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Garden project unites Homewood through self-sufficiency, veggies

| Monday, April 21, 2014, 11:18 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Shiquan Hawkins (left), 17, rakes soil into place as his as fellow Jobs Corps students Tia Brown (center), 20, and Habonimana Jackson, 23, all of Highland Park, Brandon Ingram (far right), 16, of Johnstown help to finish assembling raised beds in the backyard of a home in Homewood on Monday, April 21, 2014. The beds were being assembled as a part of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' 'Homegrown' program, which addresses poverty by teaching people how to grow their own food.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Brandon Ingram (left), 16, of Johnstown, holds the boards for a raised garden bed steady as fellow Jobs Corps students Tia Brown (center) 20 and Habonimana Jackson, 23, both of Highland Park, used drills to screw it into place in Homewood on Monday, April 21, 2014. The beds were being assembled as a part of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' 'Homegrown' program, which addresses poverty by teaching people how to grow their own food.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Brandon Ingram (left), 16, of Johnstown, and Bramiir Cannon, 21, of Highland Park, work to fill a wheelbarrow with soil as their fellow Jobs Corps students work on assembling raised garden beds in Homewood on Monday, April 21, 2014. The beds were being assembled as a part of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens' 'Homegrown' program, which addresses poverty by teaching people how to grow their own food.

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens is not only teaching residents of Homewood how to grow fresh produce, it's building the garden for them.

Phipps is beginning the second year of “Homegrown,” a program to increase access to fresh produce and improve the health of families and children in the neighborhood.

“It's nice to know that you can grow your own (vegetables) that are just as good as those in the expensive stores,” said Adrienne Stitt, 69, of Homewood, who has a Homegrown garden.

On Monday, Phipps built its second raised garden bed of the spring in the neighborhood. It installed 10 last year and wants to double that number this year. Charity Bauman, community outreach coordinator for Phipps, said it is considering expanding the program in the fall to another neighborhood but has not decided which one.

Phipps started with Homewood because there is no grocery store within a mile of the neighborhood.

A team of five students from the Pittsburgh Job Corps on Monday sawed boards — rough hewn cedar, because they repel insects and resist rot — and nailed them together in the backyard of a house in Homewood. They put down two raised bed frames, 5 feet by 3 feet by a foot, for the garden atop some material that suppresses weeds. The students then filled the frames with a mixture of compost and top soil and raked it.

“It feels good helping the environment,” said Shiquan Hawkins, 17, a Job Corps member originally from Bradley Beach, N.J.

Residents Greg Witted and his sister Lois will be the garden's beneficiaries. They tried to get Phipps to build a garden for them last year, but it was too late in the growing season.

“I've been waiting to do this a long time,” Greg Witted, 64, said. He plans to plant kale, tomatoes, collard greens, beets and spinach.

Bauman said Phipps provides a trowel, gardening gloves, pail and seeds. The nonprofit offers classes once a month on nutrition and cooking to participants, a mentor to answer questions and continued help the second year.

Stitt was among the 10 residents in last year's first wave of Homegrown gardens. She grew cherry tomatoes, Swiss chards, kale, carrots, scallions, summer squash, green beans, parsley, collard greens and okra. This year, she's growing the same crops plus lettuce, spinach, green and red peppers, strawberries and some marigolds and daffodils.

“The Phipps Conservatory saw a need in the community,” Bauman said.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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