Architecture students raise more than $5K for Pittsburgh-based community garden

By Katherine Dietrich

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Architecture students Jennifer Carvajal Moreno and Fionna Schoener pursued fundraising efforts throughout the coronavirus pandemic for the Sankofa Community Garden in Pittsburgh, the site of their spring 2020 fourth-year studio project.

Malcolm Woollen and Yasmine Abbas, instructors of the studio, chose the Sankofa Community Garden in the Homewood neighborhood of the city as the site for the studio project with the goal for students to create a sustainable solution for the site.

The project focused on sustainability comprising economic, social and environmental elements, Abbas said. Students had the opportunity to travel to the community before the pandemic hit to talk with members of the community and gain the insight needed to complete their projects.

“The great opportunity with this particular studio was the added layer of community engagement,” said Abbas.

Vicki Ayanna Jones started the community garden in 2015 to eliminate food apartheid in the community and to educate people about urban agriculture.

The garden has strengthened the community by teaching better nutritional practices and by educating the community value of hard work and self-discipline.

“One of Ayanna’s other big themes is bringing generations together through work, teaching kids about work and making connections between older members of the neighborhood and younger members through shared work, as well as eating together,” Woollen said.

The Penn State Stuckeman School students came up with a variety of potential plans for the site, including designs for a greenhouse, space for leisure and public events, terraces and buildings that reciprocate the landscape of the garden.

Even though the studio project was hypothetical, Jones said she will draw upon the students’ ideas for inspiration when expanding the garden.

Students involved in this studio project, including Carvajal Moreno and Schoener, were able to learn about more than just their projects from visiting the site and meeting with Jones.

“She really wanted our project to be realistic and [for] us to think about everything that’s going on in the world in low-income communities and disadvantaged places,” Carvajal Moreno said.

Carvajal Moreno and Schoener were inspired to take their project a step further to fundraise for the garden after the semester ended.

“It was a mix of growing so close and learning so much about that community and then having it always on your mind with everything going on,” said Schoener.

Carvajal Moreno took the initiative to make an online fundraiser through GoFundMe.

“It felt really close to home. It felt emotional in a way because I know someone who is trying to bring her community to a better light,” she said.

In addition to the fundraiser, the two students reached out to friends and family and took to social media to spread the word.

Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Carvajal Moreno and Schoener were able to raise more than $5,000 for the community garden. The money raised will go to potential greenhouses that will be built in another lot.

In addition to fundraising, Carvajal Moreno had the idea to create outdoor furniture for the community garden; however, with the pandemic, she doesn’t have the resources needed to design the furniture but will continue to pursue her volunteer work in other ways.

Even though the pandemic poses many challenges with fundraising and volunteer efforts, Carvajal Moreno and Schoener have not been deterred from their goal.

“They carried this thinking forward. They are very consistent, extremely hardworking and focused students,” said Abbas.

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