Cleveland, Ohio — Way back in 1904, a 5-acre community gardening program was built in Cleveland Ohio’s Old Brooklyn neighborhood. In 1922, the neighboring Ben Franklin Elementary School began to offer elementary-age students an education in growing food as well as the science involved in gardening. Unfortunately, in 1977 the school program was canceled. It was not revived until the 1990s when Ohio State University’s Extension agency, through their Master Gardener Program, resurrected the garden and renovated the old garden classroom. Over time, the Master Gardeners created and refined a complete 4th grade gardening curriculum.
Geoffrey Black and Pat Mraz are among several Master Gardeners who devote their time to Ben Franklin Elementary’s school garden. They applied for a Gardening Know How sponsorship to renovate and upgrade the school’s garden beds. In a garden that’s been around this long, there is always a need for upgrades.
Oh, To Be in the 4th Grade Again…
Starting in spring each year, the school’s 4th graders, weather permitting, do hands-on planting of seedlings, cleaning up the garden beds and weeding every Thursday. On days when the weather prevents the kids from being outdoors, they still go to the gardening classroom where they learn subjects like soil health and pollination, looking through microscopes and assisted by Master Gardener volunteers. The students stay busy in the classroom working on their garden lessons and projects. During one winter session on grains, the students baked their own bread.
The gardens’ pathways are intentionally wide to allow safe access for everyone, particularly the children. The rhythm of the school garden is such that the new 4th graders plant the garden in the spring, and the upcoming 4th graders who start in the fall get the pleasure of doing the harvesting. This way the garden experience is complete as the children move through the 4th grade.
Who doesn’t love a potato digging contest? Some of the veggies go home with the kids – the kids favor sweet potatoes, as well as the white ones. This is a substantial garden for an elementary school. They grow carrots, peas, lettuces, pumpkins, rhubarb, celery, collard greens, spinach and other leafy greens, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions. Geoffrey says a majority of the school garden’s produce goes to a local food bank and some is donated to churches that have food distribution programs.
One of Cuyahoga County’s Master Gardeners is a beekeeper. The students get to see working beehives on the premises. They receive at least two lessons on pollinators, as well as a powerpoint presentation and a pollination rock song, which Geoffrey loves.
This beautiful educational garden is funded at its foundation by a strong Master Gardener program which supports its own various committees that manage certain aspects of the larger community garden, as well as the Ben Franklin school garden.
The Master Gardeners in Cuyahoga County generate major fundraising activities. Their annual “Plants in the Park” event raises sufficient money to provide a budget for a number of the gardening program’s various committees. The gardens also receive occasional donations of soil, mulch and compost and benefit from various seed company grants, corporate grants and Cleveland’s community foundations.
Geoffrey Black and Pat Mraz are just two of several Master Gardeners who work tirelessly to help maintain and coordinate this school garden and to keep this long-standing community gardening tradition alive. This model of how the local university can help sustain community gardening is inspiring, and we hope it will encourage those interested in community gardening to investigate the possibilities of their local extension agency’s Master Gardener program. Thank you, and well done, Geoffrey and Pat!
Every year, Gardening Know How awards $1,000 to 20 different, hand-picked garden projects across the United States and Canada. If your community or school garden has a growing, unmet need for more soil, seeds, fertilizers, building materials, or even just help getting the word out about your program, we’re ready and willing to help you meet those needs. As community gardens and school gardening programs spring up all over, we’re happy to do our part to help. Learn more about our grant program here.
Interested in learning more about school or community gardens? Visit our Community Gardening for Everyone page today.