DU student grows optimism in new garden

Courtesy of Tony Carbino | Biomedical engineering student, Tony Carbino, plans to help residents in the Hill District by providing them with fresh produce. He hopes for more projects like his to make an appearance in Pittsburgh.

Isabella Abbott | Features Editor

March 9, 2023

Duquesne’s campus is about to get a little greener, at least indoors, that is. Fifth-year biomedical engineering student Tony Carbino is nearing the end of his hydroponic garden project and hopes to have it ready in the next couple of weeks.

Hydroponics is a technique used to grow plants without soil, and with a water-based nutrient solution instead.

His goal for starting the project was not only to address food insecurity in Pittsburgh but to bring people together and form a community.

“The whole goal for this is growing stuff and then taking it out into the community and creating it in a way that brings people together,” Carbino said. “That’s my biggest vision, it’s using this type of project and this type of service to gather communities.”

According to The City of Pittsburgh, one in five residents is food insecure, meaning more than 60,000 residents struggle to have adequate and healthy food. Carbino’s research showed that the Hill District was one of the main places of struggle with food insecurity.

Although Pittsburgh has made advances in helping with this issue, Carbino doesn’t think enough is being done.

“There’s plenty of initiatives out there that, historically, have thrown food on people,” Carbino said. “I’ve seen it plenty of times where they give the folks vegetables, and they say they don’t really want that because, first of all, it’s not culturally desirable, and second of all, the time to cook that is way more than getting a non-perishable.

“It’s how can we create a culture around food and dietary health, and how can we not only support the other initiatives in the city like food access and food culture, because the majority of the foods that are available to people that need food are non-perishables.”

Knowing that many people dislike vegetables and the time it takes to cook them properly, Carbino hopes to not only give them the fresh ingredients they need, but also to grow the ingredients they’ll want to consume.

“Ultimately, my goal is to grow vegetables and fruits and to survey the community that we’re going to work with first, and grow according to that,” Carbino said. “I’m not going to grow tomatoes when people don’t want tomatoes.”

Carbino believes that he can make a difference with help from his community and his service background, which is one of the reasons why he named the garden Cor Unum. This means “one heart” in Latin.

“It’s one heart and one spirit because it’s really important to me,” Carbino said. “That’s what I hope and feel like this project is. It’s people gathering in one heart and one spirit to do something that’s bigger than themselves.”

Although he knows the garden won’t solve all food insecurity issues in the area, Carbino believes it’s a step in the right direction.

“Are we going to address this issue fully? No, but we’re going to help address the issue, and we’re going to do it in a way that engages the community of people who are minded and geared toward service and toward the community,” Carbino said.

With help from friends and volunteers at project-building events, 80% of his hydroponic garden is complete. During these events, to show his gratitude, Carbino cooks for everyone in attendance.

“We’ve had about four events now for the planting and the building of structures, and each time, we get students and faculty from multiple different disciplines,” Carbino said. “It never ceases to amaze me because it’s very grassroots, and for me, the biggest thing is figuring out how I can make community in these events where we’re doing work, so I’ve made dinner for everybody at every event that we’ve had.

“It’s really cool because we kind of get together, we eat food that I made the hour beforehand, we listen to music and build this stuff. It’s very chillaxed, it’s still work and it shouldn’t be stale. It should be something that’s enjoyable.”

Students and classmates of Carbino are proud of the work he’s doing. Senior communications major Sarah Bazzel said he worked hard to get to where he is in the project today.

“I think it’s amazing how much community he’s brought together just to build these,” Bazzel said. “He’s not doing this for selfish reasons either. He’s doing this to try to help the people of the Hill District, which I think is amazing.”

When finished, Carbino plans to put a garden structure in Hogan Dining Hall and one by Chick-fil-A in the Union. These structures are made with PVC pipes, as well as a couple of gallons of water with nutrients.

Carbino is thrilled for the garden to finally open.

“It’s really cool because, after all that work and all that thinking and all of the approval process and all the budget, it’s really finally come together,” Carbino said.