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Cleveland Botanical Garden Plans to Temporarily Close 3 Green Corps Farms

The Cleveland Botanical Garden will cut back its urban agriculture Green Corps program for the 2020 season, with the hopes of it returning in 2021 in a re-imagined form.

Local high school students can usually spend the summer learning job skills at Green Corps farms in Cleveland’s Buckeye, Slavic Village, Midtown and Fairfax neighborhoods, but only one will likely remain open next summer.

Cleveland Botanical Garden President and CEO Jill Koski says Midtown Learning Farm will likely keep its youth program open.

The garden will spend the next several months talking with residents near the farms and figuring out what changes could be made to the program to support the neighborhoods, Koski says.

“To do this, we did know that we would have to think about not doing things exactly the same way next year as we have been," she says.

Usually, the program employs 50 students across its four farms. But next year, there will be 15 to 20 students employed at just one farm. Koski says she hopes they will be back to 50 students or more in 2021.

“We’re really interested in, how can we serve even more youth, how can we better serve the farm sites, so that the communities that the farms are in will serve more community members, not just youth," Koski says.

Last season, Cleveland Botanical Gardens taught military veterans to farm as part of a national program called Armed to Farm. Koski imagines continuing programs like that in 2021.

The botanical gardens renewed leases on all the gardens, so they will maintain the property even if they don’t replant in the off-season.

Green Corps was one of the first urban agriculture programs when it started in 1996, but now there are other similar programs both in Cleveland and around the country.

“I think there’s plenty of room in the space, and we’re really looking at what our peer farms, urban agriculture program in this area and across the country are doing,” Koski says. “Then we’re going to take a good, hard look over the next several months that then what is that area, that gap or niche that we can fill or expand upon or grow so that we’re all complementing each other’s work.”

The Green Corps budget was $500,000 last season. Next season, the base operating budget is smaller, at $300,000, but it received a six-figure anonymous gift to help re-imagine the program’s impact. Koski did not disclose the exact amount of the gift.

The three year-round employees of Green Corps will remain with the group through the year of changes, she says.

The decision to change the program wasn’t related to funding, says Dave Lowery, the garden’s vice president of marketing. He says the main objectives through the off-season is to expand the impact on youth and the neighborhoods that house the farms

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