This Grower’s Spotlight features Renee Wilson. Renee is a retired school teacher, Hamnett Place community garden member, and serves on Grow Pittsburgh’s Board of Directors. Renee has been growing fresh food her whole life and continues to do so each summer. Hear from Renee about her experience as a grower.

Grow Pittsburgh: Tell us a bit about yourself. 

Renee: I am a retired social worker from Pittsburgh Public Schools. This is my first year of freedom, and I really enjoyed it. I am an Alabamian. I have six grandchildren. I love gardening. I’m on the board of Grow Pittsburgh. And I love to travel.


GP: How did you get started growing?

Renee: Being from Alabama, we lived in the rural South. And we had to grow our own food in order to eat. So I got into growing because that’s what my family did. We’ve had our cows. We had our pigs. My grandparents had horses. So I was kind of I guess you would say I was raised on the farm. When I moved to Pittsburgh, the food didn’t taste right to me. A lot of the food was processed so I had to find a space to grow my own food. That’s how I started, because I love fresh food and wanted to grow my own. And now I do it for the price too. I went to the store a few months ago to buy celery and it was $3.99 for a head of celery. That celery stayed in that store and now I have it growing in my garden.


GP: How did you get started with the Hamnett place community garden?

Renee: After being here on the board of Grow Pittsburgh, I talked to Jake and he referred me to check out the grower’s map online. It was a nice location and it had quite a few openings at the time. And now we have a waiting list. It’s been a working progress. I started in this garden about four years ago.


GP: What crops were you most excited about growing this year?

Renee: I’m trying peanuts again this year. I grew peanuts last year. I have some different kinds of tomatoes I’ve never grown before so I want to try those. I want to grow some watermelon cucumbers. I got them from Garden Dreams last year. 


GP: What is a lesson growing food has taught you? 

Renee: Patience. Everything grows in his own time. Just be willing to be patient with whatever or whomever that you’re dealing with, because you can wait almost anything out. Just wait a little while to see what happens.


GP: What is a gardening trick you can share?

Renee: I can share some ideas that I have for some gardening things that we did in the south. For example, before I plant my tomatoes, I put a fish head in there. I get so many tomatoes when I do this. It’s what my parents did, they used what we had to make the soil better. 


 GP: What is something special you think gardening brings to the community?

Renee: Growing food for food banks. During the pandemic, there were so many people in those lines trying to get food. I couldn’t feed them all. And I couldn’t give him any money, but I could grow food. So we started a partnership. We had one bed here, dedicated only for the food bank. And I also have the garden at Obama and the food that is grown there partially goes to the food bank.


GP: What does being a part of the Grow Pittsburgh board mean to you?

Renee: There’s a need for people to grow their own food and be self-sufficient. Grow Pittsburgh teaches children the importance of growing their own food, the importance of mother nature, and the importance of climate control. I value that Grow Pittsburgh puts out these ideas.


GP: Any last thoughts?

Renee: Try to get more children involved in the garden and bring them outside. If growing only one item can get them interested in gardening, that’s a plus. Because all the older people like myself, pretty soon we are not going to be able to garden due to our age and our health. And so my focus is to teach the younger generation. This is where your food comes from. And you don’t have to pay 3.99 for a head of celery.