Pgh Environmental

A Blog of Chatham University's Environmental Communication Students

April 16, 2017
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Resilience by Design; Biophilic Urbanization

Biophilic design. Yeah, I had no clue what it was either. BUT once you know what I know, I think you’ll be impressed.

Biophilic design is constructed on the premise that any good design-whether it be for cities, buildings, sites, regions, or homes-includes nature and natural elements. Seems like a pretty simple concept, sure. However, this pretty simple concept is seen to increase resilience and other mental or physical health benefits in those who interact in that environment. To be clear, though, it’s not just about the design. Biophilic design also believes that residents need to be actively involved in experiencing nature and engaged in the restoring and maintenance of the nature that surrounds them.

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Humans have grown to adapt and co-evolve with nature and so we have an innate need to connect with nature and our environment. This affiliation with nature makes us much happier and healthier. Research backs this statement in many different areas.

Research on building design shows us that there are strong positive relationships between natural daylight, fresh air and greenery with an increase in employee happiness and productivity. Another example of the magic of biophilic design is on school design. Schools that incorporate natural daylight or other green elements are shown to have children reach higher test scores. Additionally, hospitals with green space often show a faster recovery time.

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In a community aspect, neighborhoods with green qualities are associated with less stress and increased levels of mental and physical health. There are also lower rates of mortality in populations where green space is provided. In terms of mental health, nature is shown to invoke positive mood, increased cognitive performance, and enhance creativity. All these findings have caused a wave of interest in urban designers and architects when it comes to incorporating nature into their designs.

Biophilic cities are cities that incorporate nature in design, but like I mentioned earlier, they also actively involve their residents in experiencing nature. In these cities, residents are actively involved in learning about, enjoying, and caring for the nature that is living around them. They develop emotional connections to their environment which drive their motivation and enjoyment.

One key component or result of biophilic design is resilience.

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In moving to make cities greener and more natural, we are also making the cities (and residents) more resilient. Biophilic cities offer a ton of positive benefits on the individual and family level that allow them to learn to successfully cope and adapt to future stress. This stress could be things like high temps, natural disasters, or food/water shortages. With the increase of physical and mental health benefits that comes along with living and interacting with nature, resilience also grows. For example, those who live in greener neighborhoods are found to walk more outside, basking in numbers positive health benefits which then increase their resilience. Additionally, biophilic designs helps to bring people together by offering parks and other green spaces for people to gather where they are forming relationships with both nature and other people-creating supports they can rely on in times of need.

At the end of the day it’s about trust and cohesion…these two concepts provide safety and support for people and environments. Biophilic design is able to provide this for people and it gives them the chance to give back to the environment that provides so much for them day in and day out.

References:

Beatley, T., & Newman, P. (2013, August 05). Biophilic Cities Are Sustainable, Resilient Cities. Retrieved April 15, 2017, from http://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/5/8/3328/htm

April 12, 2017
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Who We Should Blame?

The weather is changing. The growth cycle of plant life is changing. A polar bear traveled to Britain. These situations are really weird and abnormal. The normal cycle of life is being destabilized. People argue that global warming is the root cause for these issues. What is the root cause of global warming? Is overpopulation? Poverty? Trade policies that undermine environmental protection? Too many reasons, so the public is lost in trying to find the rot cause. We do not know who we should blame, and how we should change this situation.

The public is saying there a lot of environmental protecter, environmental groups and organizations to protect our nature. We have policies and laws! They are all praying for our mother land. Why do we have to worry about nature? Well, from 32 percent in 1996 to 41 percent in 2000, the number of Americans who actively involved in environmental groups has increased, but they are not reasonable. Furthermore, the flag to protest global warming rose 15 years ago. I do not deny that many achievements have been reached, but I have to say the achievements are so subtle, that I could not feel it.

It is so ironic, that when people are going to donate their money to these environmental groups, these environmental groups are working with all big energy companies. When Pittsburgese are suffering from the poisoned water as a result of fracking, Pittsburgese stand together with these environmental organizations. At first appearance, people with these organizations are on the same side, but these big organizations betrayed the people, betrayed their mission, and betrayed who they are.

Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, the Heartland Institution and so many other organizations promise that they are the knights who are protecting our mother land. However, they are doing business with the devil. Nature Conservancy said what they are doing is they are working with many gas and oil companies to figure out a way to reduce the impact on nature when they extract resources for energy production. They said this is win-win approach for ecosystem, not only for surface agriculture and grazing, but also for rich oil and gas resources that consumers and businesses need.

