Maria Graziani has a mind for business. She also loves to
see things grow.
Graziani is CEO of Healcrest Urban Farm LLC, an oasis in the
midst of Pittsburgh’s bustling Garfield neighborhood.
Today, the farm is filled with fields of herbs—lavender and
mullein, parsley and mugwort. But things weren’t always so pretty here.
Maria Graziani, Graduate of the MBA Program in 2011, at the Healcrest Urban Farm in Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood
Back in the 1990s, while interning with the Bloomfield-Garfield
Corporation, Graziani discovered a cluster of 19 vacant lots.
Perched at the corners of Hillcrest and Pacific Avenues, the
1.7 acres of land was home to four crumbling, turn-of-the-century frame houses hidden
beneath twisting vines, unforgiving weed tangles, and mounds of trash.
Seeking to transform the neighborhood, Graziani enlisted the
support of friends and community partners—including the Bloomfield-Garfield
Corporation, the Urban Redevelopment Authority, and the city’s Green-Up
Program—and in 2004 was able to pull together seven lots outright while
receiving waivers to farm another four.
Hand-painted Healcrest Urban Farm signage in Pittsburgh's Garfield neighborhood
Years of sweat and hard labor went into the
transformation—including the removal of giant trucks full of garbage and a lengthy
soil remediation process.
In 2009, seeking to solidify her business skills, Graziani enrolled
in Carlow University’s MBA program—a program that was flexible enough to meet
her needs and which fit her philosophy to a T.
“Even though the MBA program is co-ed, Carlow puts a strong
emphasis on supporting women business owners,” she says. “That was inspiring
for me to see.”
Maria Graziani and her Healcrest Urban Farm co-workers make delicious, artisanal TeaPops
Today, Healcrest is solely women-run and owns or contract
manages all but three of those 19 lots, with support from Mayor Peduto’s
revised garden waiver program and the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s vacant
land leasing program.
The farm offers herb walks and classes, is a Community
Supported Apothecary, and yields increasingly popular products: tea blends and frozen
TeaPops, sold at area groceries and farmers markets.
Healcrest Urban Farm makes a variety of frozen TeaPops by hand at a local commercial kitchen in East Liberty
“An area that was
once considered a ghetto—abandoned houses, vacant lots, high crime, and a
disenfranchised population—is now growing not only its community strength and
visions of a better future, but is
changing its relationship to its earth, its local food, and its health,” says
Graziani. “We have played a role in that
change, and that is indeed worth the work.”