Holden Forests & Gardens expands expertise and mission work within urban neighborhoods.
By Sandra L. Albro, Director of Community Partnerships
As you drive down Woodland Avenue near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard you may notice a change in signage at what used to be the Green Corps Buckeye Learning Farm. The farm stand, hoop houses, orchard and farm beds remain, but they are now managed under the name Bumper Crop Farm, operated by former HF&G employee Hollie Baker. It’s a great, green example of the new partnerships that Holden Forests & Gardens is pursuing as we broaden our work within local communities.
Buckeye Learning Farm, now Bumper Crop Farm
Over the past several months, HF&G has been working with Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) and the City of Cleveland Land Bank to make way for #WoodhillUpNext, a reenvisioning of the 80-year-old Woodhill Homes public housing project. The land that HF&G has leased from the City of Cleveland since 2010 for Buckeye Learning Farm is part of plans for a new public housing site that incorporates trees, community gardens and shared green space for more than 900 CMHA residents.
This spring, Hollie Baker approached HF&G and its partners about continuing to operate the space as an urban farm while it transitions in ownership to prepare for the new housing development. Hollie was looking for an opportunity for service projects while she was on leave from the Peace Corps due to COVID-19. With her experience in urban farming and a proposal to continue many of the community amenities of the farm, HF&G was happy to donate plants and soil amendments and loan equipment to Hollie for use during the growing season as she continues to offer uninterrupted service to community members via weekly farm stands and community gardening beds.
The partnership with CMHA and Bumper Crop Farm presents an opportunity for HF&G to continue its work with the broader Buckeye- Woodland Hills community as that area starts to see changes due to reinvestment and redevelopment. At a discussion at the Cleveland Ward 6 community meeting in March, CEO Jill Koski heard excitement from residents about new ways that HF&G can continue to work in the community. Their feedback echoed other requests that we have heard from Cleveland’s east side communities — to empower and inform residents about their own gardening and farming endeavors. Residents are particularly eager to learn about specialty agricultural topics, such as beekeeping and composting, and how to work through the challenges of growing plants in urban spaces, such as managing pests and safely cultivating urban soils. As we have seen national interest in home gardening grow due to COVID-19, we foresee continued interest in these topics in the future.
Said Hollie Baker of Bumper Corp Farm: “I’m grateful to be working on this community building project. Ultimately it’s about people having the opportunity to gather in an outdoor space that’s safe – to enjoy fresh air, plants and the benefits of coming together in a socially distant way. With everything that’s happening in the world today, a space like this is vital.”
"Residents are particularly eager to learn about specialty topics, such as beekeeping and composting, and how to work through the challenges of growing plants in urban spaces, such as managing pests and safely cultivating urban soils."
Changes at MidTown Learning Farm
Redevelopment is also changing how HF&G works within the MidTown neighborhood. Last fall, the Cleveland Foundation announced plans for a new headquarters situated along E. 66th Street between Euclid Avenue and Chester Boulevard. Part of the area to be redeveloped includes land owned by the Dunham Tavern Museum, including MidTown Learning Farm. The transformation of the space includes reorientation along E. 66th Street, community green space for local businesses and stronger connectors between Hough and MidTown neighborhoods.
As HF&G transitions out of our 23-year presence at the Yellow House and MidTown Learning Farm, we have been thinking about what our future activities look like in the broader community. A glimpse of what that future might entail is illustrated by our recent support for MidTown Cleveland Inc. as they complete a district-wide tree inventory and tree plan. Their approach examines how tree canopy can support strong businesses and healthy communities. HF&G has served as a subject matter expert in their neighborhood tree planning initiative. We hope MidTown’s new tree plan can serve as a model for other communities throughout Cuyahoga County who are looking to expand their urban forests in service of residents and economic development.
Farming Collaborative at Slavic Village Farm
As HF&G seeks to increase our support of resident-led gardening and farming efforts, we are particularly excited to announce a new partnership at Slavic Village Farm, located at E. 54th Street and Fleet Avenue. This spring, we began partnering with a farming collaborative to manage the Slavic Village Farm while HF&G continues its planned hiatus from growing to map out the future of the Green Corps program. The collaborative includes Have A Hive, a beekeeping and bee education nonprofit; Lettuce Tree Farms, a microgreens and urban farming business; OD Greens, a hydroponic farming and microgreens operation that provides occupational development to veterans; and Mush Love, a mushroom grower.
This partnership is promising for the mutual benefit that it can bring to small agricultural businesses, the Slavic Village community and HF&G. Urban farmers are eager to work the site due to its good soil and prominent location along Fleet Avenue. Slavic Village Development sees potential to further economic development along a business corridor in their neighborhood, while residents benefit from farm stands and community revitalization. At HF&G, we are excited by the opportunity to bring enhanced educational programming to the site by hosting classes for the community that feature the farmers and deepening our partnerships with the Boys & Girls Club and CMSD schools. Slavic Village Farm is well positioned to participate in growing farm-to-table educational opportunities for youth within Slavic Village, who can learn everything from growing food to culinary arts through a network of local partners.
The Future of Community Partnerships at HF&G
With revitalization efforts taking place across Cleveland, HF&G’s work to advance healthy urban green space for all will continue to evolve as our urban landscape changes. Last fall, when we announced a break from farming to plan the future of our Green Corps urban farming program, we did not yet know of the development plans that were afoot for our MidTown and Buckeye Learning Farm locations; however, these plans underscore that the time was ripe to take a step back and strategically plan the future of the Green Corps program and HF&G’s other community outreach efforts.
The new partnerships that we have outlined here will play an essential role in informing HF&G’s future action through our community outreach programs; they open up many new exciting opportunities that we are eager to explore. This is part of a larger effort at HF&G to advance mission-driven work in communities that surround both of our campuses, to connect people to plants and inspire action for healthy communities. Over the past year, we have been looking to strategically develop and strengthen relationships that advance community forestry, urban agriculture, horticulture, and environmental education in neighborhoods where you — our members — live and work. At the same time, these efforts will be an important part of expanding and diversifying our membership to serve even more of our local community. We believe this is an important way of adding value to the experiences of our visitors and members, and we look forward to sharing more details with you in future editions of Forests & Gardens magazine.
MEET THE STAFF
Sandra Albro, Director of Community Partnerships at Holden Forests & Gardens, works to connect local communities to the wonder, beauty, and value of trees and plants. Her areas of expertise are in collaborative urban greening and vacant land use as tools for community health and revitalization. She was project manager for “Vacant to Vibrant”, an urban greening initiative in three Great Lakes cities, and is author of the book, “Vacant to Vibrant: Creating Successful Green Infrastructure Networks” (Island Press, 2019).