A group of Chatham University students tours solar installations at Hilltop Urban Farm. Photo Courtesy of Hilltop Urban Farm

Hilltop Urban Farm to Grow its Sustainability with New Solar-Powered Systems

by Amanda Waltz


November 11, 2021

What’s commonly called the Hilltop in Pittsburgh has been gaining a lot of attention for its focus on the arts, food, and other efforts to help it grow and thrive. Now the area will become a hub for renewable energy in the region through a new partnership with Green Mountain Energy.

Hilltop Urban Farm announced it would make some major solar upgrades to its operations thanks to a $65,000 sustainability grant from the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club. According to a press release, the grant will fund the installation of solar panel systems on eight shipping containers, with any electricity produced going towards to powering farm tools, office devices, and mobile cooler trailers.

The farm estimates that transitioning to solar will help them avoid $10,000 in electricity charges, and 91 metric tons of carbon emissions annually.

“Green Mountain Energy Sun Club seeks to empower nonprofits with sustainability solutions, and Hilltop Urban Farm is on a mission to educate others about farming practices and providing healthy food options while reducing its environmental footprint through the use of solar energy,” said Mark Parsons, vice president and general manager for Green Mountain Energy. “We are passionate about supporting organizations that are making positive changes in our communities.”

The Hilltop area of Pittsburgh encompasses eleven City of Pittsburgh neighborhoods, including Allentown, Beltzhoover and Knoxville, and the Mt. Oliver borough. Located in the Hilltop’s St. Clair neighborhood, Hilltop Urban Farm is described on its website as a nonprofit, community-centered farm stretching across 107 acres of land, with 23 of those acres dedicated to farming.

The gift is the latest from Green Mountain Energy’s Sun Club, a charitable arm of the company that collaborates with non-profit organizations on projects that “focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency, resource conservation and environmental stewardship.” Green Mountain Energy claims that Sun Club has awarded more than $10 million in sustainability grants to more than 122 non-profit organizations across Texas and the Northeast since the program was launched in 2002.

The Hilltop Urban Farm upgrades will also include new lighting and a datahub for panels that can be configured automatically to operate pumps, valves, monitoring cameras, and lights remotely.

Hilltop Urban Farm has become an asset to its community, which has been designated by the United States Department of Agriculture as a food desert, meaning residents have a difficult time accessing healthy, nutritious food because of a lack of grocery stores, farmers' markets, and other resources.

In July, Hilltop Urban Farm was one of four local agricultural sites toured by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding, who stressed the importance of urban farming, according to a TribLive article.“Food production in our urban spaces — from rooftops or vacant lots to vertical or indoor farming — plays a critical role in advancing food and nutritional security,” Redding said.

The Hilltop Urban Farm supplies local food pantries like the one run by the Brashear Association in the South Side.

Besides growing and providing surrounding neighborhoods with fresh produce, Hilltop Urban Farm focuses on engaging community members of all ages to take part in maintaining the farm and learning agricultural techniques. This includes a Farmer Incubation Program, created to train adults over the age of 18 in the fundamentals of urban farming and permaculture.

John Bixler, executive director for Hilltop Urban Farm, says the organization looks forward to using the solar systems as an “outdoor classroom for sustainable learning, hands-on classes, and events for the community.”

“We are thankful for the support from the Green Mountain Energy Sun Club as it enables us to further our commitment to sustainability and promote the use of solar energy with everyone that visits the site,” says Bixler.


Amanda Waltz is a regular columnist with The Green Voice Weekly Newsletter .