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Urban gardens help make downtown Cleveland more green

Garden plots at the Burning River Gardens in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.
Garden plots at the Burning River Gardens in downtown Cleveland, Ohio.

The Burning River Gardens Community Garden is bringing new life to a small part of downtown Cleveland.  Plant life, that is.

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Now in its second year, the Burning River Gardens, working with Summer Sprout and the Ohio State University Extension, has constructed 15 garden plots along the West Superior hill, heading down into the Flats, next to the Veterans Memorial Bridge.  (see a Google map of the location)

Burning River GardensEach volunteer is assigned one of 13 individual plots and is given several plants from Summer Sprout.  They can also choose to plant their own items from an outside source as well.  The only rule is everything must be organic -- no fertilizers, weed killing chemicals, etc.  There are also several community plots.

The gardens contain everything from lettuce, peppers, carrots, squash, beans, radishes, eggplant, watermelon, tomatoes and more.

Last year, a community gardening group spoke to the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation and found out the land on this hillside was being unused.  Most of the volunteers live in the warehouse district from buildings such as Water Street, The Bingham, Bridgeview, Grand Arcade, The Park Building and Riverbend. 

The group applied for some grants for dirt, wood and seeds and started gardening there.  Even though they started gardening without getting permission from all the land owners, no one seems to mind.

"We get a lot of positive comments," said Lindsay Hirschfeld, Garden Leader for the project.  "The most negative thing we've ever heard is that our beds aren't straight.  That sorta happens when you plant on a hill."

The community garden also features a compost pile and water basins that the city fills so gardeners can water their plants.  The brick paths between the plots were created using bricks from a school being torn down at East 55th and St. Clair Avenue.

Some people might have concerns about the safety of their plants in the middle of such an urban area.  But Lindsay says that hasn't been a problem.  One volunteer asked a homeless man who sleeps near the garden if she could give him a couple of dollars to water her plants while she was out of town.  "Oh, don't worry about it.  I do it anyway," he said.

"We've never experienced losses of food that have been significant in any way," Lindsay said.

But there are garden pests to deal with.  Even in the city.

"We did have a rabbit that was eating some of our cabbage."

So how easy is it to grow food on a hillside near a busy bridge in downtown Cleveland?

"People are very happy with their yields.  We all have too much," said Lindsay.  "And because we have too much, this year the community garden plots are actually being used as community outreach collections.  And we have an outreach coordinator who then gives that food to various food banks."

Currently, all the garden plots are spoken for but the program may expand in the future.  Anyone interested in being a part of the project can send an e-mail to burningrivergardens@gmail.com.

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