There is one thing no gardener wants to hear: “Don’t plant this spring.” But that’s the word Angela Stanbery-Ebner received in February while plotting out the year’s crops at her garden in urban Cincinnati. No tomatoes this year, no chard, no selling at the farmers market, no community-supported agriculture operation run by neighborhood youth for low-income families.
Stanbery-Ebner’s garden, known as the Eco Garden, isn’t your standard backyard fare. It’s an agricultural oasis in a Cincinnati neighborhood better known for its crime than its heirloom carrots. Unfortunately for the Eco Garden, it doesn’t own the land on which it sits, the city does. This year, as part of its initiative to encourage urban development -- known as CitiRama -- the city started eyeing it for housing.
When the gardeners got the news, “we were basically devastated,” Stanbery-Ebner says. Out went the emails, an online petition, and calls to the city council in an effort to save one of the most vibrant corners of a rough-around-the-edges neighborhood.
The Eco Garden had been operating since 1998 in a neighborhood called Over the Rhine -- the Rhine being a nickname for the canal separating the neighborhood from downtown Cincinnati. The area is home to historic buildings, a farmers market, breweries, and in 2006 boasted the highest crime rate in the city, according to city council documents. In the garden, local kids learned to grow food, manage a community-supported agriculture operation, and handle customer accounts.
Angela Stanbery-Ebner and her husband Luke got involved the educational programs in 2004, fresh out of art school at the University of Cincinnati. Six years later, when the nonprofit managing the garden folded, the couple took over, rolling it into their own nonprofit called Permaganic in a nearly seamless transition. “We were basically able to shut down operations for the month of August, then some of the kids came right back to the program again,” Stanbery-Ebner says triumphantly.