The patchwork of vacant lots marring Cleveland’s landscape is tough to ignore. But what do you expect from a city that once boasted the nation’s fifth-largest population and now doesn’t break the top 30?
Of course, city leaders look at replacing all that gritty ruin as opportunity: parks, community gardens and, lately, poultry. Yes, you read that correctly.
There’s already one chicken coop on the city’s near West Side. And while the legality of Gather ’round Farm’s location is suspect, City Council has been discussing legal measures that would allow the 20 chicken farm to continue operation — and for others to move in. (The measure, lead by councilmen Joe Cimperman and Matt Zone, was still being discussed at press time).
Jay Westbrook, another council member who supports the effort, spoke in favor of the move at a December forum on vacant land use. “Where there are large expanses of land, the idea of urban farming is actually beginning to catch hold,” he says. “It’s not appropriate everywhere, but in some places it can be an attractive use.”
Uma Kirkwood and Meagan Kresge say their Gather ’round Farm on Lorain Avenue has drawn complaints from one neighbor, a funeral home, but overall has received great support. “We have a mix of visitors,” Kirkwood says. “From the wealthiest people in the neighborhood to the homeless, they’ve been here at the same time. That’s different, to have that kind of interaction.”
And while chicken farms may not carry the same cache of businesses that routinely signal revitalized urban neighborhoods, Kirkwood says she sees what she and Kresge are doing as a more appropriate use.
“Everyone has some connection to nature,” she says. “You don’t have to buy something or act a certain way, like you would if this was an art gallery or a fancy restaurant.”