Secure, affordable, long-term land access has been consistently identified as a top concern by Pittsburgh growers. Urban farmers and community gardeners need to have long-term land tenure in order to feel confident that the material and emotional investments made in creating a thriving project will last.

The Community Land Trust (CLT) model is one way for land to be protected and made available for urban agriculture, where decisions about CLT-owned lands are made by the people who utilize them.

Grow Pittsburgh has partnered with Allegheny Land Trust (ALT) on a joint venture to protect and preserve selected urban agricultural lands in perpetuity.

The joint venture, Three Rivers Agricultural Land Initiative, will provide long-term security for existing community gardens and urban farms, and ensure that future urban agricultural expansion will be planned and conducted on protected land. The initiative will create the stability necessary to foster a vibrant, sustainable and expanding urban agriculture movement by removing the threat of future sales of agricultural lands for other development purposes.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with ALT, a regional leader in conservation and green space protection, to create this innovative program,” Grow Pittsburgh Executive Director Jake Seltman said. “Increasing development pressure in many Pittsburgh neighborhoods is causing concern among gardeners, farmers and government partners that they may lose their precious spaces to other uses. This initiative will give the community a tool to help support the long-term success of existing projects, and build the confidence necessary to develop new ones.”

“Green space is increasingly cited as a key component to the livability and sustainability of urban areas and one of the reasons for this is urban agriculture. ALT is really proud to work with Grow Pittsburgh to protect land that can be used by community members to reduce food insecurity,” said Chris Beichner, ALT’s President and CEO. “Grow Pittsburgh and their partners have done an amazing job in fostering urban ag in the region, and we’re happy to contribute to that momentum by providing land security.”

This partnership leverages the proven experience and skillsets of the two well-respected non-profit organizations. ALT will contribute its expertise as an accredited land trust to acquire and manage lands in perpetuity, while Grow Pittsburgh will provide its leadership in operating urban farms and assisting neighborhoods in starting and sustaining community gardens.

“We can empathize with the frustration of a well-organized community group being unable to identify a place in their community where a garden will be welcomed long-term, or when a well-loved community garden is lost to an alternate land use,” Seltman said. “These projects become community anchors, playing a significant role in the social fabric of a neighborhood, and providing important food resources and they need to be protected.”

Community gardens and urban farms provide environmental benefits including stormwater mitigation, pollinator habitat creation and neighborhood food insecurity reduction. There are more than 80 community gardens and urban farms in Allegheny County, many of which are using land without a formal land use agreement or have only temporary permission. With this initiative, Pittsburgh will join Philadelphia, New York City, Chicago and Providence, which all have land trusts dedicated to protecting urban agriculture projects.

The Three Rivers Agricultural Land Initiative will be governed by a nine-person steering committee consisting of representatives from Grow Pittsburgh, Allegheny Land Trust and three representatives from local community gardening groups.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact: Rayden Sorock, Director of Community Projects, rayden@growpittsburgh.org 412-362-4769 x213.