Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Pirates, city partner for Homewood urban garden

McCutchen helping to compete for Pepsi grant for 15 MLB teams

Wednesday, July 21, 2010
By Anthony Fenech, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Andrew McCutchen knows a thing or two about plants.

When he was in middle school, the Pirates center fielder and his fellow classmates planted a garden dedicated to a former teacher who died.

"We grew a lot of plants and had to learn the names of them; so pretty much any plant you find, I should be able to name," he said.

Tuesday morning, at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA, Mr. McCutchen joined Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and dozens of youngsters as the Pirates teamed up with the City of Pittsburgh and the Student Conservation Association to begin a competition that could bring an urban garden to Homewood.

The competition is sponsored by Pepsi, which is offering 15 Major League Baseball teams the opportunity to receive a $200,000 grant as part of the Pepsi Refresh Project, designed to help improve communities.

The proposed initiative will fund the education, tools and support to cultivate an urban garden, which would be used to grow fruits and vegetables that would be donated to various nonprofit organizations to feed the hungry, including the youths participating in various programs at the Homewood-Brushton YMCA.

"It would be wonderful if we're able to win," Mr. Ravenstahl said. "To see the energy of the young people in the room is very rewarding, and hopefully we'll get online and vote and beat the other cities we're competing against."

The urban garden idea is an extension of the Green Up Pittsburgh program that was introduced in 2007 to combat the increasing problem of overgrown vacant and abandoned lots in city neighborhoods.

"To have another $200,000 to be able to put into a community like Homewood would be significant," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

The Pepsi Refresh Project is an effort to foster innovation and will award more than $20 million this year to fund ideas the company thinks can impact the world.

"The life lessons that can be learned with a shovel and a seed really cannot be calculated," Mr. Ravenstahl said.

Fans have until 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 17 to vote by visiting or texting "Pirates" to 76462.

"It's all about the vote," said Patricia Siger, senior vice president for the YMCA of Greater Pittsburgh. "This is like an 'American Idol' competition."

And while the Pirates face an uphill battle as a small market team, competing with, among others, a pair of teams each from New York City and Chicago, Ms. Siger likes their chances.

"I think this is the perfect storm from a city standpoint," she said. "Pittsburghers have pride, they work hard and especially for the city."

"This was great to be a part of and great to see everyone show up," Mr. McCutchen said. "Hopefully we're able to instill how important it is to vote, with trying to grow this garden."

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