Pittsburgh’s Urban Farms A Growing Business

By Ann Belser
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

City lots where abandoned houses have been demolished aren’t the green acres that evoke visions of a bucolic life.

Yet in urban neighborhoods through the region, women, and they are mostly women, are turning what had been blighted lands back into fertile ground.

It is a sector of farming that was mostly passed over by the 2012 Census of Agriculture, released last week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistical Service.

The census did not account for a trend that’s been developing in the past decade, urban farms sprouting where neighborhoods have been hollowed out.

As cities tore down neglected housing, they left behind relatively cheap vacant land. These places don’t match the averages seen in the census review, in Pennsylvania, for example, the typical farm covers 130 acres.

An urban farm is, instead, measured in building lots. People approach those lots with little or no knowledge of agriculture but a sense that, by restoring the land, they can restore a community.

One of those people is Mindy Schwartz, who has dreams of creating an oasis in Wilkinsburg, Pa., that will help revitalize the neighborhood.

After buying and moving into a three-unit apartment house in 1994, Schwartz, 49, built raised garden beds and began growing produce, more than she could eat. So she sold some of her vegetables to local restaurants.

In the spring, she set up a rack in her basement near the warm steam boiler, and hooked grow lights to shelving.

“Next thing you know, I have hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of seedlings,” she said.

The first year, she gave seedlings to friends. The second year, friends came back, so she charged them a quarter to help defray the costs. The third year, those friends brought their friends and she charged a little more.

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