Growing a demonstration garden, and a community, on a church lawn

Volunteers prepare to plant the lawn conversion garden on Nov. 3.

It was a brisk and overcast morning, but the enthusiastic volunteers were undeterred. Cleveland Heights’s newest community garden took its first action steps on Nov. 3, on the front lawn of Grace Lutheran Church on Cedar Road.

Volunteers from Food Not Lawns Cleveland joined forces with Grace Lutheran congregants and, with support from Asian Services in Action, prepared a 20 x 20 plot that will become a demonstration sheet mulch garden, to be farmed by local Bhutanese refugee families and other interested residents in the spring.

“The Bhutanese will be the primary farmers,” said David Ernat, pastor of the church, “but it’s actually available to anyone in the community.”  

Using gardening and community sustainability principles advocated by Food Not Lawns—a movement that calls for the conversion of the nation’s 45 million acres of existing lawns into edible gardens—the garden’s planting area was created by sheet mulching. This above-ground technique of layering organic and recycled materials to a level of about 2–3 feet creates a nutrient-rich and water-absorbing environment, without disturbing the ground and existing soil beneath.

Mari Keating, founder of the Food Not Lawns Cleveland chapter, said Grace Lutheran’s willingness to become the first local institution to make a visible statement with this kind of lawn conversion was an extraordinary opportunity for public education and participation. She said the project partners met one another through their participation in Sustainable Heights Network’s Local Food Week in October, and quickly came together to plan the garden.

“This is an exciting pilot project not only in land reuse but also as a cooperative coalition that is mutually beneficial to all involved,” Keating said. “We hope it will become a model to other institutions, churches, schools and city buildings that right now are planted in grass and feed no one.”

After two hours of chilly work, the garden prep was complete. Two apple trees, christened Pearl and Joey, were planted, along with the beginnings of what may become one of the most visible and sustainable community garden projects in the Heights.

Sarah Wean

Sarah Wean lives in the Coventry neighborhood, and loves Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 9:41 AM, 11.20.2012