Art & Kat Ledger
International Village & Village People Gardens
In 1966, Art Ledger graduated from Cleveland West High School and left for the Marine Corps. When he returned from service, he found his neighborhood run-down and neglected. He began cleaning off abandoned properties, hauling the tires and other debris that neighbors had been illegally dumping. "Somebody’s gotta do something with these empty lots," he told himself. "That was my biggest thing." Once a lot was cleared, Art would put in tomato plants and start tending them. He was doing this all himself, without help, and without permission. "I was guerrilla gardening," he laughs, "because I would just go and take the land and start working it." It wasn't until the third year into this green activism that someone actually questioned the legality of Art's new hobby. When a city councilman asked who gave him permission to do this, Art replied, “I gave myself. love my neighborhood; it’s up to me.”
It didn't take city council and others long to realize that Art and his wife, Kat, are exactly the citizen leaders that Cleveland needs. They quickly began linking the Ledgers' efforts to institutions like Ohio State Extension for training and support, and to local land banks for leasing and property transition. Today, their gardens speckle the meeting corners of Stockyards, Detroit-Shoreway, and Clark-Fulton neighborhoods. With garden beds, high tunnels, green spaces, a certified wildlife habitat, and even a taxidermy business, Art and Kat are bringing nature to urban life in unexpected ways. Their hummingbird sanctuary gives refuge to birds and pollinators, and also to neighbors looking for a place to sit and enjoy the sunset. The couple's presence in the area provides a healthy model for care and conservation. Though the community is noticeably transient, Art does see good growth sometimes. "It’s rewarding once in a while,” he says. "People are very funny. Some of them will learn things from you and never say a word, but you watch their actions and they're doing better. Instead of breaking bottles in the alley, they're painting a post and fence."