Year of Engagement Grant Helps Pitt Hydroponics Club Expand Urban Greenhouse in a Food Desert

A 2021 Year of Engagement Grant from the University will enable the Pitt Hydroponics Club and the Oasis Project to build its new greenhouse at Oasis Farm and Fishery in Homewood, complete with a microclimate that can produce food year-round.

In the middle of concrete streets and brick buildings in the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Homewood, a greenhouse teems with activity. The Oasis Farm and Fishery produces fresh, local produce for residents and businesses in Homewood, which is considered a food desert (an area with limited access to fresh, affordable, good-quality foods like fruits and vegetables).

In 2015, University of Pittsburgh student organization Pitt Hydroponics partnered with the Oasis Project (an initiative of the Bible Center Church in Homewood) to produce locally grown, fresh produce for the community and provide instruction in urban farming.  The urban micro-farm has produced food for Homewood neighbors as well as the Pitt Pantry.  Now, the partnership finds itself at a critical moment of expansion.

A 2021 Year of Engagement Grant from the University will enable the Pitt Hydroponics Club and the Oasis Project to build its new greenhouse, complete with a microclimate that can produce food year-round, even through the cold months of the Pittsburgh winter.    In addition to creating a warm microclimate that will lengthen the growing season, the new space will allow the partners to design and test innovative new systems. Once the new greenhouse is built, it will house Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) hydronic systems, with the capacity to grow around 400 plants.

“The importance of this partnership is that the ideas and projects are co-created. It is another exciting step, on a long journey,” said Pitt Hydroponics advisor David Sanchez, Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Assistant Director of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at Pitt.

The partnership between Pitt Hydroponics and the Oasis Project has already yielded positive results. The site currently consists of a direct current (DC) powered greenhouse that stores 1,750 gallons of reclaimed rainwater and has both aquaponic and hydroponic food production systems.

By partnering with the University of Pittsburgh, Oasis Farm and Fishery is “working to leverage our combined energy and expertise to help make Homewood a destination for Green workforce training and education, as well as a source for quality, locally grown produce,” said Tacumba Turner, farm manager for the Oasis Project.

The Oasis Farm and Fishery offers hands-on educational programming for Homewood residents and others about urban farming, the parts of the plant, the role of nutrients in the soil, and the plethora of beneficial bugs that help out around the farm.

The farm grows a variety of vegetables and fruits, from hearty greens and lettuce to tomatillos and hot peppers. In 2020, it produced more than 500 pounds of food, much of which was used by the Everyday Café, a branch of the Bible Center Church.

“The Oasis Project serves the people of Homewood in many ways, and the partnership with Pitt has brought resources, innovative thinking and best practice from research to our work,” said Cynthia Wallace, Executive Director of the Oasis Project and Executive Pastor at the Bible Center Church.

“It also means that the Pitt students are not learning in isolation but understand that as knowledge grows, so does responsibility. The role of education is not just for the individual but is for the collective.”

Adapted from SSOE News; read full article.