I do not buy this story, because I believe there is a conflict of interest. These organizations use people’s money, use governments’ funds, and also receive the money from these dirty energy companies that do not have the same interest as the people or the governments . I do not see much change that is in the interest nature. I want to argue that before we criticize steel factories, automobile manufactories, or fertilizer factories, we need to see clearly the truth behind the intentions of these environmental organizations and energy companies.

April 11, 2017
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Is aquaculture the new agriculture?

Food and water shortages are two of the biggest threats humans are facing in the near future. With increasing temperatures, warmer oceans, and negative effects from climate change new sustainable solutions are needed. According to the Census, the population is projected to steadily increase in the United States over the next 30 years, having enough food to feed everyone will be next to impossible. Rising temperatures, less rainfall and land issues all have large negative impacts on agriculture that cannot be reversed.

Good news though, there are solutions within reach!

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Aquaculture tank at Linesville

Aquaculture and aquaponics are two rapidly growing sectors that can hopefully address food scarcity issues. Aquaculture systems can be built just about anywhere, even with no close water resources. Just look at the systems that we have at Eden hall! Eden Hall is located basically in the middle of nowhere with no local water sources to use but is successfully farm raising tilapia and now rainbow trout. Dr. Roy Weitzell has worked tirelessly to teach those of us in his SUS 426 aquaculture class how to

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Tilapia at Eden Hall Feild lab

care for the little fingerling rainbow trout that are currently being raised. Soon enough the trout will be large enough to harvest and fill the plates in the Commons Dining Hall for Eden Hall students to dine on.

Along with small aquaculture systems, there are large ones at work to restock our lakes and streams all around the country.  One working hard is the Linesville State Hatchery right here in Pennsylvania.  (Linesville is located 2 hours north of Pittsburgh) This small man ran the operation, ensures steelhead trout, brown trout, walleye, perch, musky, and catfish are stocked in our lakes and streams all around Pennsylvania for fishing and

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Walleye being taken to hatchery

preservation of our waterways ecosystems.  On my recent trip to Linesville to spawn walleye, I learned that over 500,000,000 steelhead and brown trout gametes are spawned to be hatched and restocked yearly, along with 1.2million walleye eggs yearly.

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walleye eggs

Along with aquaculture, aquaponics can easily be built in old warehouses and old factory sites. Just last year Pittsburgh had its very own aquaponics site in the heart of town in shipping containers. Pittsburgh Aquaponics along with Grow Pittsburgh built these little examples to show Pittsburghers how easy it is to grow your own food with very little space.

Learning to grown your own food in urban areas that lack space and green spaces is one solution to the food scarcity issues we are facing more and more every day.

Continue Reading →

April 9, 2017
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Urban Greenspace VS Climate Change

Combating climate change is a daunting task…a big…scary…but necessary task. Science has shown time and time again the physical and mental tool that climate change has on our earth and those who populate it. The question on so many minds are: what can we do? The answer to that question is lengthy. In truth, there are so many things that people can do to get involved. However, in this particular post I am going to take you on a journey exploring urban greenspaces and what they do to help protect us against climate change.

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One of the most prominent ideas on the mind of urban and city planners is how to adapt cities and urban life to climate change-especially man-made climate change. It’s known that climate change brings a lot of unfortunate effects on our environments and bodies. Examples of this include food scarcity, high temps, and water shortages. There have been some methods put in place by city planners to combat climate change, however, many of these methods are very expensive and not all cities have the funds to adopt these new methods on their home base. However….

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One alternative to these costly methods is creating urban greenspaces. While it is questionable the effectiveness and adaptability that urban greenspaces will have-it is still something being explored. The benefits of urban greenspaces have already been established and include regulating temperatures, filtering dust, gathering storm water, lowering energy consumption, and preserving biodiversity.

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In addition to the positive urban effects these greenspaces will have, benefits to city inhabitants are also thought to take place. Urban greenspaces are found to provide stress relief, reduce anxiety, and promote illness recovery for those living in urban centers. Greenspaces also encourage a more active lifestyle that fosters general well-being for children and adults.

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All in all-urban greenspaces could be a small stepping stone in combatting the big monster known as climate change…and urban dwellers will be basking in all kinds of benefits from them.

The following hyperlink will take to Greenspace Alliance-a nonprofit in Pittsburgh that is working toward the promotion of greenspaces.  So if you’re looking for more local info or local ways to get involved that will tell you how!

References:

Byrne, J., & Jinjun, Y. (2009). Can urban greenspace combat climate change? Towards a subtropical cities research agenda. Australian Planner, 46(4), 36-43. doi:10.1080/07293682.2009.10753420

April 5, 2017
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Back to the basics

Restaurants have turned a new leaf so to speak in recent years; many have turned away from big distributors and mass meat production companies to supply produce and meat for their menus.

