This Grower’s Spotlight features our new Garden Resource Coordinator, Charlee Williams! After her previous two seasons working as a part-time GRC Assistant, she is excited to take on this new role.  Charlee is a lifelong Pittsburgh resident who found a whole new world of gardening when she started working at the GRC two years ago. Now she is connecting folks to garden resources and pursuing gardening knowledge in and out of work. Read on to learn more about Charlee!

Grow Pittsburgh: Tell us about yourself 

Charlee Williams: I was born and raised in Pittsburgh. I am from the Hill District Sugar Top area originally, but I’ve been on the East Side for almost 10 years now. In 2010, I went to culinary school at the Art Institute and then I went to Bidwill Training Center for the rest of my culinary program. I have been cooking for 15 or 16 years and have been working in kitchens and hotels.

I like going out to eat, bowling, and going to the movies. Eventually, I would love to open up my farm-to-table restaurant. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to work at Grow Pittsburgh, so I could learn how to garden. I felt like that would be the perfect opportunity for me to get growing experience. 

In the last two seasons, I worked at Grow Pittsburgh as the Garden Resource Center Assistant. After two years, when my former manager (of the GRC) decided to leave, she recommended me for a coordinator position.


GP: What is your favorite part of about the GRC?

Charlee: The Community. If you don’t know anything about gardening, or tools or amendments, or cover crops, you will find someone at the GRC who’s willing to talk to you for hours  and even give you their number or invite you to their homes. You don’t see a lot of places that are so open like that. It doesn’t matter your age, your race. What you have there is just a sense of belonging. Members come in pouring rain. And come in and stay for hours even though it’s raining just to talk about what they’re planting and what they’re excited about for the season. And then when it’s nice out, you can lose time there. I’ve had people tell me they’ve only come in for compost and stay for hours.


GP: What are you looking forward to during your first season as the GRC coordinator?

Charlee: Right now, just the opening! It just feels like it’s taken forever for it to just be March 16. 

I’m excited that we have an extra day this year, we’ll be open on Thursdays. I’m excited to see all the returning members. There are members that I will see their face and instantly know exactly who they are. I’m also excited to plant some new things and get some new signs this year. 


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

Charlee: So I am fortunate to be in the Phipps Conservatory Master Gardener Program. I feel that by being part of this program, I’ll be able to get the hands-on training I’ve been longing for. I am excited to learn things like why certain plants are invasive, how they’re invasive, and what you should do with them. I feel like having more knowledge at my fingertips will help me help the members at the GRC.


 Which one of our values most resonates with you?

Charlee: Food sovereignty. Growing up in the Hill District, we had access to a grocery store. But then it went away and the people on the Hill were forced to go to the southside for groceries. It’s not too far but if you don’t have a car and you want to do a big shopping trip for the house, you would have to catch a bus or carpool with someone. In certain neighborhoods, the closest grocery store might be out of their reach because they don’t have a car and the buses now are not the same as when I was growing up and make less stops.

Also, the inflation is crazy. If people are on a set income, it might be hard for them to get to the grocery store, and be willing to pay that money. So the fact that that we have these farmer’s markets and CSAs and people with community gardens growing their food in the city, it gives the people who can’t afford to get to these places or afford the things at these places a chance to get fresh produce. I hope gardening and growing your own food continues to spread more so one day we can eliminate grocery stores or just go there when we just need meat.


Any last thoughts?

Charlee: I would love for people in the surrounding communities who don’t know about the GRC or Grow Pittsburgh to come and check us out and see if they can learn some new gardening skills or come to our workshops.

Look at our website to see if there’s a workshop that they might be interested in! If you are interested in native plants, you could come to our native plants workshop on April 9th. We’ll also be having a raised garden bed workshop for people who are interested in growing some type of food at their home and don’t want to put it in the ground. 

Want to hear more about the GRC? Check out this recent interview Charlee did with SLB Radio!