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Community Gardens

Starting a Community Garden

A community garden may take many shapes and forms, but generally, it is a place where community members, neighbors and friends can grow food, flowers, and herbs. Gardens can be divided into plots that individuals and families can rent, or the garden can take the form of one large community plot that garden members tend together. There are numerous benefits to community gardens, including the ability to:

  • Grow fresh, nutritious food for community members and food banks
  • Create opportunities for community members to work together
  • Inspire intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
  • Provide a new learning and gathering space for adults and families
  • Connect to nature and cultivate environmental stewardship
  • Use vacant and underutlized spaces in a way that preserves green space
  • Enrich neighborhood vibrancy and sense of identity
  • Donate produce grown to food banks, homeless shelters and similar organizations

How can I contact other Community Gardens?

If you would like to join an existing community garden in the City of Shaker Heights, here is a list of gardens with contact information.

Where can I get help starting a Community Garden?

There are many resources available for those interested in starting a community garden, including OSU Extension (OSUE), workshops and classes, start-up guides, and existing community gardeners.


OSUE can help you:

  • Develop your garden's mission statement and goals
  • Develop the overall plan and budget for your community garden
  • Identify appropriate sites for your garden and develop a site design

To contact OSUE, call Amanda Block at 216-429-8200 x 250 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Workshops and Classes
The City strongly encourages you to participate in training classes and workshops provided by OSUE for community gardening. Access the OSUE events calendar. Access OSUE's Urban Agriculture Program information. Check out event listings from other organizations at:

Start-up Guides and Toolkits
Online start-up guides and toolkits, such as the University of Missouri Extension's Community Gardening Toolkit and the American Community Garden Association start-up guides and how-to manuals can provide you with very helpful community gardening information. The EPA also provides helpful information on urban agriculture.


Mentorship
View a list of community gardens in the City. OSUE master gardeners can also be an excellent source of mentorship for community garden groups. Through its master gardener program, OSUE provides intensive training in horticulture to interested gardeners, who then volunteer their time assisting with related programs and activities for Ohio residents. For more information, contact Greg Cada, OSUE's Master Gardener Coordinator, at 216-429-3148 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


Who should I contact at the City about starting a Community Garden?
Contact the Department of Neighborhood Revitalization at 216-491-1370.

When should I contact the City about starting a Community Garden?
As soon as you have an outline of what you want to do. The City is best positioned to provide you with assistance on City regulations and processes and connect you with relevant resources. Contact the City for information related to:

  • City-owned property, if you are interested in locating the garden on a City lot
  • City regulations, such as zoning laws
  • City procedures, such as the Board of Zoning Appeals/City Planning Commission application and review process

What questions do I need to think about when looking for a Community Garden site?

  • Who owns the property and will the property owner permit you to use it?
  • What impacts will the City's zoning laws have on activities at the site?
  • Is the site easily accessible to the population it will serve?
  • Does the site get adequate sun for a community garden?
  • How will you get adequate water to the site?
  • What are the soil's lead and other contaminant levels?
  • Is the soil suitable for gardening?

Investigate a number of potential sites from the outset to avoid disappointment. Your ideal site may be unavailable because of soil contamination or other reasons.

Should I have the site's soil tested?

A simple soil test is required for gardens because it provides critical information about contaminant levels, nutrient levels and recommendations for amending the soil. Contact OSUE for more information on soil testing. Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 216-429-8200 ext. 250.

You can order a soil test kit from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst (UMASS). Standard test kits cost approximately $9 each. Soil tests usually cannot be done during the winter months because the ground temperature is too low. UMASS provides valuable information about soil test results and recommendations related to lead levels in soil on its website.

How do I get water for my Community Garden?

You will want to ensure that you get enough water to meet the needs of the plants planned for the garden. Some of the common ways to access water for a community garden include:

Fire Hydrant Adapter
Although fire hydrants are located in the City of Shaker Heights, the City of Cleveland supplies water to the hydrants, and therefore, is responsible for unmetered hydrant permits. To get an unmetered permit to use water from a fire hydrant for your garden:
Contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at the Shaker Heights Fire Department at 216-491-1215 for an application

  1. Complete and return the application
  2. Pay a $100 fee ($25 permit fee plus $75 refundable deposit)
  3. Shaker Fire Department will inspect hydrant for adequate water pressure
  4. If hydrant clears inspection, Fire Department will issue a Shaker permit

Contact the Cleveland Division of Water, Permit and Sales Unit for a Cleveland permit and adapter. Permits and Sales Unit can be reached at 216-664-2444 ext. 5203.

