Urban gardening taking root in Cincinnati

Downtrodden lots are quickly being transformed into urban gardens all throughout the Queen City.  What was once an individual motivation has grown into something much more as support is now coming from City Hall, local businesses, the University of Cincinnati and beyond.

One of the earliest adopters was University of Cincinnati Urban Planning student, Brendan Weaver, who started his own urban gardening project on formally abandoned lots in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.  Weaver’s organic garden was part of a larger research project he was conducting called ‘Creating Sustainable Living Option from Urban Voids,’ and was an attempt to implement a large-scale plan with small-scale actions.

The first of the formalized efforts came recently from City Hall where city leaders were looking for a way to implement one of the ideas that came from Cincinnati’s Climate Protection Action Plan that lays out strategies towards reducing the region’s carbon footprint.
The City decided to study various city-owned parcels to determine the feasibility of using them as community gardens.  The result was the identification of 15 parcels in 11 different neighborhoods that could be used for local food production and the creation of the City's Urban Gardening Project.

The largest of those city-owned parcels is 1.24 acres and was awarded to the University of Cincinnati.  The Westwood property will be used to grow produce that will then be brought to UC’s campus and sold to students.

Students took advantage of the April 25th Great American Cleanup activities to rid the 1.24 acre site of the brush and debris that once littered the parcel.  Students will maintain the site and earn either volunteer hours or potentially course credit, and The National Science Foundation plans to hire two co-op students to help with cultivating the land.

The ‘eat local’ food movement does not stop there though as one of the area’s largest restaurant groups is starting their own urban gardening project to help offset some of their food demand with locally grown products.

The previously abandoned lot near Walnut Street in between Liberty and 14th streets in Over-the-Rhine will soon be used for growing carrots, lettuce, squash, cucumbers, haricots verts and even melons.  This food will then be used for all of the restaurants that make up the Relish Restaurant Group like local favorites Lavomatic, Greenup Café, Twist, JeanRo Bistro and Chalk Food + Wine.  The idea is that the chefs at each of the nearby restaurants could come and stroll through the garden selecting what they would like to use for their dinner specials.

The Relish Restaurant Group is part of a larger “field-to-plate” movement that includes local establishments like Wildflower Café in Mason, Orchids in Downtown, Slims and Melt in Northside, Through the Garden in Blue Ash and Murphin Ridge Inn in Adams County.

While some of these gardens already exist, many will be sprouting for the first time, throughout the city, this growing season and offer a locally grown food option for the urbanites living and working in Cincinnati.  The new gardens will not only rid the city of dozens of previously abandoned lots, but will also reduce the region’s carbon footprint and improve the quality and availability of local produce.

Writer: Randy Simes
Source: Justin Dean, Chief Operating Office, The Relish Restaurant Group; City of Cincinnati; University of Cincinnati
Photography by Scott Beseler