Community gardening beats high food prices, celebrates diversity

Aerial view taken by Jim Kazan from his third floor window.

Stories abound these days about urban gardening and transforming that big green square that is your lawn. With food prices on the rise, community gardening is ready for a comeback.

Cleveland Heights has three gardens of our own: the Canterbury Garden, the Oxford Garden, and the Hampshire Road Garden. That number could increase according to Lois Rose, master gardener and leader of the Hampshire Road Garden.

“A huge number of people want to garden,” she says. Rose, who earned the title, master gardener, through the Ohio State University Extension program, is working with that organization to find more spaces in Cleveland Heights that can host community gardens.

For the Hampshire crew, the program has supplied seeds, given advice, donated plants and trained Rose. Members are also involved in numerous projects such as volunteering to teach the art and science of gardening.

Nestled between two imposing double houses, white butterflies flit about the Hampshire Road Community Garden, which hosts everything from the ugliest of squash to the lovliest of roses. The garden celbrates 30 years of existence this year.

On this warm June afternoon humans, too, are buzzing around. Jim Kazan tends the back fence as Jan Curry dashes into the garden during lunch to care for her tomato plants. She’s had a plot for “many, many years,” she says, crouching down in full business attire to pluck weeds. Upon being asked why she started her plot she answers, “Cleveland Heights has big beautiful trees. I have no sun in my yard.”

The gardeners are a mix that attests to the diversity of the city. Don Snyder, a professional photographer who has had a plot since he and his wife moved to Cleveland Heights 18 years ago, estimates that one third are Russian senior citizens. All signs are printed in both languages and a translator attends the community work days.

As an assistant to Rose, Snyder cares for the garden's technical and financial needs. According to him there is a waiting list of 22 people. "There is not a lot of turnover in this garden,” he says.

The city of Cleveland Heights does not charge the gardeners rent but requires a small fee of $20 per year which covers water consumption. "The city has bent over backwards for the garden,” Snyder says. And the only commitment, outside of tending to your plot (you will be notified if your weeds are out of control), is three community workdays in spring, midsummer and fall. The members are planning a beet throwing contest this year.

Although not technically organic, the garden is “biodynamic.” There are rules about which products gardeners can and cannot use.

With soaring food prices, Snyder thinks the waiting list will grow. “I haven’t bought store lettuce since May,” he says. “I appreciate it now.”

For information on joining the waiting list at the Hampshire Road Garden contact the city of Cleveland Heights Community Relations Department.

Or if you can’t wait, contact the Ohio State University Extension Program at to see how you can help create more community garden space in your neighborhood.

Christine McBurney, like so many of us, used to live on Hampshire Road. She's the theatre arts deptment chair at Shaker Heights High School, a performer, writer, and proud Heights High soccer mom.

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Volume 1, Issue 5, Posted 3:56 PM, 06.28.2008