Pittsburgh Council aiming to turn vacant land into urban gardens

Pittsburgh City Council is considering plans to provide city residents with free fresh produce by ramping up urban farming on vacant land owned by the public.

Council on Wednesday will debate three bills designed to facilitate urban agriculture.

One would direct the Finance Department to identify vacant properties owned by the city that can be used for urban farming. Another would authorize the hiring of East Liberty-based Grounded Strategies for $45,000 to prepare a 1.2 acre property in Brookline and unidentified sites in the East End for farming. The third would offer incentives to gardeners.

“The goal is to feed people,” said Council President Theresa Kail-Smith. “If we have a farm in every council district that includes aquaponics and chickens and fresh vegetables and fruits and nuts, then people can live off this (vacant) land.”

Kail-Smith is sponsoring legislation that would direct the Departments of Finance and Planning to devise an incentive program for urban farmers. She said details on the type of incentives and who would be eligible are still undetermined.

Council members said they were prompted by the coronavirus pandemic and news accounts of people being turned away from free food distributions.

Anthony Coghill and Deb Gross are sponsoring the bill to hire Grounded Strategies for a program dubbed City Farms. Councilwoman Erika Strassburger voiced concerns about bypassing competitive bidding to hire the nonprofit organization.

“I’m concerned about the legality of actually naming an organization without going through a bidding process,” she said. “I just want to learn more about the legality of it.”

Coghill said he’s identified 1.2 acres in Brookline Community Park that would provide a perfect location. The property was once a farm, he said.

Grounded Strategies would prepare the land for farming and the city would have to recruit people for planting and maintaining gardens.

“We could get volunteers or we could pay a farmer,” Coghill said. “We haven’t explored that part just yet. It think in my district people would come out in droves to tend the farm.”

Gross said she is searching for sites in her densely populated East End district. She said her goal is to increase food production in the city.

“If we hustle we should be able to get maybe some new ground planted this year,” she said. “The other concept is to look at places that are already in cultivation and find them the resources so they can increase production.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-564-3080, bbauder@triblive.com or via Twitter .