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A History of Urban Gardening in Cleveland

Urban gardening has become pretty trendy in Rust Belt cities and elsewhere as of late and like many trends, it turns out we’re only coming full circle.

As The Cleveland Memory Project demonstrates, there’s a long tradition of urban agriculture in the city.

Some of earliest traditions can be traced back to The Depression.

Men work in a relief garden in 1932.

Men work in a relief garden in 1932.

Relief gardens were begun to help feel hungry families during the nation’s darkest economic times. Urban gardens were supported by all levels of government and society as a way for the unemployed to provide for their families.

In 1933, Cleveland’s mayor inspected gardens kept by the unemployed and police stood watch over them at night.

That civic spirit carried over to World War II.

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Here, schoolchildren tend a victory garden in downtown in 1943.

Growers sell surplus produce at the Cedar Housing Project in 1943.

Growers sell surplus produce at the Cedar Housing Project in 1943.

Kindergartners tend a victory garden at Ben Franklin school in 1942.

Kindergartners tend a victory garden at Ben Franklin school in 1942.

During this time, raising chickens in the city was considered a patriotic thing to do. Ironically, Cleveland City Council recently passed legislation once again permitting residents to raise chickens in their back yards.

Beginning in the 1990s, city residents once again picked up spades and shovels in the name of urban renewal.

Community Gardening leader and OSU Master Gardener Lloyd Evans, leads a garden tour at Rockefeller Community Garden.  The garden grew food for the Cleveland Food Bank.

Community Gardening leader and OSU Master Gardener Lloyd Evans, leads a garden tour at Rockefeller Community Garden. The garden grew food for the Cleveland Food Bank.

Among the more modern community gardens sites is Ben Frankin School, as shown above.

Chatham Avenue Community Garden, Summer Sprout Gardening Program, located at Chatham Avenue and West 30th Street.

Chatham Avenue Community Garden, Summer Sprout Gardening Program, located at Chatham Avenue and West 30th Street.

Union- East 128th Street Community Gardeners, Monroe Cuff, James Jordan and Anthony Mitchell admire a blue hubbard squash.

Union- East 128th Street Community Gardeners, Monroe Cuff, James Jordan and Anthony Mitchell admire a blue hubbard squash.

This week, Neighborhood Progress Inc announced it would be issuing grants to city residents who had creative ideas to return city land to productive use.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State University and Greenhouse Tavern are bringing rooftop gardens to downtown.

Let’s hope this trend is here to stay.

All photos are property of the Cleveland Memory Project, used with the generous permission of Bill Barrow, special collections librarian at Cleveland State University.

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