Ruth Ann McGarry finds a sense of belonging in Sharpsburg Community Garden
At Grow Pittsburgh, we believe that everyone in our region should have the opportunity to grow and eat local, healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food. Collaborating with neighborhoods to grow food and teach sustainability creates healthy communities.
Since 2010, we have worked with communities to start 27 gardens in Allegheny County through our City Growers and Allegheny Grows programs. Allegheny Grows serves municipalities outside of the City of Pittsburgh in partnership with Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and Allegheny County Economic Development.
Ruth Ann immediately signed up to volunteer at the Sharpsburg Community Garden, which was awarded funding through 2016 through the Allegheny Grows program. “Attending meetings helped me learn more about gardening. Grow Pittsburgh helped us plan the design, furnish beds, shed, tools, plants, water source and gave us ideas about how to tend our garden,” McGarry said. The garden is now flourishing under the care of its volunteer force, and Ruth Ann serves as garden manager.
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McGarry credits Grow Pittsburgh in teaching Sharpsburg growers how to manage a garden to be successful from the very start, from planning the garden space, what they would grow and how to manage pests.
“The first year we were so excited to start harvesting! We found out that the produce exceeded our expectations and we decided to put a basket in the library for extra produce. The community looks forward to our donations,” McGarry said.
The Allegheny Grows program doesn’t stop at growing techniques: McGarry values the leadership and community building skills the gardeners learned from Grow Pittsburgh staff. “(They) helped us organize meetings, give back to community, and buffer any misunderstanding between the garden members. We now consider ourselves a family,” she said.
Ruth Ann also found something growing in the garden among the vegetables: a sense of belonging. “We help each other in the garden and enjoy a bit of fellowship when we meet. I have made so many friends through this garden and I don’t feel like an outsider. We give warm welcomes to new gardeners and love when neighbors stop by to admire our work,” McGarry said.
The 25-bed garden now hosts teaching and service beds: the library uses a small bed to teach youth how to garden, and the local Girl and Boy Scout troops each have a bed for donating produce. Others use rows to try growing different crops like cuke-a-melons, ground cherries, and peanuts.
The Sharpsburg Community Garden hosts an annual Garden Party for the community, with food, games and learning opportunities for their neighbors. Garden volunteers recently gave away plants they started from seed during Sharpsburg’s Open Streets event.
“I am so happy to be a manager of this garden,” McGarry says. “The members come out in full force whenever we need labor done. Volunteers run the Garden Party and Open Streets days. I make sure everyone has what they need plus I keep an open ear for any ideas.”