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New Heinz Endowments grants aid efforts to narrow region’s food security gap

PITTSBURGH, Pa., Nov. 17, 2022 – Aiming to improve equitable access to fresh, high-quality and affordable food in the region, The Heinz Endowments today announced a new slate of grants that will help fund the launch of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan, new urban gardens, and community-building within the state’s sustainable farming sector. 

Access to healthy food differs greatly between neighborhoods in southwestern Pennsylvania, with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council identifying 14.2 percent of Allegheny County residents – or 174,110 people – as “food insecure.”  With this data in mind, the Endowments’ Board has approved $267,500 in new grants directed to urban farming and food access projects, in addition to nearly $1.5 million committed to the sector over the past 12 months. 

Community Foundation for the Alleghenies will receive $190,000 to implement the Greater Pittsburgh Food Policy Council’s Food Action Plan, which details policy directives and community-identified steps the region can take to prioritize access to healthy, affordable and sustainable food for all. The completed plan, created through substantial community input and funded in part by the Endowments in 2018-19, was released in September 2020. 

The Food Action Plan tackles the region’s food security and access issues with a multi-pronged approach that includes advocating for a $10 million City of Pittsburgh-supported Food Justice Fund to address hunger; implementing the Good Food Purchasing Policy at the Pittsburgh Public Schools to increase the amount of locally grown food served to students and teachers; and working with the city’s Planning Office and City Council in identifying vacant urban lots for agricultural use.  

“We believe that all in our region deserve the benefits of good nutrition,” said Endowments Vice President of Sustainability Andrew McElwaine. “Implementation of the Greater Pittsburgh Food Action Plan will advance the aim of the Endowments and our partners in bridging the gap between those who have access to fresh, healthy food and those who do not.” 

The Food Action Plan outlines 150 strategies for strengthening Allegheny County’s food system, and was created with an extensive partner network representing communities and the regional food system, including producers, distributors, consumers, waste resource managers and food recovery organizations. 

A key component of the plan focuses on a large-scale mapping project underway with the City of Pittsburgh. The project identifies vacant lots that have potential as urban agricultural sites, which can be gardened collectively by community members for personal non-commercial use or for off-site selling of agricultural products. 

“Urban agriculture is a viable means for food production, fosters community-building and connects local purchasers to those who farm the lots,” said Pittsburgh Food Policy Council Interim Executive Director Karlin Lamberto. “Together with partners including The Heinz Endowments, we believe that building a just, equitable and local sustainable food system has a positive effect on our region’s communities, economy and environment. Implementation of the Food Action Plan will result in a stronger and more resilient food system for our region.”

A $42,500 grant to the Millvale Development Corporation will support the Gardens of Millvale, an urban farm consisting of six garden plots throughout the neighborhood. The grant will fund installation of an outdoor event space for food education events and community dinners, including an on-site composting restroom and permanent signage. 

First founded in 2010, the Gardens of Millvale have grown to provide food cultivation, fresh produce, volunteer and training opportunities, and food education workshops for economically disadvantaged residents of the riverfront community. The Gardens distributes food year-round, with nearly 800 pounds of produce given out so far in 2022.

The funding will also aid in the construction of a root cellar that provides capacity for food storage, making regularly planned events such as food markets more viable, and will support exploration of obtaining additional farming space in surrounding Reserve Township. 

“We provide free, locally-grown produce to our community at no cost to them,” said Garden of Millvale Manager Maya Guerin. “Our urban farming programs brings our community together in the outdoors while instilling knowledge of plants, gardening, healthy food and stewardship. This grant will help expand both our food growing and distribution capacity, as well as increased education efforts. We hope that the work we do can help provide a blueprint for other communities in our region and beyond.”

Recognizing that a well-connected population of urban and suburban farmers is critical to the regional food security sector’s success, the Endowments awarded a $35,000 grant to Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to fund scholarships, travel, lodging, child care and children’s programming for the 2023 Sustainable Agriculture Conference. The conference provides farmers the opportunity to hone skills, learn of best practices, and network with food distributors and markets that focus on food deserts. 

The grant will ensure that lower-income growers who would otherwise not be able to take part in the conference can attend the four-day event, one of the largest gatherings of sustainable farmers and food system innovators in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

“The Sustainable Agriculture Conference connects over 2,000 food growers and agricultural systems professionals with a wealth of invaluable resources, services, tools, and insights,” said Hannah Smith-Brubaker, executive director for Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture. “The opportunities for attendees – urban and rural alike – to network, learn from each other, and bring knowledge back to their communities, can be game-changing.”

The $267,000 in new Endowments grants is in addition to the nearly $1.5 million awarded to food security-related organizations and projects since October 2021. Among grants awarded in the past year are: 

  • $255,000 over three years to The Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture to incubate urban farms in the region. 
  • $240,000 to Farm to Table Buy Local to assist underserved residents in obtaining healthy food grown and produced in the Western Pennsylvania region, including support of Black Urban Gardeners and Farmers of Pittsburgh Co-op.
  • $150,000 to Mwanakuche Farm, a project of Pittsburgh’s Somali-Bantu community, to support expansion of production capacity on the farm, purchase of a tractor, and training of the next generation of Somali-Bantu farmers. 
  • $85,000 to Hilltop Urban Farm, one of the largest urban farms in the nation, to expand its farmer incubator program from five farms to seven, grow food for food pantries serving underserved neighborhoods in the Hilltop area, and expand its farmer education programming.
  • $375,000 to 412 Food Rescue to expand its award-winning technology that collects food that would otherwise be wasted and transports it to those in need. 
  • $190,000 to the National Young Farmers Coalition to expand federal and state investments in new and beginning farms and farmers.
  • $190,000 to the Community Foundation of the Alleghenies to support the Greater Pittsburgh Food Policy Council’s work to expand urban agriculture in the region, coordinate services to residents facing hunger, and promote food policies that encourage urban farmers and growers.

Other organizations with recent food and farming-related grants from the Endowments include Grow Pittsburgh, North Hills Community Outreach and Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens

“Our goal is to get healthy food to people in need, especially where there is limited access to grocery stores,” said the Endowments’ Andrew McElwaine. “We are grateful to partner with dedicated individuals and organizations in our region to reduce food insecurity, support urban agriculture in food deserts, and ensure the next generation of farmers have access to land.”


For information contact:
Scott Roller
The Heinz Endowments