  1. Pay for and obtain a Cleveland unmetered hydrant permit ($39 flat fee).Permits are issued at the Cleveland Public Utilities Building, 1201 Lakeside Avenue,
  2. from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM Monday through Friday.
  3. Pay for and obtain hydrant adapter ($50-70).
  4. Pay a flat rate ($75-300) upfront for the garden's water for the season.

Buy a hydrant wrench ($25-60) from a tool supply store to use for installing adapter and controlling water. When finished using hydrant for the season, contact the Shaker Heights Fire Department to inspect the hydrant for damage. If the hydrant passes inspection, the Fire Department will refund your $75 deposit. Repeat process each year.

Spigot
Although spigots have a relatively high upfront cost, it makes water access easy and convenient for the life of the community garden. Use of a spigot on City-owned lots will be discussed on a case-by-case basis with applicants for City owned properties. To set up an account for a metered spigot on privately-owned lots:


Complete the Cleveland Division of Water's domestic application and letter of intent, and submit, along with a plot plan showing the location of the connection and the vault being used, to the Permit and Sales Unit, which can be reached at 216-664-2444 ext. 5203.

Permits and Sales will charge for the meter to be installed (around $3,400 for 2 spigots) and schedule installation of meter, back flow valve, and spigot(s).

Cleveland will inspect the back flow after installation.

Shaker Heights, through a private company, will inspect the back flow annually ($80/year).

Rain Collection
Rain barrels collect and store rainwater, typically from a garage or house roof, that would otherwise be lost to runoff and diverted into storm drains. If your site does not have a building or garage, consider whether neighboring homeowners would allow you to install and use rain barrels at their homes or garages. The City encourages rain barrels be located at the rear and side of homes and be screened from the street view by landscaping.

A rain barrel is usually constructed out of a 55 gallon drum and connected to a gutter downspout. In the City, rain barrels are permitted as long as drains and/or overflows from the barrel do not flow back toward the building or create a nuisance condition. Typically, this issue is addressed by using a diverter, which does not permanently disconnect the downspout for a rain barrel. The diverter allows water to collect in the rain barrel until it is full, and then allows the overflow water to run down through your downspout as it was originally designed.


What types of zoning Regulations do I need to consider?
Zoning ordinance sections related to fences, setbacks, signs, and structures are the sections most likely to apply to a community garden. For guidance related to these and any other applicable zoning regulations, contact Dan Feinstein at the Planning Department at 216-491-1435.

  • Fences (Sec. 1262.05) – Fences require a fence permit, obtained through an application process. For guidance, see the Zoning Fence information sheet and the Building Department's Guide, How to Obtain a Permit.
  • Setbacks (Sec. 1220.07) – The zoning ordinance sets forth minimum front yard setbacks when appropriate.
  • Signs (Chapter 1250) – Gardens may erect signs 1 square foot or less in size without City review or approval. For signs greater than 1 square foot, a zoning variance, and in some cases a building permit, is required.
  • Storage structures (Sec. 1262.16) – Storage structures up to 10 feet in height located in the rear area of a property are generally allowed at gardens. Storage structures are subject to design review by the Architectural Board of Review (ABR).
  • Accessory ornamental structures and small greenhouses (Sec. 1262.10) – Structures, such as gazebos or small greenhouses, up to 15 feet in height and located in the rear area of a property may be allowed as part of a garden. Ornamental structures are subject to design review by ABR and in some case require a Building permit.

What else should I consider?

The following are some additional considerations for those interested in starting a community garden:

  • Compost piles – Compost piles are allowed with a permit from the Department of Public Works. The permit describes how to construct a compost pile and where to locate it. Once the compost pile is constructed, Public Works will inspect the compost pile to ensure it complies with the permit. There is no charge for the permit. Call 216-491-1490 for more information.
  • Trash and leaf pick-up – Community gardens may place bags of grass clippings and piles of leaves and brush on their tree lawn for regular City leaf pick-up. Trash pick-up is not available for community gardens on City-owned property.
  • Liability and insurance – Because community gardens involve the common use of property by many different individuals, it is a good idea to consider obtaining liability insurance. Liability insurance can provide the gardeners and/or property owner with legal protection in the event that a gardener or visitor is injured on the site. You may be able to obtain insurance at a lower cost by asking a larger organization that already has liability coverage to sponsor the garden.
  • Food donation – Community gardens can help food banks, shelters and related organizations by donating some of their bounty. For example, the Cleveland Foodbank takes food donations and distributes them to more than 450 hunger centers though Northeast Ohio. These organizations generally welcome produce donations, but check before you donate to find out hours of operation and their donation procedures.

