by Deb Bentzel, The Food Trust
Mt. Washington Children’s Center (MWCC) is perched near the top of Southern Avenue in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood. A center that focus on children staying safe, having fun and eating nutritious food throughout the day, MWCC serves children and their families from the immediate neighborhood and beyond. Rose Marie Smith has been the director of the center for forty years. Her interest in gardening with young children took root during the urban farming and urban gardening movement of the 1970’s in Pittsburgh when community members began to make use of vacant lots to grow food for those in the neighborhood. Since that time, MWCC has had children and their families involved in planting ornamental and edible plants around the building’s property. From sunflowers, pumpkins and squash lining the sidewalk in front of the facility to the tepee that acts as an arbor for pole beans, peas and other climbing plants and to rows of onions and swiss chard swinging from the fences, Rose Marie and her staff have used gardening as a means to educate children about health and nutrition, math and responsibility. Fresh foods from the garden are utilized in center meals – basil in homemade spaghetti sauce is a favorite – and produce not used for meals are taste-tested by children and their families and given to community members.
Meanwhile, a partnership with the local food bank gives the center the opportunity to support community food security by setting up a “farmers market” so that children and their caregivers can take fresh, wholesome produce home with them. The long-term vision of MWCC’s program is to transform even more of the existing outdoor space into food production; they want to “plant more, harvest more, cook more and share more” in the years to come.