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Lovely cows at a farm on my adventures in Central PA

Countless restaurants in the Pittsburgh area are using homegrown local produce, meat, and dairy to fill their menus. One of the restaurants working hard to build ties with the community and take it back to nature is The Porch at Schenley in Oakland. According to Chef Kevin Hermann from The Porch at Schenley, he grows as much produce he can all while working with local farms and even Eden Hall Campus to supply produce, along with meat from other local farms, to sustain the volume of business The Porch sees.

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The Porch’s rooftop garden (Courtesy of Kevin Hermann)

Chef Kevin strives to use what he can from his own garden along with local vendors for cheese, meat, eggs, and grains that are all locally produced. He even has a mushroom man! Locally sourced food acquired from Wild Purveyors are a constant on the Porch’s menu. Chef Kevin relies on the restaurant community and local vendors to keep healthy, locally grown produce, and meat readily available. Working closely with Grow Pittsburgh, Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, and 412Food Rescue  Kevin’s goal is to grow

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Homegrown beets from the Porch’s garden fall 2016

what you can, use what you grow, and give what you cannot use. He also boasts proudly about the restaurant’s sustainability and efforts the staff puts into keeping it green, in fact, The Porch is one of the three listed as a platinum level from Sustainable Pgh Restaurants. When Kevin is not cooking away in the kitchen, he is volunteering to educate local children on urban gardening along with how to cook their own healthy meals from what the can grow in their own backyards. With many areas in Pittsburgh lacking fresh healthy food, learning to grow your own and use whaScreen Shot 2017-04-02 at 6.53.07 PM.pngt you grow, can change the health of the entire community. Finding solutions to the food deserts across the Pittsburgh area and working to make The Porch stand out in the community all while giving back to the same community is one of the most important goals Chef Kevin has strived towards for almost six years of being in Oakland.

April 1, 2017
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But, what about soil?

Available healthy soils begin to decrease as populations in urban areas continue to increase.   Anthropogenic activities are causing contamination to soils that could be used for food production and ecosystem health.

Urban soils are limited in growing cities, seen in parks, urban gardens, and homeowners backyards.  Forests are few and far between and the constant development of infrastructure is limiting the areas where healthy soils can thrive.  Urban soils often are filled with contaminates, such as lead and other metals.   This is cause for concern for the organisms living in the soils and the possibility of food growth.  It is also worrisome when thinking about children playing in backyards and playground, as they are often playing in the dirt, which is often contaminated in urban areas.

Soils are home to many different organisms, including vegetation and invertebrates.  A healthy soil will be a giant system where invertebrates work to decompose vegetation, such as a compost, to keep the soils healthy.  When urbanization occurs and the soils become compacted, this process does not happen as easily.  We lose biodiversity along with the loss of healthy soils.

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We often think of trees and other vegetation growing on the surface, but forget that the soil is responsible for the grow of the vegetation and in order for them to thrive, soils must be healthy.  Soils are important for large issues, like stormwater management, that many urban areas are facing today.  With the high traffic in urban areas, compaction decreases pore space, which help with drainage in soils.  Healthy soils are also important for urban gardening, increase the local access and organic growth of food in cities.  Not all urban soils are capable of growing food due to the negative impacts put on them, such as contamination and compaction.

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According to Kumar and Hundal, Improving urban soils is important for the functioning of ecosystems in urban areas. A movement in urban areas has began to arise, which is the idea of green infrastructure.  This helps with the issue of water drainage.  However, nothing beats natural, healthy soil.  As urban soils continue to decrease in availability and health, the need for improvement and careful watch of how we treat them is imperative.  I encourage to take a closer look at the soils in your backyard.  Are they healthy?  Are you doing your duty to improve urban soils in your area?  Be a part of the solution.

March 26, 2017
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Time to (re)look at Solar Power

After decades of research and development by scientists and innovators all over the world, photo voltaic panels, or solar panels, are finally coming into their own. This renewable – or green – energy system that uses the sun as its source rather than fossil fuels, has long been too expensive or not effective for places other than those that seem to be sunny all year long.
A 2015 report from MIT tracked the science, economics and infrastructure improvements in the US for solar panels. It states that from 2008-2015 prices for PVs fell from $4/ watt to $.50/ watt – a whopping 84% drop. Not only the panels, but the power inverters used to connect the panels to the grid also fell in price. Solar panel systems dropped between 50 – 70% in the same time frame.
In addition, according to the same report, solar panel installers are popping up all over the United States, both in the commercial and residential sectors, but especially the later.

