As part of Earth Day Coalition's Instrumental Evening for the Earth fundraiser theme 'Harvest for Sustainable Neighborhoods' I have been helping them out by planning features spotlighting their work in different neighborhoods. The first article, below, is about Mt. Pleasant's NatureHood lot and especially how the creators of the east side lot were inspired by lot on the west side (W48th in the Stockyards).
To view the article on the Earth Day Coalition website click here here. To learn more about NatureHood click here. Additional information on the Instrumental Evening for the Earth fundraiser is here. For now, you can check out the e-blast here.
Harvest for Sustainable Neighborhoods:
Cynthia Weatherspoon is beaming with pride, pointing casually to the morning lilies in her own garden and then at her roses and explaining how she keeps them from getting tangled together. You would never know the East 134th Street Club President just spent the last four hours working on a project she has planned for over a year or that those four hours brought together volunteers from both sides of the city to carry out her vision. Instead, Weatherspoon beams with the pride of a gardener – that simple philosophy, as she states so naturally, “I just love to watch things grow.”
As an organization that is community based, Earth Day Coalition’s annual Instrumental Evening for the Earth’s theme this year is “Harvest for Sustainable Neighborhood.” In anticipation of the fundraiser, being held on November 10 at 6 p.m. at the Westshore Universal Unitarian Church in Rocky River, a few of the Greater Cleveland neighborhoods that Earth Day Coalition has direct programmatic impact on will be highlighted. The work of Earth Day Coalition’s NatureHood program on the East 134th Street lot in Mount Pleasant in one such success story.
Cynthia Weatherspoon’s modest idea to renovate the land at the site of a demolished home on her street by joining forces with Earth Day Coalition’s NatureHood program is a story of turning one woman’s dreams into a reality for the entire community. Although civic interest in creating green spaces out of urban vacancies may be one of the most positive environmental trends in recent years, the extent of positive impact from these initiatives often goes untold to the public.
Weatherspoon turned to NatureHood to combat the devastating toll the economy and housing market had taken on several homes in her neighborhood, an all too familiar crisis felt throughout Cleveland. According to the US Census, over the last decade more than 8,000 homes within the city have been demolished, leaving clusters of unmanaged vacant lots that can lead to an 18% reduction in property value.
NatureHood was founded to assist Cleveland residents, such as Weatherspoon, struggling to develop solutions within their neighborhood. Their mission to educate the city about the benefits of green spaces and encourage leadership and action for creating a healthier environment within communities has led to cultivating lots covering over 32,000 square feet on both sides of town.
The innovative lasagna gardening technique practiced by NatureHood teaches a new gardening ethic – rather than traditional landscaping, the technique is low cost, uses no pesticides, and has an easier upkeep, making lot ownership practical for residents in urban areas such as Mount Pleasant who may not be experienced with gardening. Not only do these lots easily promote sustainability within neighborhoods, cleaning and greening vacant lots can increase adjacent property values as much as 30%. With these benefits in mind for Mount Pleasant, Weatherspoon and NatureHood teamed up and the inspiration for a new garden that is now at East 134th was developed.
Four hours earlier at the now blossoming East 134th NatureHood lot the talk between weeding and watering was about a storm that hit Cleveland overnight – particularly by many of the volunteers who live on the west side near Ohio City. In a city where the east and west divide is so often emphasized, behind the casual weather banter was the underlying influence of the west on the Mount Pleasant lot. “The first lasagna beds we saw were actually on the west side,” recounts Mt. Pleasant Community Outreach Coordinator Mary Parker Landers. “We took four cars and drove over to the West 48th St. lot [in Stockyards] and worked on that bed. And we fostered relationships with people on the west side.”
It was Mary Parker Landers who set Weatherspoon’s vision for the vacant lot into motion. By extensive grant writing and connecting with NatureHood, ground was first broke on the East 134th lot in October of 2010. “The NatureHood program is wonderful,” Landers says of their aide in Mt. Pleasant’s garden, “Until we met Chris [Trepal, Naturehood coordinator] and were told about NatureHood we didn’t know anything about lasagna beds. Chris and Josh [NatureHood intern] have trained us, supported us, showed us how to do the work, and have just been there for us during the course of the work.”
This August afternoon, when Chris Trepal of the NatureHood program, Weatherspoon, and Landers came together to work on the East 134th lot they were joined by over a dozen volunteers, including many working with NatureHood for their first time. “You come in and you see the change you made and you just think ‘I did that, I helped make things better,’” recalls Jennifer Gusik, a Lakewood resident, on her first time volunteering. An avid gardener herself, she says supportively, “When you see people who care about their own neighborhood you want to do what you can for them. You give them a couple hours of your effort and it makes them so happy. It’s a great thing for them.”
With the overwhelming support of the community and volunteers, Mary Parker Landers is hopeful for the future of community gardens in Mount Pleasant. She has already written a grant to secure another lot to begin planting in October. “It’s going to be big. As big as that house to that house,” pointing from one home to another, using the street she knows so well as her own personal urban ruler. “The front part of the garden is going to be lasagna beds, solar lamps and benches. For the back half, I wrote a grant for the seniors in the high rise next door to grow their own vegetables.”
How one community garden on the west side in Tremont could spur a future thriving sustainability movement on the east side in Mount Pleasant is a true embodiment of the Cleveland spirit. While the East 134th lot represents Earth Day Coalition’s work with Mount Pleasant in the upcoming Harvest for Sustainable Neighborhoods fundraiser, the true roots and growth of the project transcend both sides of the lake. It is a story of the east side women who traveled to the west side of Cleveland to learn the gardening techniques of NatureHood. And a story of the west side volunteers who traveled to the east side and helped the aspirations of those women come true. While the flourishing concept of green spaces remains a triumph for sustainable metropolitan living, ultimately, one cannot forget about these often untold stories that are passed down only in the garden: those of the visionaries being brought together and the lasting impact of communities being bridged throughout the city.