On a drizzly afternoon in Bellevue, a small crowd gathered at the Rosalinda Sauro Sirianni Memorial Garden to tell stories, share laughs and take pictures.
Teresa Amelio, whose family originally donated the land in memory of her mother, figured the garden’s namesake would approve of the day’s weather.
“A garden needs rain to grow,” she said.
The group gathered to celebrate a recent milestone for the community-based, organic garden -- a $30,000 award from the Seeds of Change Grant Program, presented in the form of a festive, over-sized check.
The garden provides an influx of fresh produce, more than 4,100 pounds of about 100 different crops the past growing season, to three local food pantries in Bellevue, Millvale and Allison Park.
“The Grocery Gap,” a 2010 report on food access compiled by PolicyLink, a national research institute, and The Food Trust, a Philadelphia-based non-profit, found that getting nutritious, high-quality food is particularly challenging for low-income Americans, due to both affordability and lack of access in general. The goal of the garden program is to help eliminate these barriers, as well as going a step further.
North Hills Community Outreach, or NHCO, the non-profit which operates the land in addition to the three pantries, also offers a variety of educational opportunities centered around the garden, including workshops on healthy eating and activities for local Girl and Boy Scout troops. Erica Cochran, Food Pantry Coordinator at NHCO, said use of the grant will largely be focused on adding more programs like these and growing those already in place.
“There’s a lot of community gardens,” said George Becker, a longtime Bellevue resident and a volunteer since the garden’s first growing season in 2011. "But not like this one."
The panel of judges at Seeds of Change, a California-based seed-to-plate food brand, seemed to agree. Out of almost 600 grant applications from across the country, the proposal submitted by NHCO represented one of 12 community-based projects to receive an award, and one of two to garner the $30,000 grand prize.
Julie Hendricks, a representative from Seeds of Change, cited the garden’s volume of production and educational reach as factors that made it stand out.
“The garden here in Bellevue really touched us in hearing about how they shared the seed-to-plate message with the community,” Hendricks said.
Organizers said the relationship with the community goes both ways. The garden is largely run by volunteers, both from Bellevue and other areas of the city, including many clients at the food pantries on the receiving end of the harvests.
In fact, not long after the last guests had filed out into the parking lot and driven away, a couple of people strolled into the garden, ready to work.