Feeding Cleveland: Urban Agriculture

Work Relief Gardens

Timeline of Events for 1933*
Date Event
Feb. 9 "Gardens for needy as recommended by Mrs. William G. Mather’s committee commended (ed.)."
March 27 "Officials plan relief garden project."
April 5 "Assoc. Charities gets garden plots from city for cultivation by relief clients."
April 13  "Mayor Miller’s relief garden committee asked by Associated Charities and other relief agencies for fertilizer, seed, and plants for clients."
"Mrs. W. Mather’s garden committee plan of furnishing jobless men with garden plots approved. (ed.)
April 19 "Supervisors meet to mark out new plots for reliefers’ gardens."
May 16 "Community gardens started."
June 11 "Unemployed raise own vegetables."
Aug. 26 "City Employment Commission, members of garden committee, and Mayor Miller inspect gardens of unemployed."
Aug. 27 "Police to guard community gardens."
Nov. 24 "Report on relief garden projects made by [former] Mayor Miller’s garden committee, headed by Mrs. William Mather."
Dec. 1 "Work of jobless in relief gardens commended. (ed.)"  

*Source: Annals of Cleveland Newspaper Series, Cleveland Plain Dealer Index, 1933, Volume XCII.

The Great Depression in the United States began in 1929 and lasted until 1939. The first phase of the relief gardening movement was marked by organizational issues and questions surrounding the logistics of setting up the program, now necessary for ordinary families who were hungry due to unemployment. There was a societal shift away from blaming the individual for their desperate situation to blaming the failure of the system that caused the need for assistance.

Work relief garden
Aerial view of Mayor Raymond Thomas Miller's work relief gardens, 1933.

In the early years of the Great Depression, ordinary citizens rose to the challenge by organizing and supporting garden relief programs. On February 3, 1933, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on “the merits of work over direct relief” for the growing problem of unemployment. Cleveland's Mayor Miller announced "Work relief plan to take men off charity roll." The work relief garden project moved forward quickly that winter and spring of 1933 along the timeline outlined below. (Rose, 1950)

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