Shaler student hopes garden plan grows

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Sam Bartsch grew up surrounded by gardeners. Now he's working to bring his passion for fresh produce to less advantaged students and neighborhoods.

Bartsch, a junior at Shaler Area High School, created Off-Grid Gardens, an initiative to bring environmentally friendly produce to disadvantaged communities by building solar-powered greenhouses and community gardens.

Bartsch's project recently was recognized as a “highly commended” project by the Volvo Environmental Program, a partnership between Volvo and the United Nations Environmental Program, but Bartsch hopes the community will support him as he competes for a $25,000 grant that would help his program grow.

Off-Grid Gardens is one of the 200 finalists competing in the State Farm Neighborhood Assist program that will grant 40 $25,000 grants to the top vote-getters.

“This gives us a chance to reach out to organizations that we may not know about or have a tie to,” said Dave Phillips, State Farm spokesperson.

“Everybody has a chance. This helps to promote the causes that may not otherwise get (attention) … it's a really neat opportunity to engage and truly make a difference.”

The competition, which runs through April 22, is conducted through social media at

Community members have the opportunity to vote up to 10 times each day.

“I definitely hope it's unique enough for people to take notes and support,” Bartsch said. “I'm excited to have the opportunity to start my program and get the funds to do it.”

If Bartsch wins one of the $25,000 grants, he plans to take five greenhouses on his family's property — Bartsch Greenhouses, in Shaler Township — off the electric grid by converting them to solar power and installing rain barrels to create self-sustaining greenhouse.

The greenhouses, which are not used during winter months, would be used to grow produce seedlings, which would be transplanted during warm weather.

“I want to use that produce to educate all the district schools what it means to be off-grid and locally grown,” Bartsch said. “Eventually the goal is to get into inner city schools.”

Bartsch said his project is twofold, to give lower income areas the opportunity to eat healthy, and educate communities about the environmental impact of transporting and selling produce.

The initiative will start locally at the Shaler Area schools as it continues to grow. Bartsch also is working with county councilman Corey O'Connor to establish a garden in Hazelwood.

“The project itself is still growing, if we don't win State Farm that won't be the end of our project,” Bartsch said. “But I'm really hoping the community rallies together around this program.”

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or

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