Carnegie Mellon University

Denele Hughson, Executive Director, Grow Pittsburgh

Bringing Urban Agriculture to the Table

Getting a tomato is, according to Denele Hughson (HNZ 2013), a side effect of growing a plant. The executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit focused on urban agriculture, says the real value of cultivating food lies beyond what you harvest.

“When you're growing food, you're using all aspects of learning: time management, planning, resources, budgeting, fundraising, all of it comes together,” she says. “Growing that one tomato never starts with just a seed. You're putting nutrients into the soil, and you're planning how you are getting to that final end point.”

Using the same logic, you could say the 20,000 seedlings, 30,000 pounds of food, 100 local urban gardens and dozens of growing education sites and programs around Pittsburgh are a “side effect” of Grow Pittsburgh’s mission, and steps on the greater path to end what Denele calls “food apartheid.”

“I use the word ‘apartheid’ and not ‘food desert’ because it's a systematic issue. Grow Pittsburgh is systematically trying to make changes and improve our community,” she says. “We're addressing food insecurity on a variety of levels and trying to affect the whole person. We have programming from preschool children to adults to teach about where food comes from and how to make personal choices that are culturally relevant for them.”

Under Denele’s leadership, Grow Pittsburgh has continued to expand access to urban agriculture and bring fresh food to local dining tables while mobilizing resources to ensure the pipeline of produce continues to be fruitful.

”We're seeing that food-growing projects across the region are essential,” she says. “We want to make sure that those resources are there for generations to come, and our communities have skills and training to continue that work into the future.”

Story by Elizabeth Speed