The Greening of CLE

It’s good to be growing a garden in the city.

Just yesterday, I stopped by the Ben Franklin Community Garden to water our tiny plot, and I didn’t recognize it! Our plants have grown so much in the past few days, they are taller than they’ve ever been.

It’s a great feeling to connect with people in the neighborhood. Say what you will about Cleveland, but this greening effect is starting to wear on me (in a good way).

There are dozens of gardens and farmers’ markets around, so I have made it my mission to visit many of the 22 farmer’s markets within a 20-mile radius of where I live.

Yes, 22!

Two weekends ago, I decided to head over to the Gordon Square Farmers’ Market to see what the folks were cooking up over on West Clinton Avenue. It was a great day to hear some live music and enjoy a breakfast of homemade cookies from Wooden Knight Farms. I also picked up a two-inch Guatemalan worry doll (now under my pillow, thanks to the teens running the fair trade booth) and a $5 pair of earrings I would have paid $20 for.

I made some great connections there, then headed east to see what was happening at the Ohio City Farm. Hard to believe this little gem is tucked away just behind the West Side Market. If you haven’t seen it, be sure to check it out — close to 6 acres of farmland hidden over there on West 24th. It is truly a public/private partnership in every sense of the word.

I guess I am just amazed at how people create a spark, and till all this rejected and abandoned soil then transform it into the most formidable social enterprise I’d ever seen. Remember, I knew nothing about gardening six weeks ago. Six weeks! And now, I am blown away at the seemingly endless possibilities.

More Than Just a Garden?

See, I not only have a garden, I have this idea I’m trying to figure out.

Back in May, I was walking along the beach when I discovered mounds and mounds of zebra mussel shells. It was something I had never seen before, and as I continued walking, it took me back to a conversation I had way back in February.

During a surprise visit to Tarpon Springs, Florida, I met up with an old Akron friend, Tom Keith. Through some trial and error, Tom had discovered the benefits of seaweed that had washed along the shore of a Pinellas County beach. So he started harvesting and experimenting with a composting mix and talking to people at farmer’s markets.

He experimented with different soil mixes and wood fillers. He made space along the edge of his yard and cobbled together some old lawnmower parts and metal piping for grinding. He created some makeshift shelving, played around with some assorted bagging materials, and established a FIFO method that made sense. But best of all, he created a composting recipe and a business model that he has now taken to a local community center.

Cut to the chase when I tried a bag of his “Organics Best” at my own community garden plot right here in Cleveland. We experimented on six of our tomato plants and instantly noticed a difference. (Of all the plants right now, Tom’s mix is yielding the tallest plants!)

Since that discovery, I have been on a mission to use my connection with Tom for my own experimental project that involves all those mounds of zebra mussel shells. In Tom’s quest to clean up a beach and re-purpose organic seaweed, might there be some potential for doing a similar project on my own? I have begun my process of reaching out while I work on my other projects.

Something tells me my connection to Tom, a little bit of seaweed and a pile of zebra mussel shells may lead me down a path that I never anticipated until today.

I’ll keep you posted.