St. Clair’s Rooftop Garden Provides for South Hills Community
An Insider’s Look at St. Clair’s Rooftop Garden
Next time you visit St. Clair Health’s main campus, take a minute to look up. On top of one of the hospital’s lower roofs, near the physician parking lot, there’s a small garden of containers filled to the brim with tomatoes, peppers, and cooking herbs. It may not look like much, but this humble garden has helped put fresh produce on the tables of many local South Hills families.
Last year, the St. Clair Health Community Benefit Committee and G. Alan Yeasted, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer emeritus, decided to start a rooftop garden atop St. Clair Hospital with the crops being used to provide fresh produce to those in need in the community.
Plans fell quickly into place and Dr. Yeasted joined forces with local business owners and gardening experts to build the inaugural rooftop garden. The strategy for the first year was to start small with the garden and not overcommit—keeping the plants in containers, installing an irrigation system for automatic watering, and finding partners in the community to take the vegetables.
Gardening Takes a Village – And Experts
Dr. Yeasted enlisted the help of Jeff Donati from Pete Donati & Sons florists in the South Hills and partnered with South Hills Interfaith Movement (SHIM) to develop the garden and deliver the produce to those they serve.
SHIM provides community resources and sustainable programming designed to help residents of the South Hills meet basic needs, achieve self-sufficiency, and build community. For more than 10 years, SHIM has partnered with organizations to help support, and provide resources for, their community garden initiatives. St. Clair Health is the group’s 13th partner. SHIM’s community gardens manager, Becky Henninger, oversees the community gardens program and works with growing partners to ensure success. One of the resources she recommends for partners is Grow Pittsburgh, a local non-profit that serves as a resource and guide for backyard, school, and community gardens, in the planning stages.
After conversations with SHIM, Grow Pittsburgh, and the Donatis, along with numerous walkthroughs of the rooftop garden location, the team moved into action. Donati ordered the ideal containers and equipment for installing an automated watering system to help on especially hot Pittsburgh summer days. Using information provided by SHIM and Grow Pittsburgh, Dr. Yeasted and a group of volunteers, including Donati, planted and set up the garden. Donati also grows produce and plants onsite at his shop to help supplement the rooftop garden and provide additional produce to SHIM.
“We are grateful to include St. Clair among our community garden partners,” said Henninger. “Having a heath-based organization involved further benefits those we serve by not only offering fresh and nutritious options at our food pantries, but by providing new opportunities for education and community building.”
Dr. Yeasted and his daughter, Claire Yeasted Holekamp, M.D., a physician in St. Clair Hospital’s emergency department, along with other volunteers, take turns weeding and harvesting from the containers on the roof and delivering them to SHIM for distribution.
“It’s something I really enjoy doing…gardening, that is. And my daughter and I both enjoy gardening together and helping people,” Dr. Yeasted says. “In our first year, we donated over 200 pounds of produce from the containers on our small rooftop garden and on the grounds at Donati & Sons. We haven’t quite reached that amount yet this year—herbs don’t weigh very much—but we’re still growing and harvesting.”
Providing Fresh Produce to the South Hills Community
Access to fresh fruits and vegetables is one of the main social determinants to health, especially to at-risk populations and families in times of crisis. By helping to provide more fresh produce to SHIM food pantries, St. Clair can provide fresh food options for families in addition to the most-needed pantry staples and items.
Families rely on SHIM for assistance in many areas, most often the food pantry. SHIM purchases about 70 percent of its pantry items from the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank with fresh fruits and vegetables often coming through the organization’s community garden partnerships.
“Because our community gardens program is relatively small, we can tailor produce to the demographics we’re serving,” said Henninger. “Our current service population is around 50% refugees from South Asia, so we work with our partners to grow fruits and vegetables like bitter gourd, Asian eggplant, and hot pepper varieties that can help bring a taste of home to their new lives in the United States.”
Peppers and tomatoes are ideal vegetables for container gardening, and also high-demand crops for many of the families SHIM serves. St. Clair’s garden includes a variety of produce familiar to these families, allowing SHIM to provide fresh-from-the-farm options to help establish or maintain good nutrition habits.
“I’m not a tomato or pepper guy myself,” Donati says. “But that works out nicely for St. Clair and SHIM; I give away the plants and produce I grow because I just enjoy growing things. If my customers don’t take them, I can call Dr. Yeasted and he and his daughter come over same-day to harvest and take the produce to SHIM or add the plants to St. Clair’s garden.”
Looking Ahead: Plans for Growth In 2021 And Beyond
This year’s garden features many of the same crops as the inaugural garden, with a few new varieties of peppers. Expanding to new rooftops or locations at the hospital isn’t on the books right now, but it isn’t out of the question either. By adding more rooftops or locations, the operation will require more maintenance and volunteers, and more planning. For now, Dr. Yeasted’s goal is to be intentional about expansion.
One thing is for certain: without the help of local organizations and businesses in the community like Donati family, SHIM, Grow Pittsburgh, Dan Long of Enscoe Long Insurance Group, and the tireless work of volunteers, this rooftop garden would not have been possible. Dr. Yeasted works toward growing and expanding it in the future, these partnerships will continue to be a valuable resource for both St. Clair Health and the communities we serve.