Pitcairn Community Garden blossoms along Third Street

| Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Thanks to a community group and a local Boy Scout, a patch of land that held the remains of a burned-down house now is filled with blazing flowers and hearty vegetables.

With red geraniums, black-eyed Susans and blue forget-me-nots welcoming visitors, the Pitcairn Community Garden has become a daily destination for the gardeners who tend to its 30 plots.

“This is the first time I've ever planted anything; I usually have a black thumb,” said Jacqueline Ayers, a Pitcairn woman who cares for a plot.

“I have four different varieties of tomatoes, three varieties of peppers, squash, beets, turnips and radishes. I'm a trained chef, so it's nice to have my own garden.”

The garden has been a welcome addition this year, its first.

Pitcairn Community Ministries bought the Third Street lot — which contained the shell of a burned-out house — around 2005 and then razed the ruined building. Two years ago, Pastor Dave Schweissing suggested to Monroeville Boy Scout Richard “R.J.” Jones that a community garden would be a pretty good Eagle Scout project.

The community-interaction aspect appealed to Jones.

“That's the main reason why I did it, so people could be together and have something they could help each other with,” Jones said.

“I like helping people; anything I can do to help a person, that's why I do what I do.”

Jones took on the project, and he had a lot of help from the other Boy Scouts in Troop 143 to complete the manual labor.

First, they cleared the foundation and driveway.

Then topsoil was added for planting, and a fence was built around the property.

Jones also had some help raising funds from the local community.

He raised some money in school, got support from his parents and received a $500 contribution from a church-goer.

All in all, it cost about $1,200 to complete the project, he said.

Pitcairn Community Ministries charges $10 for the growing season to use the space.

Given that Pitcairn homes tend to have small yards and that there were 866 renters in the borough according to the 2010 U.S. census, the garden addresses a need.

“I live in a tiny apartment,” Ayers said, “so I don't have room to grow a garden.”

Since its dedication ceremony in May, the garden has flourished under the care of its gardeners.

The eight plots in the front of the garden feature flowers, and the remaining 22 plots feature an array of vegetables.

“All 30 plots are full,” said Donna Ferguson, director of programs for the community group.

“You have herbs, flowers, tomatoes, zucchinis, broccoli, string beans, butternut and acorn squash, beets, turnip greens and carrots,” said Kerri Schweissing, the pastor's wife.

The garden features more than flowers and vegetables — its dirt pathways are lined with a variety of herbs.

“There are mint, spearmint, sage, peppermint, sweet basil, thyme, sage, bay leaves, chamomile, dill, and other herbs,” said Luanne Caskey, an experienced gardener.

“There is also pumpkin, zucchini, cucumber, collard greens, lettuce and eggplant.”

A sense of community is growing there, as well.

“It's nice to grow for yourself, and you can meet people in the community,” Kerri Schweissing said.

“And you're taking an empty lot and beautifying it, as well.”

Now the garden is a place for everyone to enjoy the abundance of flowers and vegetables.

Most of the gardeners bought their own seeds and plants, but some plots feature donated vegetables.

“Most of the flowers were bought or planted by people, but we have tomatoes and peppers donated by the Gateway greenhouse, which was very helpful,” said Kerri Schweissing, who cares for two plots.

Other churches in the area own plots that are open to their church groups, such as the Circles group to help end poverty, based at Center Avenue United Methodist Church.

“The garden is designed to help people grow their own food, eat healthier and adopt a healthy lifestyle,” said Teresa Evans, the Circles group leader.

It also lends itself to community involvement and meeting new people while learning a new skill, said Rose Staples, the Circles group coach.

There are some plot owners who are gardening experts, and others who are just starting out.

“My husband and I used to live on the farm, and I had my own personal garden,” said Carol Agate, who has a plot filled with peas, green beans and lettuce.

“Everyone is sharing the plants and the harvest.”

Jacqueline Dell is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-871-2311 or jdell@tribweb.com.

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