“I was raised in rural Mississippi,” says 51-year-old Margaret Armstead. “Growing things is second nature to me.” So she jumped at the chance to participate in a community garden in Cleveland’s Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. It’s where she met Barbara Strauss and John Yokie four years ago. Today, the three are partners in EcoVillage Produce, selling what they raise on the “Back 40” — a former vacant lot they moved to on Ithica Court and West 57th Street — at the Tremont Farmers Market.
The trio behind EcoVillage Produce “get a lot out of that little half-acre,” says Armstead, ticking off a list: “three kinds of kale, herbs, peppers, cabbage, spinach, peas, beets and all types of greens — collard, mustard, turnip. And tomatoes — we got stripey Zebras, heirloom varieties, Beefsteak and a beautiful one called Orange Blossom.” The time she spends sharing advice about using the harvest is a highlight of her week.
Armstead likes getting her hands in the dirt and sharing the experience with her five grandchildren. While the income is a welcome supplement to what she earns as a reading and spelling tutor, there’s another more powerful and personal reason she’s out there digging and planting. “The Bible tells us to cultivate the earth,” she says. “I believe in that. I truly do.”