Duquesne University intern involved in farming initiative

Courtesy of N3DInfo "The South Pittsburgh Hilltop communities are comprised of 12 areas: 11 City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Mt. Oliver," according to the Hilltop Alliance's website.
Courtesy of N3DInfo
“The South Pittsburgh Hilltop communities are comprised of 12 areas: 11 City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Mt. Oliver,” according to the Hilltop Alliance’s website.


By Sean Armstrong | Staff Writer

The Hilltop Alliance is aiming to right the wrongs of the past with their Hilltop Urban Farm Project.

Since the turn of the 20th century, economic growth and urbanization have exploded. A paper entitled “Urbanization and its implications for food and farming” has addressed the impact that rapid economic growth has had over the past century and what it means for many urban dwellers today.

“Urbanization has been underpinned by the rapid growth in the world economy,” according to the paper. “Globally, agriculture has met the demands from this rapidly growing urban population, including food … But hundreds of millions of urban dwellers suffer under-nutrition.”

What this has led to is a disproportionate number of producers to consumers in the food market. Since urbanization shows no signs of slowing down, Urban Farming is thought to be a viable solution to that problem.

In 2016, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in recognition of this nutrition shortage in some city communities, released the Urban Agriculture Toolkit. This toolkit provided information on financing opportunities as well as information on partners interested in the cultivation of green spaces and farming at the federal, state and local levels.

This is where the city of Pittsburgh steps into the narrative. The Hilltop Alliance, a nonprofit organization whose goal, according to its website, is to “preserve and create assets in the Hilltop community through collaboration and coordination of resources,” is creating the Hilltop Urban Farm in St. Clair Village neighborhood.

The need for the organization to help the Hilltop community restore itself economically and nutritionally stems from the history of Pittsburgh’s past urban planning. As intern and Duquesne international relations major Austin Schlechter explained, St. Clair was historically caught with the short straw.

“It was an eminent domain thing. What happened was [the United States government] basically gave a bunch of money to Pittsburgh and said, hey, you need to redevelop your housing, you need to provide housing because of the housing boom of the late ’40s, early ’50s,” Schlechter said.

This then led to property being taken away from people in St. Clair.

“And they took the property away from people, and what’s interesting, and not necessarily well-known, is there was a relatively large protest from the steel workers and coal miners that lived in the area because this [urban setup] is how they got their food, this is how they lived,” Schlechter said.

As a result of forcing a restructuring of the Hilltop neighborhoods, many unintended consequences occurred. Consequences, according to the Hilltop Homes and Operating Plan, like 80 percent of the St. Clair neighborhood population leaving the area since 1960 with no one to replace them.

In a way, establishing this Urban Farm is just righting a wrong made decades ago, even though at the time, many could not have predicted the consequences of redeveloping the city to create more housing.

The Hilltop Alliance isn’t there to just build the farm, but to reestablish the community that was once flourishing there some decades ago.

“[The St. Clair Neighborhood] really still just has a connection for people growing up there,” Schlechter said. “So, I think it’s important, not just to the kids, not just to Pittsburgh as a whole, but to these people specifically that we turn it into something decent again. Turn it into something that they think is worthy of what they grew up in. I think that’s important to me, and I think it’s an important goal to this program.”

While there’s nothing anyone can do to rectify the past 60 some years, the Hilltop Urban Farm is an initiative with the goal to right those wrongs that have been overlooked for so long.

The Hilltop Farm and Housing Project is expected to bring groceries into the neighborhood, better the economy of the surrounding area as a whole and provide jobs and skill training to people in the area.

While the project is meant to address the nutritional need for the residents of St. Clair, the benefits are farther reaching for the city of Pittsburgh. The expected public benefits of this urban farm are far-reaching and include better anchoring to combat the “Landslide Prone” status of St. Clair, the creation of more storm water drainage to help prevent flooding and an increase to the city’s overall air quality.

For those interested in getting involved with the Hilltop Urban Farm, it has a Facebook page and Instagram account with further information, as well as volunteer work days on April 14, May 5, June 9, July 14, Aug. 11, Sept. 15 and Oct. 15.