Updated: Mar 19
Few initiatives demonstrated the shift in Etna's identity quite as much as the creation of the Garden of Etna. Once a town built on the steel industry, Etna is now seen as a leader in sustainable development, green infrastructure, and social equity. This shift began long ago, with many insightful leaders helping to set our community on this new path. One such leader is Tom Quigley, a Shaler resident, who stepped forward to help turn the vacant lot that had once been the site of the Etna Municipal Building into the Garden of Etna.
The Garden was established in 2011 and has been a place to grow food, hold events, and come together as a community for more than a decade. It is hard to overstate how much time and effort Tom put into funding, organizing and coordinating this beloved community resource. To honor his extraordinary efforts in improving our community, we asked him to reflect on his role at the Garden of Etna. He says it best in his own words.
ECO: How did the Garden of Etna begin?
TQ: "The Garden of Etna came to be through inspiration, my life’s journey, incredible partnerships, and a continued string of good fortune. Through church activities, I was inspired by religious leaders and community members thinking creatively and working tirelessly to make the world a better place. These activities ranged from restoring homes in the Appalachian Mountains and helping residents and business owners in Staten Island recover from Hurricane Sandy. Most profoundly I attended a volunteer day at Garfield Farms in Pittsburgh, perfectly dovetailing with my study of landscape design at Phipps. The inspiration in Garfield and my growing knowledge of how large projects were developed and organized, led me to take action. The Borough of Etna just happened to by the ideal location for the development of such a project, a garden. Borough leadership had a clear understanding of the importance of how much a garden could positively impact the community and I’m glad that was able to contribute to that effort. Subsequently, so many people contributed using their skills sets and abilities all in the effort to build a really valuable community asset for Etna."
ECO: What accomplishments at the Garden of Etna are you most proud of?
TQ: "I’m really proud of the value that has been created at the Garden of Etna, both the financial value of the infrastructure and all the collective, intangible benefits that really cannot be measured. Through each stage of infrastructure development, I would sometimes sit in awe at the Garden. I would ask myself, “How did this happen?” It happened through the hard work of so many groups and individuals and through generous donations and very prudent financial expenditures. The once empty lot was transformed into a physical space of importance within Etna.
The intangible value is more important and a great source of pride. At the end of the day, these intangible benefits are highly personal and realized through accomplishing tasks or participating in programs at the Garden. Ultimately, all of these personal experiences are shared and result in civic pride, benefitting the community as a whole. Opportunities for personal involvement exist at the Garden and clearly a strong collective investment exists as well. I am glad this has been was part of GoE’s progression.
I’m also so proud that the Garden of Etna became a partner in the EcoDistrict initiative. Etna the first certified EcoDistrict in the world --- such a point of pride for everyone involved! Those feelings of inspiration prior to establishing the Garden were only reinforced by the ideas put forth by the forward-thinking leaders of the EcoDistrict initiative and the actions of all the good-spirited people that made it and continue to make it happen.
I don’t know if I’m entitled to say this as a nonresident, but I’m really proud of Etna. My emotional investment in the community will never match that of the lifelong residents of the Borough. I was not there when the mills closed or the floodwaters rose, but I’ve learned how much people in Etna love their hometown. I get so excited when new projects like the 51 Bridge St. development are announced and so disappointed when new businesses fail to establish a foothold because of the pandemic. I am proud of Etna and hope it reaches its incredible potential."
ECO: Why are gardens important to communities such as Etna?
TQ: "I didn’t fully understand how important gardens are to communities until several years into the project. I was certainly aware of the good that could be generated from a garden through its mission to provide growing space for residents and share crops with food banks. I understood that individuals would benefit, but not the greater community. I began to realize that the Garden had a responsibility to build partnerships with the Borough and other organizations within the Borough. The advent of the EcoDistrict initiative in Etna really opened my eyes to this interconnectedness. The asset generated through the benefits of the Garden did not have to stand alone, instead the individual assets of the Garden and other organizations could be merged to build a stronger community. Learning about the EcoDistrict initiative in Etna has been an incredible, living classroom for me.
Establishing a thriving garden in a community like Etna also creates very important momentum. A project like a garden signals that the Borough itself and its residents are interested and invested in growth, opening the doorway to broader community building such as residential growth, economic development, and the establishment of the EcoDistrict. Each step in the process builds on the next and a garden is definitely a valuable component in the process."
Tom did so much to help the Garden grow and thrive over the years, and gardeners have learned a lot from his leadership. Moving forward, current gardeners will be working to establish a new governance structure, and a steering committee has been created. Excitingly, many new residents have stepped forward to fill key roles at the Garden and will be expanding on initiatives such as composting and increasing social media presence and community outreach. Many events are being planned for 2022 that will invite the community at large to experience the garden and learn about growing food locally. ECO will continue to include these events in our calendar!