Dirt is beautiful. It’s a simple summation of the last near of Grow Pittsburgh’s partnership with local artist Mary Tremonte, as part of the Environment, Health, and Public Art, a program of the Office of Public Art. As part of this initiatve, three local artists partnered with environmental organizations to create artworks that address several distinct yet intersecting issues of environmental health: water pollution, air pollution, and lead toxicity in the soil. In an online panel with the other artists and organization last month, Mary shared more about her process creating art to address Pittsburgh soil health and celebrate the people who grow in it.

In an effort to celebrate the soil while building up a communal identity based on place (in this case, local community gardens), Mary’s project took up three primary forms: hands-on activities and education, the Soil Health Education cart (SHED), and the Dirt Tales zine. “Working with Mary and the Office of Public Art has been a great experience.  While the project had to pivot some from the original idea due to COVID-19, Mary’s work that she created for us gives us new tools for outreach and education about soil health for community gardeners,” says Alyssa Kail, Grow Pittsburgh’s Garden Sustainability Coordinator.

Through a bit of experimentation, Mary created a dirt-based screenprinting medium for community screenprinting events. This activity can be found in the ‘Dirt is Beautiful’ cart, stocked with soil health information and other art supplies, that can be disassembled and transported and is available for area community gardens to rent for events (pictured at Garden of Etna above). Last but certainly not least is Dirt Tales. Mary created this zine with the goal of disseminating tips and successful practices for building soil health, while also sharing local growers’ stories and creating a communal identity of place amongst gardeners. Printed on a risograph, the zine’s first issue, “Soil Health and Community Health”, features interviews with Soil Sisters, Worm Return, practical info on composting, as well as a fun centerfold poster. Interested in getting your own copy of Dirt Tales? Find them at our Garden Resource Center, in little learning libraries at select Grow Pittsburgh School Gardens, and hopefully soon in PDF format for free download. And we’re thrilled that the second issue of Dirt Tales, all about soil contamination, will be released next Saturday, June 5 at our free soil lead screening at the Garden Resource Center! Come pick up a copy, meet Mary, and learn more from her about her work with Grow Pittsburgh this past year.

>> You can view the full Environment, Health, and Public Art panel and learn more about this initiative on the Office of Public Art’s website.