What are the steps for starting a Community Garden on City-owned property?

  • Get a good site – Call 216-491-1370 for information about available and suitable City-owned vacant lots.
  • Get a plan - Gather the information needed to complete the Board of Zoning Appeals/City
  1. Planning Commission (BZA/CPC) application and
  2. Create a written description of how the garden will operate including participants and the leadership structure
  3. Create a site layout drawing (hand-drawn with dimensions)
  4. Determine how you will fund the garden
  5. Determine how you will get adequate water for the garden
  6. Create a timeline for starting the community garden
  7. Contact neighbors adjacent to and across the street from the site and share your plans with them

For questions or additional information related to zoning or CPC, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 216-491-1435.

  • Get NRC approval – Call 216-491-1370 to apply to the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee (NRC) for approval to use the City's site for your community garden.
  • Get BZA/CPC approval – BZA/CPC will consider your request after you have received NRC approval. You must submit a BZA/CPC application and your garden and site plan as outlined above and present your request at a BZA/CPC meeting. The BZA/CPC application fee is waived for City-owned lots. (Call 216-491-1435 to apply to BZA/CPC)
  • Get City Council approval – City Council will consider your request to use the site for a community garden after you have received BZA/CPC approval. City Council must also approve the license agreement you will enter into with the City for use of the site. The licensing agreement will set the terms and conditions for use of the property. View a sample licensing agreement.
  • Get growing!

What are the steps for starting a Community Garden on privately owned property?

  • Get a good site
  • Get permission - The County Auditor's website can help you identify the property owner, who must give you permission to use the site as a community garden. Permission can take the form of either a lease agreement between the property owner and the community garden group or a letter from the property owner giving permission to the group to use the property for a community garden for at least 1 year.
  • Get the soil tested
  • Get a plan
  • Create a written description of how the garden will operate including participants and the leadership structure
  • Create a site layout drawing (hand-drawn with dimensions)
  • Determine how you will fund the garden
  • Determine how you will get adequate water for the garden site
  • Create a timeline for starting the community garden
  • Contact neighbors adjacent to and across the street from the site and share your plans with them
  • For zoning questions or to find out if your plans require BZA/CPC approval, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. at 216-491-1435.

Get BZA/CPC approval if required – Call 216-491-1435 to apply to BZA/CPC, which requires you to submit the BZA/CPC application and your garden and site plan as outlined above, pay the application fee, and present your request at a BZA/CPC meeting.
Get growing!

What costs are associated with starting a Community Garden?

The costs will vary depending on the size of the site, materials and plants used, type of water access, and site plans. Contact OSU at 216-429-8200 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if you need help creating a budget. Consider what costs your garden might incur for:

  • Land rental
  • Liability insurance
  • Training
  • Printing and postage
  • Publications, educational materials
  • Soil testing
  • Soil and soil amendments (e.g. soil, compost, fertilizers)
  • Plants/seeds
  • Water (i.e. access, services)
  • Tools and equipment (e.g. shovels, wheelbarrow, rakes)
  • Storage (e.g. sheds, lockboxes, off site storage for large equipment)
  • Hardscaping (e.g. fencing, benches, raised beds, signs)

What funding opportunities are available for Community Gardens?
Funding for community gardens can come in many forms, such as grants, private donations and local business sponsorship. Local greenhouses or nurseries may provide special discounts and/or free tools, seeds or plants. Visit the American Community Gardening Association, which lists current funding opportunities (updated on a monthly basis).

How long will it take to get a Community Garden up and running?

Timing depends on how long it takes to get your group organized and any unique challenges or opportunities posed by your site and plans. If you are using a City owned lot, you should start the process at least 5 months in advance of wanting to plant because you will need to get on the agenda of several different City committees.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

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