Another indication that solar panel systems have arrived is the latest announcement from Google. Just days ago the tech giant announced their new solar map, Project Sunroof. By combining Google Maps, Google Earth, 3D modeling and machine learning, Google has created an easy-to-use online source for anyone who’s even curious about whether or not putting solar panels on their roof is viable. Through their analysis, Google has concluded that 79% of all roof tops in the US are technically viable for solar panels. Sunny states like Arizona and New Mexico are 90% viable, but other states that we assume will not support solar – like Pennsylvania and Minnesota – actually show a 60% viability for solar panels.

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(Image credit: google.com/get/projectsunroof)

But what about the solar panels themselves? Many of us have an image of large, unsightly black panels stuck to roofs or super reflective panels that make up a large solar array in the desert. Solar panels systems are being redesigned as new technological breakthroughs happen. Tesla in partnership with Solar City, for example, has designed solar roof tiles that mimic the look of traditional roofing materials like clay tile, slate and shingles. Instead of large, black panels, these smaller glass tiles look good from the street but provide energy to the home.  Though they are marketed as affordable, actual sales of this product are projected to start in April of this year, so the cost is yet to be confirmed.

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These are just three examples of the big advancements solar power has made. This is good news as our planet continues to show signs of stress due to climate change. Take the time to look at these resources and products and decide for yourself how viable solar power can be.

March 18, 2017
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Moana Addresses Environmental Issues

I watched the movie Moana recently. It is a cute movie. The color and landscape in the movie is wonderful. How clear the water is! I was not born beside the sea. Even when I went to the seaside, I still could not see the sea in the movie. It is a wonderland I want to go to. I have never gone to place like that. Sometimes I wonder does that kind of place exist or not. However, I read other people’s comments the social media website and people said they have been to the place like that, like Hawaii or Bali Island. The setting sun colored the clouds purple. The sand of the beach was gentle like silk. Everything was like a dream.

These beautiful environments are fading from this world. Maybe after 50 years people will not be able to experience them anymore. Right now the five Pacific islands are falling into the sea as much as 10mm each year because of sea levels rising. Because of global warming, the temperature of whole world is increasing all the time, year by year and the glaciers of the north and south poles are melting. What about residents on these islands? What about creatures on these islands? When the next generation sees pictures and asks you where this animal comes from, how will you answer their questions? When you want to see these islands, you will only be able to dive into the water to see that at one time they actually existed.

In the movie Moana, because of Moana’s courage, she returned the mystical heart to the island goddess. Actually the absence of the mystical heart from the island goddess represents human being’s greed and desire. The mystical heart was stolen by human being named Maui. When Moana realized that she only could save her people and island by returning the heart to the goddess, she was not afraid of the difficulties she faced. Since human being wanted to take everything they find value from nature they made the goddess, who represents nature, angry. The punishment for angering the goddess was that they lost the natural resources, specifically their food, their home, and their family. Their island was vanishing from the world. She loves her parents and her people, especially, the island and sea. It was only because Moana encouraging Maui to change his ways that the mystical heart of the island was returned.

I see parallels between the narrative of the movie and our reality. Therefore, I think we already see the negative results of human greed on our environment. We not only lose our habitat, but also lose the most important thing our habitat supports, our family. We only considering what we could get from nature, but in the past never thought of ways to sustain our mother, earth. So we need to find ways to conserve nature for people today and generations in the future.

March 16, 2017
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When Climate Change Meets Mental Health

Climate change. There’s no secret that there are ALOT of sides to that story; but I’m about to tell you a very crucial one and it’s the impact that climate change has on mental health.

Climate change is thought to be the “stable changes in the meteorological parameters like precipitation and temperature over a period of time in a given region.” Climate change has been coined as a huge global challenge that is especially scary because we are single handily contributing to the progression of it. Climate change impacts people in a ton of different ways but I’m here to talk specifically about it’s impact on our mental health-because it has one.

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Temperature and Mental Health
Studies have shown that an increase in temperatures is correlated with an increase in aggression in individuals and with the rise of the global temperature this is really important to think about. With these heightened temperatures there is likely to be an increase in aggressive and criminal behavior as we already know that most crimes are committed in the summer months (when it’s hot hot hot). Additionally, it has been shown that there is an increase in suicide when the temperature is hotter; especially violent suicides. With this known it’s easy to see how an increase in global temperature could increase both overall aggressive behaviors and the number of suicides in the long run. In addition, it has been shown that mental health and behavioral issues peak in times of heat waves. Mood disorders, anxiety, and dementia related disorders have all been shown in to display worse symptoms in times of extreme heat. Not to mention, exposure to extreme heat can lead to both physical and psychological exhaustion.

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Psychological Well-Being and Climate Related Disasters
Floods, hurricanes, fires…All of these terrible natural disasters are associated with climate change AND stress-related psychiatric disorders. These kinds of events can also trigger and cause disorders such as PTSD, acute stress reactions, and adjustment disorders-all of which are anxiety disorders that take a lot of rehabilitation. Natural disasters like this can also cause people to experience significant loss like jobs, family members, friends, or pets which could contribute to issues of grief and depression. Bipolar disorder and psychosis (stress related disorders) can also be triggered by natural disasters causing people to relapse and seek new treatment.

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Farmer Suicide
As global climate change continues to manifest, it is expected that we will see a larger number of droughts throughout the years to come. Recently, a relationship has been found between the occurrence of drought and farmer suicide. There has been an association found between crop failure as a result of unexpected droughts and suicide in farmers. In a lot of instances a farmer’s crop are his only source of income and when they aren’t able to produce the crop they need they may face extreme economic hardships. In extreme cases, farmers might not be able to provide for their families or may get trapped in extreme debt. Additionally, when the crops aren’t able to be produced, rises in food or other goods in affected regions may dramatically increase causing money problems for entire regions.

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Migration and Acculturation
Another problem that climate change causes for us are basic changes in natural habitats and ecosystems that may cause people to move or migrate elsewhere. For example, hurricanes in coastal ares may cause people who live there to uproot their lives and move elsewhere. This sense of uprooting can lead to acculturation stress which in turn can be the case of psychiatric disorders. People develop a sense of connectedness or “home” where they live and when they are forced to give that up it can extremely difficult.

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What Can We Do?
First things first, it would be a truly amazing if climate change could just stop right in it’s tracks. However, as that is highly unlikely-we have to take other measures. Developing plans and educating people on ways to combat climate change and the effects of climate change is a HUGE start. People should be aware of how this huge thing is effecting them in so many ways. Additionally, making sure that there are adequate treatment facilities and treatment options for those suffering from mental health is so important-especially for natural-disaster related problems. We can also begin to promote aspects of positive mental health as a way to combat the negative effects climate change has on us. This could include things like yoga, eco-therapy, or other basic self-care strategies. For those experiencing secondary problems associated to climate change (like debt) making during that there are programs available for people combatting that is important. Finally, teaching methods of sustainability and how people can give back to our planet has been shown to be really helpful.

If we know the ways that climate change may effect us we might have an easier time seeing warning signs and seeking help before it’s too late. Preventive measures are important not only for us but also for the sake of our planet.

References:

Padhy, S., Sarkar, S., Panigrahi, M., & Paul, S. (2015). Mental health effects of climate change . Indian Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 19(1).

Photo Credit: I have hyperlinked each photo to the site I retrieved them from.

 

March 14, 2017
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Urban Gardens

Vacant lots, old tires, wooden boxes are not the typical images that come to mind when visualizing gardens or small farms. But those are precisely what is being used in local areas of Pittsburgh for gardens.

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Ladora Way Hazelwood

Carrots, tomatoes, beets, berries, and corn are just a few of the beautiful crops popping up around Pittsburgh in abandoned lots, large wooden boxes and painted tires.  Recently Pittsburgh has turned a new leaf in local food production. Grow Pittsburgh and The Pittsburgh Urban Garden Project are just two of the local organizations teaching urbanites to grow their own food by helping start local gardens in their very own yards and neighborhoods.  Many areas of Pittsburgh are food deserts or have limited access to fresh food, so learning to grown their own food in abandon lots and backyards helps provide healthy nourishment that would otherwise be hard to achieve for many communities throughout Pittsburgh.

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Braddock Farms

Pittsburgh Urban Garden project teaches locals in Polish Hill, Larimer, Braddock, and many other communities to plant something, harvest something, and preserve something all in order to gain food stability.  By giving tools to the urbanites, food deserts can be made plentiful, healthy, and successful.  Healthy diets can lead to healthier choices and better lives long-term.  Both Pittsburgh and its many communities have recently made many improvements towards solving food issues with education and action.  Along with improvements to urban agriculture zoning laws, Pittsburgh Food Policy Council has developed ways for low-income inner city residents to have easily accessible healthy produce at a low-cost from farmers markets, while also educating on healthy choices that can easily be grown in their own yards.  Healthy lifestyles have long-term impacts that can change how many Pittsburghers live.

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