Walking through campus down Pittsburgh's Forbes Avenue, visitors are stopping in front of an odd sight — strawberries growing in empty plastic bottles on a fence in front of vacant properties.
Carnegie Mellon's Jessica Jackson (A' 10) is showing the Pittsburgh community how easy and inexpensive it is to grow food in a small space with little resources.
Jackson was inspired by contemporary artist Fritz Haeg, who lectured at the Carnegie Mellon Museum of Art during her first year at the university. She designed the project to encourage people to consider using areas to grow food that they normally wouldn't consider — such as the front lawn, an empty lot or a fence.
"The United States remains mired in a recession and most Americans don't have the cash for solar panels or electric cars," Jackson explained. "This is an example of what normal American families can do to support more sustainable, environmentally friendly modes of transportation and agriculture."
She noted, "Not even a backyard is necessary to grow surprising amounts of food."
Jackson created the garden out of empty plastic bottles, wire, soil, fertilizer and strawberry seedlings. She filled the plastic bottles with soil and seedlings and tied them to the fence with wire. Since that time, she has also added zinnias, radishes, sugar snap peas, green beans and alyssum. She will water and prune the garden as necessary throughout the summer.
"I envision the final garden to be so full of flowering and fruit-bearing plants that people walking by will have to look twice to see that the garden was put together with recycled materials," she said. "I want pedestrians to be able to stick their fingers through the chain-link fence and pick the strawberries."
Any extra fruit will be gathered up and given away, possibly to a food pantry. As soon as the plants start flowering, signage containing information about urban gardening will be available to people walking by, says Jackson.
Jackson studied ecological art with Professor Bob Bingham, collaborating with students from different departments university-wide to create a rain garden on campus.
"I have helped my family maintain a garden since early childhood," she said. "In my senior year in high school, I took a course called 'Food for Thought' that dealt with issues related to global hunger and food distribution. It was in this course that I was first introduced to the concept of urban farming, and I have been thinking about how to promote this concept ever since."
"I hope this strawberry garden project will inspire people to start small, inexpensive container gardens of their own, particularly in places that have been blighted by foreclosure or abandonment and remain cut off from practical use by chain-link fences," she said. "This project will be the beginning of what I hope will be many more community-oriented projects to come."