A field of dreams for Fido and friends is blooming as a community garden in the heart of Cincinnati

CINCINNATI - Fido Field is a fenced play area for dogs on a sloping wedge of land beneath the I-71 and Gilbert Avenue ramps near Reedy and Eggleston avenues.

Passersby may have noticed a new addition this summer: a vegetable garden, planted on a long strip of land between the curb and the Fido Field fence.

Not long ago, the garden was lush with corn, green beans, peas, peppers, squash, zucchini, tomatoes, grape vines, and sunflowers. As fall approaches, the corn stalks have dried up and the sunflowers have drooped. But you can still pick fresh basil and watch for a few tomatoes, pumpkins, and watermelons to ripen.

Inspired By TED

Project Produce has been a labor of love for Fido Field creator and downtown resident Craig Beachler, his neighbor James Matthew, and gardening enthusiast Peggy George of Northern Kentucky. Anyone who walks past the garden is welcome to help themselves to whatever is ripe.

“This garden is for anyone in our community who is hungry or wants organic produce,” Beachler said.

Beachler was inspired to add the garden to Fido Field after watching an online video featuring a talk artist Ron Finley presented at the TED2013 Conference in Long Beach, California in February.

Finley is a “guerilla gardener” in South Central Los Angeles, a community he describes as an urban “food desert,” where more people are killed by eating unhealthy meals from drive-through fast-food restaurants than are killed by drive-by shootings.

Finley plants vegetable gardens in abandoned lots, traffic medians, and along curbs. He regards the gardens as works of art that are transforming his neighborhood. He encourages gangsters to put down their guns and pick up gardening shovels. And he has observed that children will eat kale if they grow kale.

Beachler isn’t the only person inspired by the Finley's TED Talk. Since February, the video has been viewed more than 1.4 million times.

Field Of Dreams, Greens

The curbside Project Produce garden at Fido Field adds a sorely needed touch of green to a section of the city dominated by parking lots, overpasses, and back streets.

Project Produce has also reduced the need to bring lawn mowers and weed whackers to the site to keep the grass mowed.

The garden “is an awesome concept,” agreed George, the Good Samaritan nurse who works in the garden two to three days a week and maintains it while Beachler travels for work. “What a great way to use a space that might otherwise be nothing but weeds.”

George encouraged Beachler to plant herbs by the small dog section of Fido Field, and recommends planting lettuce and other fall crops that will enable the garden to generate food throughout the entire growing season.

Maintaining the garden isn’t easy—particularly because there isn’t any running water at Fido Field. Water (for the dogs and gardens) is carried there in jugs.

Beachler wants to fix the water supply situation next spring by installing 55-gallon drums that can collect and filter rainwater streaming from two big drains on the interstate above.

With the help of gravity, hoses can deliver the rainwater to the dogs and the garden below. Installing this type of system is a more ambitious project than one or two recreational gardeners can do in their spare time. So Beachler is hoping to find a Boy Scout troop willing to help with the project.

Growing Fido Field

Beachler is the type of young professional Cincinnati has worked hard to attract. He first moved here in 1998 from central Illinois, and worked at Procter & Gamble until July 2007. He currently works in sales for the C.R. Bard medical products company.

The Tri-State transplant started Fido Field after the City declared the revamped Fountain Square off limits to dogs. Beachler believes that if Cincinnati truly wants to encourage young professionals to live downtown, it’s important to meet the needs of dog lovers. According to market research studies, roughly 50 percent of adults between the ages of 25 and 44 own dogs.

Beachler pointed out that if someone is walking a 90-pound dog around the streets of Cincinnati, you can assume they live downtown and didn’t just drive in from the suburbs for the day.

When plans for a $300,000 city-built dog park were scrapped during a round of budget cuts, Beachler was determined to find a solution.

After persuading ODOT and the City of Cincinnati to grant him permission to use a swampy, weed-covered acre of land, Beachler approached Procter & Gamble and got a $50,000 grant for Fido Field. Then he started raising funds through pub crawls and other social events. Fido Field also receives donations from the Greater Cincinnati Foundation in conjunction with the Downtown Residents Council.

The one-acre dog park opened in November 2011, and has been undergoing continuous improvements ever since. So far, about $68,000 has been spent for construction, landscaping, fencing, drainage, benches, and the easy-to-maintain, four-inch layer of crushed rocks that keeps users of Fido Field from getting muddy.

In mid-September, Beachler wants help spreading a layer of paw-friendly, recycled-rubber “mulch” over the rocks in Fido Field’s large dog area. To large dogs (such as his own dog Captain), Beachler believes the new surface will feel like running on a cloud. But even when it rains, there will be no mud.

He plans to re-use the pallets used to deliver the mulch to construct a compost system for the garden.

Community Gardens Bloom

Of course, Project Produce at Fido Field isn’t the only community garden in Cincinnati. The Civic Garden Center offers gardening education and supports 40 community food gardens, urban agriculture projects, and beautification sites.

But Project Produce seems like a uniquely perfect addition to Fido Field. Sunflowers and other garden plants have attracted birds and bees, making it like a tiny island of nature in a sea of concrete.

Beachler described Fido Field as “the ultimate collaboration of community.” It has involved the city, Procter & Gamble, ODOT, The Pet Spot, the Greater Cincinnati Foundation, and many other individual and corporate donors. Beachler credits the city’s Department of Urban Forestry for maintaining the trees and providing landscaping advice as needed.

“This is all volunteer,” noted Beachler. “Everything is donated. We don’t get a dime in tax dollars.”

While this first year of Project Produce has been a learning experience, Beachler has met some of the people who have enjoyed the produce:

“There are ladies who walk by here every Sunday from Madisonville who take tomatoes, basil, and other crops," he said. "I met them about a month ago. They take a seven-mile walk every week.”

There are a number of ways to participate and support Project Produce at Fido Field:

  • Make a donation through the Greater Cincinnati Foundation
  • Join the Fido Field Facebook group and pitch in when Beachler asks for help unloading and spreading the new mulch.
  • After the new mulch has been installed, bring your dogs to Fido Field to see how they like it.

“I want to educate everybody that this is a community garden,” Beachler said. “If you are hungry, help yourself. Grab some food.”

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