Q: What do you do with a small plot of land sandwiched between a family neighborhood and an industrial park?
A: You grow vegetables for the needy, of course! Neighbors living near 422 Runn Street in Berea said they wanted to plant a community garden and grow produce for needy members of their community and the Berea Community Development Corporation (BCDC) got the message.
BCDC had acquired the abandoned property and enlisted help from the Cuyahoga Land Bank in getting the vacant house demolished. Once the land was cleared, it was named the Polish Village Community Garden. Helpers and partners started stepping up almost immediately: the sustainability program at nearby Baldwin-Wallace College hired a student to design the garden, and another to build the 12 raised beds. (“We’re lucky we’re in a college town,” says Rebecca Corrigan, BCDC’s executive director.) St. Thomas Episcopal Church and the Church Street Ministries were collaborators as well.
‘Planting day” was Saturday, June 2, and SCAN Hunger Food Pantry, a community hunger center, sent volunteers to work alongside Mayor Cyril Kleem, Councilwoman Margarette Key, Berea High School students and neighbors in planting bell peppers, Swiss chard, carrots, cucumbers, beets, spinach, collard, zucchini, tomatoes and sweet potatoes. Volunteer gardeners will work throughout the summer, weeding, watering and nurturing the plants until the first harvest, expected in August.
“We really honed in on our resources,” Corrigan says, adding that Polish Village isn’t the typical community garden. Instead of volunteer gardeners dividing up the produce for themselves, the entire first year’s harvest will be donated to area food banks. “The garden will feed children and elderly in the community who are in need,” Corrigan says. But food isn’t all the garden will provide; recipients also will be given recipes and low-cost guidelines for using their bounty to eat healthier. “Not everyone knows what to do with collard greens or beets,” Corrigan says, “so people will learn, here’s what you can do with a zucchini, here’s how to plan meals with cabbage.”
Next year, Corrigan will take the Polish Village Community Garden’s experience national as she moderates a panel at the American Planning Association Conference. She’ll be talking about all the groups that came together to help the garden succeed. “It’s a great example of how a community can re-use properties and transform older neighborhoods into a much better place,” she says.
Polish Village is the quintessential community project. “Residents showed up knowing they would get nothing from this effort but a chance to help the needy,” Corrigan adds. Already, BCDC is looking at future collaborations. Corrigan is talking to the Cleveland Browns, among others, for help in adding beds and helping to open a small farmer’s market in 2013. Proceeds from the market will be invested back into the garden, ensuring its continued success.