UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center hosts Community Orchard Planting event in Hill District

By: Sierra Lomax

On May 5, the UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center in collaboration with Thelma Lovette YMCA, Tree Pittsburgh, Macedonia Family and Community Enrichment Center (FACE) and The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation hosted a community orchard planting event to help tackle food insecurity in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.  

Seniors from (FACE), students from Miller Elementary School, staff from UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center, community members and volunteers gathered to plant mini orchards on the YMCA rooftop terrace. The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation’s arborists donated trees, led a workshop about tree planting and provided tips on aftercare. 

Attendees planted six dwarf fruit trees and berry bushes that are expected to produce various fruits within the next two years. A section of the garden holds tomatoes, spinach, kale, peppers, onions and herbs. There are also plans to create a living wall that will produce various vegetables for the community. 

Jessica Magnu, community engagement coordinator and registered dietitian at UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center, led a healthy snack demonstration and expressed the importance of a healthful diet and how the garden will help produce healthy foods for the community.  

Miller Elementary School students and the senior adults were paired together and taught how to make low-fat yogurt parfaits with fresh fruits that will eventually be produced by the trees and bushes they planted together. The group also enjoyed a lesson from Tree Pittsburgh staff about the importance of plants in the ecosystem and how to best care for the environment. 

The Pittsburgh Hill District is a historic, predominantly African American community and has served as the epicenter of hope and fellowship for many generations. With the last grocery store closing in 2019, the families that populate its main streets don’t have direct access to healthy food options. 

“This garden will offer senior adults and community some home-grown nutrients andl provide vegetables for those who cannot afford to purchase them. It’s also a chance to socialize and connect with others. Caring for the garden and trees will allow them to make an impact not only in their community, but on the environment as well,” said Magnu.  

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the lack of access to affordable nutritious food is associated with increased risk for chronic health conditions such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and mental health disorders. 

The garden will help to tackle health disparities and provide another pathway to address the gaps between food and medical care services. 

The community garden will be maintained by staff from UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center, the Thelma Lovette YMCA, FACE and community volunteers. 

The UPMC Matilda Theiss Health Center provides comprehensive primary medical care for families and individuals of all ages. To schedule an appointment, please visit upmc.com/providers.