Community garden celebrates a decade of growth

by Melissa Martin

From dozens of varieties of tomatoes, lettuce and peppers, to melons, carrots, potatoes and herbs, the soil at Greene Acres Community Garden has produced almost every crop capable of growing under the Northeast Ohio sun.

But as anyone who has ever picked up a shovel behind the garden’s gates can attest, these beds have helped sow far more than produce since the 14,400-square-foot greenspace on Towpath Road was opened to the public a decade ago.

“In that time, this space has become a little community unto itself,” Erin Nowjack, president of Greene Acres Community Garden Inc., said. “Everyone walks around talking to the other gardeners. If they happen to see that someone else’s tomatoes look better than theirs, they aren’t shy. They ask what they may be doing differently. … Whether you’re a newbie or a longtime gardener, it’s a great place to ask for tips and to share information.”

The Greene Acres Community Garden came to fruition in 2013 as the result of a partnership between the city of Broadview Heights, the Chippewa Garden Club and Bob Greene, the now-deceased owner of Air Control Products.

According to Jo Ann Bartsch, vice-president of the Chippewa Garden Club and master gardener for Greene Acres, Greene approached the city about starting a community garden on land he owned just west of his business. He was referred to the Chippewa Garden Club, which happened to have two members attending a 10-week training program about community gardens offered through the Ohio State University extension program.

“Who knew the opportunity to actually do it was already knocking at the door?” said Bartsch, who participated in the training program with Lynne Evans.

Greene agreed to donate the land for the project, and the city agreed to provide the labor and construction materials to develop the site and consented to oversee the leasing of  4-foot-by-10-foot plots. Several citizens created bylaws and garden rules, developed a site plan and tested the soil.

Fewer than nine months later, nearly 60 gardeners were working the soil at the first 30 beds, Bartsch said.

The garden was granted nonprofit status in the fall of 2014 after the city was unable to finance operations long-term.

“The gardeners themselves now make decisions how the corporation is run both financially and horticulturally,” Bartsch said, noting that the city, the garden club and Air Control Products have members on the Green Acres board.

Bartsch said Chippewa Garden Club continues to contribute financially each year to maintenance and further development of the garden. In addition to hosting annual fundraisers to generate operating revenue, the club has constructed a utility shed and planted a pollinator garden that was certified as a Monarch way station.

The all-organic garden has continued to grow and now features 90 framed beds, two stand-up beds plus compost and picnic areas, she added.

“The plot-frame lumber has been replaced, as well as the front double-door entrance,” Bartsch said. “Next on the list is additional curb appeal landscaping, as well as the replacement of the fencing.”

Nowjack said plans for 2023 include replacing the front gate, which has sagged over the years. She also said stonework will be used to create a more inviting entrance.

“The goal is not to have it look like a showpiece, but we want to keep it looking nice and be a good neighbor to those around us,” she said.

For their efforts, Broadview Heights Mayor Sam Alai presented a proclamation to Green Acres Community Garden Inc. in March to commemorate its 10th anniversary.

In addition to recognizing the garden’s founders, the proclamation praised the efforts of the gardeners who donated more than 1,000 pounds of produce to local foodbanks in the last two growing seasons.

The proclamation also commends the group for including many educational efforts, establishing the Monarch Way Station and installing rain barrels, composting bins and standup plots for gardeners with limited mobility.

“Over the past 10 years, Greene Acres Community Garden Inc. has quietly established itself as a humble beacon of commitment to the earth and the community,” Alai said.

Nowjack, among the first gardeners to rent a plot, said she is proud of the progress Greene Acres has made.

“The garden beds have become more fertile with all the amendments that have been made to the soil over the years and our gardeners truly enjoy the space that’s been created,” she said, adding that those who rent beds appreciate the tall fences surrounding the garden to keep out deer and other critters.

Plots at Greene Acres are reserved for residents of Broadview Heights at a cost of $30 a year, Bartsch said. There is a waiting list for the 2023 season, she added, and encouraged interested gardeners to apply early to reserve a space for the 2024 season.

“Community gardening remains a wildly popular way to get our required dose of vitamin N – nature, not to mention our vegetables,” Bartsch said. ∞

Noreen Butano tills the garden soil in her plot back in 2013, the community
garden’s inaugural season. Years later, Butano smiles at the flowers that have
grown in the community garden after years of soil amendments. Photos submitted.
John and Deb Nixon painted the garden’s
utility shed. Photo submitted.

On our cover (Broadview Journal): Greene Acres benefactor Mike Green, of Air Control Products, (center) and his wife, Peggy (left), show off a proclamation from Broadview Heights Mayor Sam Alai celebrating the 10th anniversary of Greene Acres Community Garden. Holding the proclamation is Erin Nowjack, president of Greene Acres Community Garden Inc. Photo submitted.