on an adjacent property.

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or