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Over-the-Rhine Urban Garden Project Grows Thanks to UC Planning Student

A greenhouse and garden are growing in Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine thanks to UC planning student Brendan Weaver.

Date: 8/6/2007
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Dottie Stover
UC ingot As an urban planning student at the University of Cincinnati, Brendan Weaver, 25, of Clifton, studies all the issues that affect cities: Transportation, development, jobs, schools, taxes, growth and more.
Brendan Weaver and his greenhouse
Brendan Weaver works on his Over-the-Rhine greenhouse, using windows formerly in UC's Old Chemistry building to form the glass walls of the greenhouse.

In Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, he’s gone well beyond just studying growth to literally implementing it. On one tract measuring 16 by 90 feet that he now owns, Brendan is building a greenhouse. On another nearby tract, he is already growing a garden of vegetables and flowers.

The seeds of this project were actually planted years ago before Brendan entered UC’s top-ranked School of Planning, part of the internationally recognized College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. He explained, “I was born in New Orleans before my family moved back to Cincinnati, and I became a third-generation UC student. But before I entered college, I took a few years off to work and explore what I might want to do. That’s when I discovered Over-the-Rhine and its great buildings.”

Brendan said he made a habit of wandering the neighborhood at all hours in order to talk with residents, study buildings and examine urban issues first hand. He returned to the neighborhood after he began to study urban planning at UC.

“After I began studying planning, I didn’t want to wait to make a difference in the community. I asked myself, ‘What can I do right now besides walking around and studying?’ I’m not satisfied with research and established ideas,” Brendan admitted.

Brendan Weaver
Brendan holds up a small turnip from his garden.

And so, this past June, he bought the parcel located at 286 Mohawk St. in Over-the-Rhine for his greenhouse, which he is constructing out of found and recycled wood, windows and other items. He began the urban garden on a nearby lot this spring – though that project was almost uprooted before it began.

“I came upon the garden lot after my aunt gave me a weed whacker, and I’d sometimes walk around cutting down weeds in lots. I would just do it because I consider this my neighborhood. Well, in one lot, I also began planting the garden,” stated Brendan.

One day, the owner of that lot drove by when Brendan happened to be at work. “At first, she told me I had to remove the garden, but I then made a deal. If I could keep the garden, I’d also make sure the rest of the lot was weed whacked,” he recalled.

Gladiolas in Brendan's Over-the-Rhine garden.

And so, work on that garden has been proceeding since early summer. Brendan is up by 5 a.m. every day to water the garden as needed (with collected rainwater of course).

And he’s gotten a little help on both the garden and the greenhouse project from fellow UC students. Other students helped to build his garden beds of rich compost collected from years’ worth of soil and decayed leaves from neighborhood alleys. Fellow students are also helping him to build the greenhouse.

In the all-organic garden, Brendan is now growing an extensive array of produce and other plants, including beets, butternut squash, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, honeydews, mustard greens, onions, peppers, pumpkins, radishes, spinach, tomatoes and zucchini along with basil, cilantro, morning glories, sunflowers.

Brendan Weaver
This 19th-century alley in Over-the-Rhine was completely hidden by dirt, leaves and debris before Brendan began his garden. Brandan and other UC students cleared the alley and used the years' worth of accumulated leaves and soil for compost.

What does Brendan do with his produce? “I eat it, or I give it away.” For a while that was easy since a local family with children lived right up the street. “They would come running to help me every time they saw me working in the garden,” recalled Brendan, “But then they moved.”

When the green house is complete and operational by next year, Brendan figures it will extend his growing season by about four months all told, meaning he’ll have a lot more to give away…and a lot more to do. “But it really is my fun. I haven’t watched TV – and haven’t needed to – for three years,” he said.

And once the greenhouse is done, Brendan has a new goal. He’d like to build a house on his Mohawk lot – that is, build it himself. “I’d have to learn a lot, but I can do it. What the garden and greenhouse have taught me is that everyone has the power to do something radical to change the world if we just run with our passions. Most people just don’t realize their power.”



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