Establishing an orchard brings fresh produce access to a Cleveland neighborhood.
A project of the Brooklyn Centre Community Association, the Brooklyn Centre Community Orchard overlooks the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo and covers over half an acre (22,300 sq. ft.).
While other agricultural projects in Cleveland occupy city-owned parcels, this expanse of land is leased from Norfolk Southern Railway. Over 15 years ago, Norfolk Southern purchased this land and razed five homes on the site in an attempt to protect railroad tracks below. After stabilizing the hillside, Norfolk subsequently abandoned the parcels, leaving the grass to be maintained by the City and the overall condition to fall into disrepair. Area residents have noted excessive garbage dumping, drug use and other criminal activity. In 2009, the Brooklyn Centre Community Organization was able to negotiate a lease with the railway; Norfolk Southern is now exploring how they can transition more of their property to community use. Returning these parcels to productive use not only beautifies a forgotten corner of the neighborhood but also brings residents together around growing healthy food.
"This project is intended not only to bring fresh, healthy fruit into our neighborhood, but to reconnect people with the source of their food," notes orchard organizer Johanna Hamm. "By reclaiming lost lands and traditions, we ultimately envision residents establishing a stronger physical and spiritual bond with their natural environment."
Brooklyn Centre, like other inner-ring urban neighborhoods, is labeled a "food desert," a geographical area with poor access to healthy, affordable food. In an effort to fight this phenomenon, the Orchard seeks to become an inexpensive and replicable model for augmenting food systems on a local level.
The Brooklyn Centre Community Orchard will be run by volunteers on an honor system. Planted species include apple, cherry and peach trees along with blackberries, raspberries, strawberries and currants. This project was made possible by grants from ReImagining Cleveland (reimaginingcleveland.org) and Neighborhood Connections (www.neighborhoodgrants.org), among other donors.
Erika E. Meschkat, ReImagining Cleveland