Fox Chapel Area community garden reaping rewards

November 14, 2018

Whether he’s covered in dirt from digging tomato plants or tired and sweaty from lugging gallons of water to the community garden at Fox Chapel Area High School, senior Nathaniel Roe is planting seeds for thought with this new initiative.

In an empty lot near the high school, members of the Environmental Club have sown a 2,500-foot garden where squash, basil and jalapeno peppers were harvested this fall.

“While the garden probably won’t change many people’s minds about sustainability and the environment, it represents a step in the right direction,” said Roe, club leader.

“If even one person says that the garden made them interested in the environment or even just interested in gardening, than all of the troubles we as a club have gone through are worth it.”

Science teacher and club advisor Greg Schubert oversees the effort. Students dug the garden this summer and have tended to it every few days since.

“We are the sole people ensuring its prosperity,” Roe said.

The property, back-filled with rocks and clay soil, hasn’t been easy to transform into lush planting grounds.

“Our project is similar to urban gardening in that we have to provide soil and raised beds for our plants, but there is plenty of sunlight and there is shelter from the wind in all directions,” Schubert said.

Student volunteers show up every Wednesday to improve fencing and water management, and have added a variety of plants, a compost heap and a cistern. They devised a rainwater catch system so they aren’t spending money to hydrate the plants, which needs to be done every other day.

“It is a completely voluntary endeavor but with time and expertise, it will slowly become more spectacular,” Schubert said.

Roe credits the 100-plus members of the school’s environmental club for diving into the idea originally proposed by graduate Brandon Brewster.

Funds for the garden have been raised by club members and about a dozen volunteers get their hands dirty digging, planting and weeding every Wednesday.

Club member Eric Gurklis said environmental passion aside, the garden project attracted him because it seemed like fun.

“It has offered me an outlet that allows me to apply my classroom knowledge to the real world,” he said.

The physical labor of digging new beds, building trenches and planting crops is challenging but satisfying, he said.

“Knowing that I have created something that will have a lasting impact is rewarding,” Gurklis said.

Volunteer Kevin Falconett said he devotes several days a week to volunteering because he has fun doing it.

“What makes it fun is working with others that have the same interest of helping people,” he said.

Citing a similar community farm in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood, Falconett said the project has a potential to help a lot of people.

“The most satisfying part of the garden project is seeing our plans and plants come to life as well as seeing the hard-working students take time out of their schedules and help out,” he said.

Roe said he hopes the garden is a place that invites people and encourages their creativity.

“The best part is that we haven’t even planted half of the available land,” Roe said. “There is so much opportunity for student and community engagement with this garden right now and in the future.”

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