Jun. 13—Hidden almost too well — often in plain sight — throughout Toledo are several urban farms and gardens.
Ten of these farms came together Friday evening and Saturday as part of the "Metro Beet" urban garden tour, a self-guided collection of open houses where the public was invited to explore these sites and learn about each one's impact in their respective communities.
Amy Stone, an Ohio State University Extension educator who promotes agricultural programming in Lucas County, wrote in The Blade that one goal of Metro Beet is to encourage "the production and consumption of locally grown food." In a state whose economy rests so heavily on agriculture, Metro Beet managed to showcase the variety of green spaces in areas not always designed to produce up to 800 pounds of fresh produce a year.
Along Broadway in Toledo's Old South End, the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center tends to a vast swath of greenery where Jones Junior High School once stood. In an agreement with the city and the former school, the center named for the first Latinx Toledoan to hold public office inherited a space that now feeds the emotional, physical, and nutritional needs of community members, said Joe Balderas, the garden's manager.
"All the food goes to those in need," Mr. Balderas said. "Anyone in the neighborhood and others who are in need come from word of mouth. We give away 99 percent of it and we don't sell anything."
Mr. Balderas donned what he called a "hippie hat," whose scraps of burlap were as colorful as his wildflowers, and guided retired Navy Capt. Jed Hazel of Perrysburg around the site Saturday morning. He pointed to piles of what looked to the untrained eye like scrap wood and indicated their function in housing insects that are valuable to the garden complex's health.
Mr. Balderas has a plan to attract other kinds of bugs as well — he said as much when he pointed to his now 2-year-old milkweed bush. Mr. Hazel, a master gardener who was impressed with the milkweed, noted that milkweed-loving Monarch butterflies would be due sooner rather than later.
Before the iconic black-and-orange butterflies land on Broadway, mason bees — a non-stinging and non-honey producing species — pollinate the wildflowers and the black currant bushes from their individual cubbies in the bee house.
"They're very independent, for bees," Mr. Balderas quipped.
On the opposite end of town, Holland's Fangboner Farms welcomed 15 guests during its Metro Beet open house, according to co-proprietor Elizabeth Richardson.
Elizabeth's father Roland said that among the farm's missions on display this weekend is helping growers and gardeners create fresh produce.
Fangboner Farms plans to launch a program next year in which community members can rent plots of land for growing whatever they please. The farm will take care of watering the plants while the renters will have to do the weeding. Mr. Richardson estimates that a 20-by-60-foot plot will rent for the growing season at between $50 and $75.
As for the farm's unique name, there's a story there, too.
"When [my family and I] would go to Cedar Point back in the day, when we got to Fremont there's an overpass [over the Ohio Turnpike] called Fangboner Road, so we thought that would be a cool, unusual name for a farm. We decided to go for it," Mr. Richardson said.
Fangboner Farms, founded in 2009, is one example of what Toledo GROWs executive director Yvonne Dubielak said is a growing phenomenon.
Firstly, Ms. Dubielak said that urban agriculture is not what most people think it is.
"People picture smelly compost piles," Ms. Dubielak said. "People are farming on formerly vacant city lots. Part of the idea of Metro Beet is to help people understand that you can grow in an urban area and it's not tractors, it could be chickens, but it's a nice space for people to provide food for themselves — especially in food deserts and food apartheid areas."
Toledoans will have two more opportunities this summer to tour the Glass City's urban gardens, during the weekends of July 9-10 and Aug. 13-14.
Metro Beet is a collaborative effort between the 577 Foundation, Toledo GROWs, OSU extension, CSU extension, and Moe Urban Farm.
First Published June 12, 2021, 5:07pm