Urban gardening…. for whom?

Here is a post from the other intern working with Community Greenhouse Partners in inner-city Cleveland, Zach Sheehan.  (Click here to read the first post from Adam Donnelly).

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For the past month I have been living in Cleveland, gardening.  Yes, that’s right, gardening in Cleveland.  I am spending the summer at a non-profit called Community Greenhouse Partners, or CGP for short.  Our property is an old Catholic school building and the surrounding parking lots.  We have built greenhouses right on top of the asphalt; many vegetables do not need very much soil depth to thrive.  I have been learning lots about actual gardening, but working with the soil is only a small part.  I am helping to construct an irrigation system that uses rainwater and gravity to slowly water our plants for us.  In the near future I will be lending my hand in the construction of a new greenhouse.

There’s more to a greenhouse than just the greenhouse. In the climate of northern Ohio, even a greenhouse needs supplemental heat in the winter, which CGP provides here with a homemade and super-efficient “rocket stove” fashioned from an old metal barrel.

So how does this partnership of people plan to help the community with our greenhouses?  The secret is in our micro greens, which we sell for about $16 a pound…wait, how is that supposed to help a poor community?  Isn’t the idea to provide fresh, affordable greens to them?  Not some fancy salad toppings that cost more than many cuts of meat. Unfortunately, like many things in life, this organization needs money to function, and the micro greens are a great source of income.  Ok, so it is not quite as bad as I may be making it seem.  I’m just trying to explain what I was thinking when I arrived.  I partially expected to jump into this great little oasis in the middle of a real live urban desert.  However, as I have been learning, there is quite a gap between the discussions in the classrooms in Wooster to the streets of Cleveland.


In a classroom setting, many discussions end with what may seem like a solution.  For example, the current state of CGP would probably seem like an acceptable solution for the problem of urban food deserts.  It sounds good: a local non-profit growing healthy, organic food for the community.  However, building such infrastructure takes money, and it is hard to make money only selling goods at bottom prices.  So, we end up having two different branches.  We grow micro greens by the pound for high-end restaurants and as snacks for curious customers at farmers markets shoppers, while at the same time growing lots of leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard and lettuce that are cheaper by the pound.  Once again, this may seem like a solution, but that would be assuming that the people we are trying to target know what we are offering, or how to eat it.


What are microgreens? THESE are microgreens!

I have been to multiple markets so far, and at every one I have had people ask me if they could eat the greens we were selling.  People simply do not know many of the vegetables that are out there, especially if they are a little stranger than the normal lettuce and spinach.  This points to another problem besides just availability, people simply do not know what to do with some food.  It is easy to put a TV dinner in the microwave, but harder to know to sauté kale with a little oil and garlic for a tasty treat.  We really need to get the people from the community involved with what we are doing, but once again this takes money.

The plan is to build a long, narrow bed that we can break up into sections so our neighbors can have their own little plots.  We could help them and provide some assistance, but they would be responsible for the wellbeing of their patch.  This would hopefully get them more involved in their food.  Many people do not know, or care really, where their food comes from.  This way we could get them actually involved in getting their dinner, or at least their salad, from a seed to their plates.


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3 Responses to Urban gardening…. for whom?

  1. Chris says:

    This reminds of when I was growing microgreens. Thanks for sharing and for your helpful insights.

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