Janae Hunter &
Gregory Durica Jr.
Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority
Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority provides low-income and public housing for its citizens. Gardens have always been a part of CMHA communities, says employee Greg Durica. For the past 7 years, the organization’s new president has encouraged CMHA to be a part of the urban agriculture movement in Cleveland. Today, there are 16 different gardens on CMHA properties. “Cleveland’s always been into urban ag, but there is more awareness now,” says Greg. Several of the gardens target children and youth in their community; others are for seniors. Six of the gardens are managed by the CMHA Green Team. This team is made up of resident-employees who skillfully create and sustain CMHA greenspaces. Gardeners and community leaders within the housing communities are now working to connect residents to each other, and to movers and shakers across greater Cleveland.
Janai Hunter, a Green Team employee, says that people naturally take interest in the gardens, and are always asking about it when they walk by. Many ask questions about the space, the food, and if they can help. Jenai, who has been on the team three years, enjoys the cycle of weeding, flipping the soil, and preparing for seeds. When asked what kind of tools she prefers, Jenai says that using her hands in the soil is her favorite. This is quite a change from her first season when a single bug really scared her in the strawberry patch. “We grow tomatoes, a lot of people in their community grow tomatoes, bell peppers, cabbage and have been trying watermelon and cantaloups, okra, corn,” she says. Her kids will eat straight out of the garden, where they say produce tastes very different from the supermarket, “... especially the strawberries!”
Greg says that the growth of this project takes time. Community and organizational buy-in is not instant. “(Growing) food isn’t going to look like manicured lawns,” he says referring to the grape vines that may not appear beautiful until someone tries its fruit. “I like any time we get kids trying new things… This young boy named George thought the raspberries were poisonous, but he tried one with a worker, Reggie, and couldn’t stop eating them,,, (he) even went and got his sister who started eating them too!” The practice of using berries and grapes as border trim for passersby reminds Greg of when he would sneak berries from his family’s backyard as a child.