This Grower’s Spotlight features two of our partners at Phipps Conservatory, Allison Glick, Homegrown Garden Installation Coordinator, and Jasmine Pope, Community Outreach Coordinator. For the past few years, they have led the efforts at Phipps to collaborate with Grow Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Library in organizing the annual Celebration of Seeds, an annual seed swap that creates a space for hundreds of community members eager to share seeds and gardening wisdom. Read on to hear how these two got started gardening, the behind-the-scenes of organizing the seed swap, and their favorite parts of the annual Celebration of Seeds!

From Left to Right: Corinne Gibson, Allison Glick, Jasmine Pope

Grow Pittsburgh: Tell us about yourself and your role at Phipps

Jasmine: I moved up here from Virginia two years ago, during the pandemic and got my Master’s in Food Studies. I did an internship with Ayanna at Sankofa Village Farms, and I took an agroecology class that reconnected me to growing. My grandparents were farmers. When I saw the Community Outreach Coordinator for Homegrown position open up, I thought this sounds like something I’ve already been doing. It’s been great! I enjoy growing even though I don’t have a space of my own yet, but I enjoy helping people find the joys of growing and the benefits of that.

As the community outreach coordinator, I’m kind of the first contact that people meet when they reach out for the Homegrown program. I also coordinate the educational programs for Homegrown, our monthly virtual classes or in-person workshops. We do a lot of work with the libraries like the Seed Swap at the main library, but also in Hazelwood, we have two garden beds there and do some programming there.

Allison: I am the Garden Installation Coordinator for Homegrown, our backyard garden program. I worked on farms for a couple of years, including one in central Pennsylvania, but never wanted to own my own farm. So I moved to Pittsburgh, and eventually found this job where I get to grow plants and then help other people get excited about gardens. I also have my own garden in Swissvale, where I grow in a 120 square foot garden with mounded beds. There, I grow annual vegetables and herbs, and then a number of blueberry bushes, raspberry brambles, and strawberries on the other side of my yard.

In my role, I am in charge of most of the physical side of the Homegrown program – seedlings, inventory, and physical garden installation. We have a partnership with the Homewood YMCA, which is awesome. They’re great people there. I help steward that space with very appreciated assistance from the Phipps Master Gardeners who help us maintain the space as well.

GP: How did you get started with gardening?

Jasmine: My great grandfather’s garden is my first memory of growing and then I kind of got disconnected as I got older. I have memories as a kid with my grandparents who lived in southern Virginia, going to other farmers that they knew and picking their strawberries or picking some fruit, but also they have their own personal garden. I remember picking melons and waking up really early and picking corn. And then when I moved up here to get my masters in Food Studies, there was like, they have a teaching farm there and I took my agroecology class, and it really reinvigorated that desire in me to grow and reconnect with growing and my own personal roots and it just took off from there. Then I interned at Sankofa with Ayanna and here I am still learning and still growing through other years.

Allison: My family did a little bit of gardening here and there, but not a whole lot. It was really in college when I was studying chemistry that I took a class about food. Also, I like to eat, I like good food. And I realized that you can eat better food if you grow yourself. It kind of snowballed from there, making me think ‘how does chemistry connect to agriculture?’ By the time I graduated,I realized I didn’t want to work in a lab. There’s only so much you can learn about agriculture from a book, so I went on to do some volunteer and work exchanges in agriculture to get some good practice. Now I work in a backyard setting, but I still like the production side.

GP: What is your favorite thing to grow?

Jasmine: Collard greens! I say this to everyone, because I just think they’re so beautiful. When I worked with Ayanna, I was kind of like their pest person, trying to figure out how to keep all the plants healthy. But with the collard greens, I bonded with them because I was fighting so hard to protect them from the harlequin beetles, they were so bad that summer. So I really enjoy growing collard greens, I love cooking them, and they’re part of my personal food heritage growing up, where I grew up. I have memories of my family sitting around the table, stripping them and cooking them together. 

Allison: Strawberries, because if you take care of them, they’re pretty low effort. And they’re delicious and amazing. I just love being able to go out to my yard and just eat them; I feel very spoiled. And they come back every year. You put in the work at the beginning. And then it’s like not that much after.

GP: Over the next few years, how do you want to grow your gardening skills?

Jasmine: For me, I have always had an interest in herbs, and making my own products. When I have the energy and time, I make rosemary oil for my hair. In grad school, I did some workshops on how you can make your own herbal shampoos and stuff like that. So I would like to improve my herbal knowledge and really get some more hands-on experience growing that type of stuff and then utilizing it for my every day.

Allison: I have two growing goals going forward. One is to actually put into better practice some of the things that I know are useful. I struggle to germinate spinach and carrots and beets sometimes, but I know how to do it. I’m just not giving them enough moisture. So the things that I know I should be doing, I want to actually follow through. I’ve learned a lot of different techniques over the past several years and I want to make those second nature.

The other goal is to learn more about how important microbial life is for soil, and how that affects everything, including our own health. I would like to try out some Korean Natural Farming techniques, where you make your own inputs and encourage the microbial life in your soil. 

GP: Tell me about your involvement with Seed Swap. How does Phipps help get this event organized?

Jasmine: We’ve done a lot of the seed sourcing  from seed companies. They’re helpful in making sure that we have a lot of seeds for people to grab. We also have volunteers that volunteer the day of. Our Master Gardeners will come as well. Phipps does some of that, and then grows Pittsburgh and Phipps runs the day of workshops. 

Allison: This will be my seventh seed swap. Like Jasmine said, We solicit a lot of seed donations, we also purchase seeds from our own budget to share as does Grow Pittsburgh to make sure to fill any gaps and make sure that people have what they want. We help organize and plan activities, education,and help keep the enthusiasm high.Along with Grow Pittsburgh, we work every year to keep the spirit of the event alive. It’s connecting regional gardeners to each other. People are excited about gardening and making sure that grassroots spirit and integrity stay every year.

GP: What part of the seed swap do you look forward to each year?

Jasmine: For a good portion of last year’s seed swap I was standing at the entrance to the room with all the seeds. And it was just so great seeing everyone’s excited faces and that everyone is excited to be in that space. 

Allison: I just love the energy. Hundreds of people in a small space because they love plants and food is pretty awesome.

GP: Is there anything you would encourage folks to check out at this year’s Seed Swap? 

Allison: We will have workshops with three topics: indoor seed starting, seed saving and organic garden essentials. So whichever one folks would like a refresher on we’ll be there to talk about it and answer questions as well. There will be an Ask a Master Gardener table to help with all your plant and garden questions as well.

GP: Anything else you want to share?

Jasmine: We have branch workshops to keep the energy after the seed swap. Check them out!

Join us for the 12th annual Seed Swap on March 2nd!