This article appeared in the summer 2014 issue of ChurchLife! The magazine of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio
By April Miller, Communications Manager Trinity Cathedral
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Once a sight of devastation, the corner of E. 35th and Cedar Avenue in Cleveland now brims with life. Cucumbers, green beans, cabbage, onions, peaches, apples, herbs, tulips and irises have replaced the bricks of a torn-down apartment building, car parts, rocks and garbage that once filled the inner-city lot.Trinity Cathedral volunteers have been hard at work on the land since 2006 when Trinity member Scott Blanchard contacted the City of Cleveland’s Summer Sprout program coordinated by OSU Extension to inquire about starting a community garden. Blanchard had been volunteering with the Cathedral’s Sunday lunch program, A Place at the Table (APATT), but wanted to be of service beyond cooking and serving. Living in the city he had a rooftop container garden raising tomatoes and peppers that he donated to APATT, but “thought how great it would be if we had some land that we could work and really make a significant food contribution going forward.”
Summer Sprout put Blanchard in touch with Father Jim O’Donnell of St. Malachi Catholic Parish who lived across the street from the lot and had started many community gardens. “Fr. Jim gave me a tour, we got the permission of the land owner and we were able to get started on the project in less than a month,” Blanchard says.
From the beginning the primary focus has been to grow as much food as possible to feed the hungry and homeless in Cleveland—100% of the crops raised at the urban farm are donated to hunger ministries. In addition to Trinity’s A Place at the Table and Food For Families ministries, fruit and produce has also been donated to Cedar Central Senior Center, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church hunger program, St. Herman’s Orthodox House of Hospitality and the Cleveland Food Bank. Funding for the farm has come from Neighborhood Connections, the Thatcher Family Fund and the City of Cleveland’s Cityworks grants. “Summer Sprout is proud of gardens like Trinity,” says Jim Thompson, program coordinator for OSU Extension, “because they ensure that our neediest of residents are getting fed with healthy food on a regular basis.”
The fact that those who rely on donations may not always have access to fresh produce had always bothered Anastasia Pantsios so when Scott told her about the farm, it immediately resonated with her and she’s been volunteering since the beginning. “I think quality food is a core issue, which feeds into so many other social justice issues including health and education,” Pantsios says. “And Cleveland is at the epicenter of the local, sustainable food movement. The Trinity farm was actually one of the first (if not the first) of the current wave of larger scale urban farms in Cleveland.”
Volunteers gather on Saturday mornings from March to November, typically working from 9 am to noon. And each year, they push themselves harder— setting a new harvest goal and making improvements to the farm. The urban farm is built on environmentally sound practices such as composting, organic farming and recycling. In 2009, it was named a recipient of the Fiskars Project Orange Thumb—an international award given to only 20 projects per year in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. In 2011, Trinity member Steve Roberts spearheaded the installation of a drip-irrigation system that makes water efforts more efficient, crops more plentiful and reduces water consumption. OSU Urban Agriculture staff taught volunteers methods to extend the growing season, allowing for the planting of cold-weather crops such as radishes, broccoli, collard greens, spinach and garlic. And over the years, public artwork has been added to the landscape.
Back in 2006, the Trinity urban farm produced 1,200 pounds of food. The all-time high year was 2011 with 3,141 pounds and last year saw volunteers harvest 2,929 pounds of food. To date, more than 18,000 pounds have been harvested. Not an easy task at all, because as Fr. O’Donnell likes to say, “we did not pick this land because it was good soil and would be easy to grow crops. It was an ideal corner because people in a neighborhood of devastation need to have some hope.”
“The neighbors see flowers and vegetables and it creates joy. Their heads pop up and they don’t feel their life is so bad after all. I had a resident say to me, ‘God must love us if you all would do this here,’” he adds. “Yes, God does love you.