Pittsburgh Urban Gardening Project Aims To Teach Our Community To Garden
For Ricci Minella, there’s something therapeutic about gardening — digging into moist soil, nurturing seeds into produce, and simplifying his lifestyle. Minella and his best friend, Brett Wilps, share this passion and work to pass it along to others in the community. They’ve already developed a mini co-op in one Bridgeville neighborhood — which includes two of their six gardens and a communal compost bin for the neighborhood — spreading their soil and the foundation for the Pittsburgh Urban Gardening Project.
“We want to teach people to garden and control their own food supply,” Wilps says. The project launched last August when the gardeners were preparing a farm-to-table dinner, hosted by Minella’s Burgh Bites Food Cart on Mt. Washington. “We were out picking berries,” Minella explains, “and — I don’t know why it didn’t hit us earlier — but [Brett] was like, ‘Why don’t we just use the produce from our gardens?’” They molded the dinner’s menu around their gardens, to great success.
From then, the friends took their green thumbs and gardening experience across the region, planting gardens for people unsure of how to get started. “We take land donations from anyone who wants a garden in their backyard,” Wilps explains. “We plant whatever they want, but we plant way more than they can eat. They can take whatever they want out of the garden, and anything that’s leftover can be used on the cart or we preserve it.” Minella recently earned his canning license through Pennsylvania State University, and Wilps is a few months away from joining him.
By teaching people how to garden, Wilps feels he is passing on his grandpa’s lessons of living a healthy, sustainable life without breaking the bank. “My grandpa, who grew up during the Great Depression, told me he used to get made fun of in school for bringing homemade bread, foraged fruits and nuts, and homegrown produce in his lunches. All of the rich kids had white, sliced bread from the store,” he says. “Isn’t it crazy how the tides have turned?”
Just like the soil in our gardens, food trends are constantly in rotation. More and more restaurants serve up farm-to-table dishes, utilizing the fruits of local harvests. But what’s new to some foodies is standard practice to Wilps and Minella. “We grew up with that Italian mentality of always having gardens with peppers and tomatoes,” Minella says. “That’s been handed down to both of us from our parents, and it’s funny to see how the whole restaurant scene has gone that route, too. Everybody wants local, organic, farm-to-fork — that’s how we’ve been living our whole lives.”
By exposing the Pittsburgh area to the mentality of living off the land, Minella hopes to inspire others to plant more food and live more simply. “Once someone is hooked on that concept, it’s viral, and they will spread their interest in urban gardening to their friends and family. It’s a good first step to improve the issue of the American diet. I think it’s best to start thinking locally and improving what you can ‘in your own backyard.’”
Pittsburgh Urban Gardening Project, thejournalofman.com/pgh-urban-gardening.
Follow the Pittsburgh Urban Gardening Project on Twitter or Instagram: @PghUgp
Sign up to get a garden in your backyard, volunteer to plant one in someone else’s neighborhood, and see when the pair will be hosting its next farm-to-table dinner. Look for a barbecue on July 20 and a farm dinner on August 24.