Sunny’s Community Garden grows new roots

Courtesy of Rebecca Ulinski Courtesy of Rebecca Ulinski Courtesy of Rebecca Ulinski Courtesy of Rebecca Ulinski | Evergreen has had other community partners like Tree Pittsburgh. Executive board member Amelia Stezoski and Rebecca Ulinski participated in a tree planting in the California-Kirkbride neighborhood.

Emily Ambery | Layout Editor

Five years ago, Sandi Welch brought her favorite phrase, “if you build it, they will come,” to life when she founded Sunny’s Community Garden. Since then, her non-profit has created three community gardens in the greater Pittsburgh area.

In a new partnership with Evergreen Environmental Club at Duquesne, Welch and her team will be assisted by Duquesne students with all things gardening — from moving logs and mulch to weeding and watering.

Sunny’s gardens currently serve the Hill District and Manchester areas with construction beginning at the newest Cheswick location starting April 13.

Sunny’s Community Garden originally built the gardens and maintained them with a single crew, but Welch has since modified the mission. Now, the non-profit will build the garden and give it back to the community to maintain.

“We’ll give it to [the community], but they have to support it,” Welch said. “We have given something to the community that enables them to work within their community for food education.”

Evergreen Club students will be assisting the new Cheswick garden construction and are excited to give back to the community. President Rebecca Ulinski expressed her excitement to get started with Sunny’s and continue a longer-term partnership with the garden in the Hill.

“We owe it to the Hill and we owe it to ourselves to establish partnerships with the people that exist around us as long as they’re also willing to enter into partnerships,” Ulinski said. “It’s really important for students to get off of campus because it helps them meet new people, and it expands people’s worldviews.”

Sunny’s garden relies entirely on the kindness of others. Those that own the spaces pay for the water and Welch emphasized that the non-profit does not own anything in the process of creating the community gardens.

“We rely on finding a good soul who will give us the use of his or her property and who will pay for the water,” Welch said. “If we had to own something, we couldn’t do what we do.”

Welch has been a master gardener for 30 years and welcomes the young muscle Duquesne students can provide.

The Cheswick location will hold 20 raised bed containers which utilizes the Hugelkultur method. This horticultural method uses a foundation of rotting wood and other plant materials for increased irrigation and nutrients. Students will be helping to get the beds ready for planting by moving logs into the raised beds, shoveling mulch and soil.

Welch described implementing a variety of vegetables at Cheswick. The garden will be home to greens, onions, carrots, potatoes, ginger, herbs, radishes, squash, tomatoes and peppers.

Evergreen executive board member Brynn Tripp grew up enjoying the outdoors as a kid. Now in college, she is excited to get her hands dirty while focusing on what community gardens can do for sustainability.

“With climate change, I was like, ‘Okay I want to be able to appreciate everything and still be able to do these hobbies, but now, we all have a responsibility to sustain that and really care for the Earth,’” Tripp said.

While helping the environment, Sunny’s Community Garden also provides the community an opportunity to engage with where their food comes from.

Welch recalled her dismay when a young student she was working with thought that carrots came from a plastic bag in the grocery store. This experience sparked her interest in education through gardening.

“I’m sort of appalled at the food frenzy I see in terms of cheap low nutrition high carb food options there are in poorly serviced areas and food deserts,” she said. “I’m also appalled by the lack of knowledge and that it is so easy to grow healthy food so put that all together and I thought okay, I want to do a community garden.”

Sunny’s mission of education through gardening falls in line with Evergreen’s mission at Duquesne, according to Ulinski.

“We do a good mix of education, service and social. We try to offer as many materials and supplies as possible to allow sustainability to be accessible to college students,” Ulinski said. “Community building is also a big part of that work, too.”

The gardens provide a community space that goes beyond the plants. The Hill District location has hosted two weddings, poetry groups and a grieving seminar.

“There’s something about a garden that brings out the best in people,” Welch said.

“They respect the space especially when the neighbors see how hard you have to work in order to bring this to life. So I’m just counting on good citizens being a part of our program, watching out for us and respecting what we do.”

Evergreen Club will be arranging rides to the Cheswick location on April 13 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. All are welcome to join. Email or DM @evergreenatduq on Instagram.