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Somalis transform vacant Pittsburgh lot into their own farm

By Doug Oster

Abdulkadir Chirambo smiles easily, especially when he’s talking about the vacant city lots the United Somali Bantu of Greater Pittsburgh have converted to a huge farm-like garden.

Somalis transform vacant Pittsburgh lot into their own farm

As president and spokesman of the organization, he gets serious when asked what brought him from Kenya to Pittsburgh. “Peace, education and changing life,” he says with conviction.

The Somali Bantu includes people from many countries — among them, Kenya, Burundi and Congo. Those who spent their lives farming in their home countries longed to continue to work in the soil here.

The elders of the bantu have guided Chirambo and others, teaching them the traditions of growing. At the beginning, in 2016, Chirambo tried to understand the results of a soil test as the elders stood nearby. “All they did was get a pen and dig it to the ground and said, ‘hey something will grow up from here,’” he says with a hearty laugh.


The nearly acre site they farm Pittsburgh’s Perry Hilltop neighborhood was transformed from vacant lots through the city’s Adopt-A-Lot program run by Shelly Danko+Day. Pittsburgh’s urban agriculture and food policy specialist oversees the program, which started in 2014. Currently there are 151 lots covering 11 total acres that are used for a variety of different purposes. “It’s a way people can access vacant city owned lot for food, flower or rain gardens,” she says.

With the group in its second year, the large, lush garden is brimming with tall corn plants, dwarf okra, squash, tomatoes, tomatillos, peppers, lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, cucumbers, beans, carrots, collards and more.

This is a showplace for the program, but with over 7,000 vacant lots in the city, it’s just a start. “People are so excited about adopting these lots,” Danko+Day says with a smile. “I love seeing the flowers growing and the communities involved people out enjoying the space that was once just a vacant lot.”

Each garden throughout the city is different; in Homewood that group of gardeners has erected a hoop house to extend the season. Other lots are used for flowers to beautify the neighborhood and some gardens function to deal with stormwater more effectively. “A lot of communities doing a lot of really unique things, she says. “They are like snowflakes, every one is different.”

Anyone can adopt a vacant lot, don’t need to be residents of the city and the program is free. After submitting an application through the city’s website, Danko+Day works to draw up an agreement to assure the lot will be used for the right purpose.

Read more: Somalis transform vacant Pittsburgh lot into their own farm

Source: TribLive

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