Heights Community Garden Network plans for 2015 season

Heights Community Garden Network coordinator Samantha Provencio (left) talks with a community member interested in the organization. Photos by Joseph Barbaree.

The warm, invigorating days of spring might seem a lifetime away, but eager Heights community gardeners are already sowing something for the 2015 season: new, innovative ideas.

At the Heights Community Garden Network (HCGN) annual meeting—held Feb. 17 at the Lee Road Library—a dozen horticulturists representing community gardens from across the Heights laid out their individual goals, plus their hopes for larger events and new strategies to expand gardening opportunities this year. Samantha Provencio, coordinator for HCGN, commenced the meeting with a fast rundown of the organization, then opened the rest of the meeting for a free-flowing dialogue.

Formed by now-CH City Council Member Jeff Coryell as a program of FutureHeights, HCGN connects gardeners throughout the Heights with vital resources and information. Growers swap seeds, garden designs, funding ideas, current needs, learning opportunities and, yes, manure sources. This information is placed online and shared through a weekly e-newsletter.

Provencio took over from Coryell last year and is working to make the organization something of a force for community empowerment in the region—from beefing up online content to successful fundraising efforts with Whole Foods and rain barrel sales. She also assists a mélange of new garden projects by connecting area experts, community volunteers and funding resources. As a grower herself, Provencio sees great potential in the organization.

“Community gardens and garden spaces bring people together,” she explained. “They're an invaluable place in a community. The demographics of who is in a garden are so dynamic and diverse—you're putting people together in a space with a common interest and you're knitting bonds. It makes the community so much stronger.”

As the conversation opened at the annual meeting, all gardeners present expressed a similar conviction about these community spaces. Gardens can beautify neighborhoods and successfully utilize vacant lots, which speckle the city as reminders of the recovery still underway, but their potential extends beyond physical development.

Curt Coker, treasurer of the Montford Community Garden, finds his friends and neighbors connecting on a deeper level because of their garden. "Our community garden has been great in bringing people together," said Coker of the new growing space that neighbors created at the corner of Montford and Windsor roads in 2013. "It gives community members a way to gather, talk and connect with one another."

Because of this impact, Provencio wants to engage the City of Cleveland Heights in 2015 to help identify vacant land available for use as garden projects, from food forests to perennial flower gardens.

Cleveland Heights has previously done this with the Montford Community Garden property, which the city acquired from the Cuyahoga Land Bank.

Finding available land is often the greatest difficulty for community gardeners. Gardening know-how, on the other hand, is in no short supply.

With some 16 community gardens participating, HCGN is a mecca of information for those with and without green thumbs. This gives folks new to community garden organizing—like Reverend Joe Cherry of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Cleveland—access to a vast network of area experts.

"My knowledge base has increased tremendously because of the [HCGN] meetings," Cherry explained at the February gathering. This is particularly helpful as his church works to expand its on-site community garden into an ADA-accessible space—what Cherry believes will be the first of its kind in the state.

Ideas such as this were really the heart of the conversation at the annual meeting. Participants identified areas to target for one-time beautification projects, such as perennial gardens full of purple coneflowers and lilies, as well as long-term funding strategies to support projects in community gardens.

But the conversation doesn’t end with the close of a meeting. Time, patience and sustained attention—virtues familiar to any gardener—are needed for these issues.

Community gardeners in the Heights are continuously identifying new approaches to garden design, planning events to reach more community members, partnerships to increase gardening in urban spaces and ways to fund projects—not to mention strategies to discourage that timeless and pesky garden conversation piece: deer.

HCGN events to look forward to in 2015 include seed swaps, workshops on community garden management, fundraisers, a discussion at Mac's Backs on Coventry and numerous work days at gardens.

Visit www.growingheights.com to learn more about HCGN. There one can find upcoming events, resources and a list of community gardens. Interested volunteers or community members with a garden project in mind are encouraged to contact Samantha Provencio through the website.

Joe Barbaree

Joe Barbaree is a community developer, writer and photographer originally from Appalachian Ohio now living and exploring in Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 8, Issue 4, Posted 1:36 PM, 03.30.2015