Site of St. Clair Village to turn into Pittsburgh’s largest orchard
The site of a former housing project in one of Pittsburgh’s hilltop neighborhoods will turn into the city’s largest orchard this weekend.
Volunteers on Saturday will plant 200 fruit and nut trees at the Hilltop Urban Farm in Pittsburgh’s St. Clair neighborhood.
Executive Director Sarah Baxendell said the 23-acre project is the largest urban farm in the United States.
“We are an organization and a project that is designed to address food insecurity in the 11 hilltop neighborhoods in the southern end of the city of Pittsburgh,” she said. “When our farmer training program and farmer areas are fully developed, we will quadruple the amount of food grown in the city of Pittsburgh with one location.”
The orchard will eventually provide a revenue stream for the nonprofit farm organization, which intends to sell the harvest to wholesalers and at local farm markets, Baxendell said.
Located on the site of the former St. Clair Village housing project, the farm is a subsidiary of the Hilltop Alliance, an organization made up of groups supporting the 11 neighborhoods in Pittsburgh’s southern hilltop. The alliance has been partnering since 2013 with foundations to create the farm. The farm is funded almost exclusively through foundation grants and charitable donations. Neighborhood residents provide volunteers for work.
Work to convert the former residential neighborhood began in 2017. The organization has since installed fencing to keep deer and other animals away from planting areas, put in a 1,200 foot water line for irrigation, erected an array of solar panels for power, built raised beds for young farmers and brought in several large shipping containers. The containers provide space for storage, an office and to cool and pack produce.
Future plans include greenhouses, community gardens and a farmers market.
“Since basically fall of 2013, we have been working directly with the community to develop this project,” Baxendell said. “The themes you see here — the kids farm, the farmer training, the orchard — these are all the things that the community chose that we distilled into programs. It’s particularly special to me because my grandfather grew up five houses from the right of the gate.”
The Farmer Incubation Program, which provides prospective urban farmers tools and space to start new businesses, is one of several programs the Hilltop Urban Farm is offering for a first time in 2019. It will also began programming at its Youth Farm designed to teach neighborhood children about urban agriculture.
The property totaling 107 acres is owned by the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh, which is in the process of transferring most of it to the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority. The Allegheny Land Trust has agreed to buy about 90 acres and will lease 23 for farming. It will maintain 70 hillside acres as a conservation area.
The housing authority is considering housing on the remaining acreage.
Baxendell said the farm will be able to expand programming after the land transfer happens.
“We will essentially over time have more farmers out here running more small business and at some point when the land is transferred we will host an on-site farmers market and then be able to invite the community in to buy produce from us,” she said. “We are quite a ways along, substantially further than ever before.”
Antony Stewart said the farm is giving him the space he needs to grow his composting business. Stewart, owner of Deco Resources in the city’s Allentown neighborhood, collects vegetable and other food waste from local businesses such as restaurants and turns it into compost used to remediate contaminated soil in vacant lots across Pittsburgh.
“We were doing all of our work on vacant lots and that was limiting what we could do,” Stewart said. “The hilltop farm allowed us to really scale up in a big way and centralize our work.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .