It doesn’t Get Any More Grassroots Than This
Raynise and Taray Kelly are the proprietors of Soil Sisters, a purveyor of organic and heirloom vegetables, herbs and flowers. “Gardening was a part of our childhood; we got away from it after elders in our family passed. In 2015, I took on a horticulture course at Bidwell Training Center and haven’t looked back since,” says Raynise. Shortly afterward TaRay moved to the grounds department at the University of Pittsburgh, and, “Our collective knowledge gave us a new outlook on the food around us. We took on food as our main focus because of the difficulty it was to access locally fresh grown food.”
“Our mission is to give access to the most nutritional value food we can grow and to be a resource to anyone, but people of color specifically, to all things that relate to agriculture. We want to dismantle all food barriers that our neighborhood faces due to the location in which we live.”
The Beltzhoover neighborhood is dear to the hearts because it is where the sisters grew up and their family still lives. Raynise recalls, “We started with traditional, popular crops like kale, collards, tomatoes, peppers, basil, rosemary, thyme, marigolds, nasturtiums and sunflowers. We were sure to add a few of the not-so-popular varieties to the community we know aren’t grown often, like Russian kale, stevia, and flowers like king coral.”
Doing everything at home and using natural growing practices, they can only do so many seedlings. “We’ve had anywhere between 750 to 1,200 seedlings each sale. We have a website that allows purchases online for orders to be delivered or picked up at the site or at a possible traveling plant pop-up sale, says Raynise.
“We wouldn’t feel right if we didn’t engage our community,” she insists. “The people know us, as well as our family—getting their feedback and opinions let us know that we will be supported and that they believe the nursery was something we needed.”
The inaugural Soil Sisters educational program will be a youth summer camp. “We have always had talks about hosting workshops to help gardeners advance together as a community and share skills with one another while learning techniques that have worked best for us,” says Raynise.
Their next goal is to get city approval for zoning and begin building a nursery before the end of the summer. “Our future plan is to have it all in place just in time for the gardeners who like fall crops, Raynise notes. “If we don’t find any, we’ll be sure to make that the subject of our workshop; ‘Crops You Can Grow in the Fall.’”
Soil Sisters is located at 835 Gearing Ave., in Pittsburgh. For more information, call 412-872-1744, email [email protected] or visit SoilSisterPGH.com.