By Sarah Tyrrell
To the naked eye, the Reidel family’s backyard on Enright Avenue in East Price Hill may seem overgrown and unkempt. But its design is purposeful.
The backyard slopes down a hill to the woods. Enright Ridge is, in fact, on a ridge, and the ridge does not retain rainwater well. To ensure that they can keep the water on the landscape for agriculture, they have dug swales. These dips and turns help to increase rainwater infiltration.
Along the swales they are growing hops, apple, pear, cherry and plum trees; it’s a permaculture Eden.
Kate and Nathan Reidel are members of the Enright Ridge Urban EcoVillage, a community within the Price Hill District. Founded in 2004, Enright Ridge is committed to ecological principles and reducing its environmental impact.
Kate is a third-grade teacher at the Cincinnati Waldorf School in Mariemont. Nathan is a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farmer at Enright Ridge. A CSA is a network of individuals who pledge their support to one or more farms and the growers and consumers sharing the risks and benefits.
They practice a sustainable lifestyle both in their careers and at home.
Nathan’s father lives next door. He has terraces of strawberries, cherries, and currants and some peach and fig trees.
At the top of the hill, just off to the right of the Reidel house is pond that collects the rainwater and sources it to the rain garden. They are hoping to harvest tilapia from this same pond this time next year.
They also have goats in the backyard, which are great for milk and are excellent for school programs.
Permaculture emphasizes the necessity multi-use of almost all investments. If something doesn’t have at least two purposes, you will have a hard time convincing Kate to put her money toward it.
The Reidel family has three children, and they are three of many in the community running around and playing in the trails and yards.
They are approaching their tenth year at Enright Ridge, and a lot has changed since the beginning.
No one knows this better than Jim and Eileen Schenk, the pioneer couple who started Imago here in 1978 as an ecological environmental organization and later launched the ecovillage.
They dreamed of a neighborhood with a sense of community, where you know your neighbors and can gather at a table together on a weekly basis with food pulled and shared from everyone’s gardens.
Once a vision, this is now a reality. With only about 10 percent of these green communities getting off the ground, it takes a meticulous recipe that is community specific to formulate success. According to Jim Schenk, you need the right area, the right kind of people, and a support system that believes in what you are doing.
In 1998, they received a grant to start an ecovillage in Price Hill, but the area was too large. In 2004, the Schenks tried again, this time at a smaller scale on a familiar block.
“Enright Avenue! Not too large, not depressed, and we’ve got a support system,” Jim said as he recalled first selecting this street.
He and Eileen invited over a few neighbors and friends to try to kick off their grassroots effort. Enright Ridge Urban EcoVillage was born that night.
Other key ingredients to this recipe for success are the CSA and the purchasing of foreclosed homes in the neighborhood.
“Two months ago we purchased this bar. It was a huge heroin run,” pointed out Kate Reidel in reference to the recently closed Paradise Lounge on West 8th Street.
They are hoping to turn it into a green general store but, for now, the building is used for potluck and meetings. As their CSA expands, they will be able to sell their local food to non-members and other commodities for urban agriculture like chicken feed.
By purchasing these houses and buildings that foreclose, they are able push out potential crime and grow their community. When the Schenks first proposed their ecovillage idea, the community began with only seven houses. Today they have more than 40.
The CSA is one of the main attractions to potential members.
These members pay a lump sum at the beginning of the season — $600, less if they work for 40 hours over the course of the season.
This money goes to Nathan and helps buy supplies. The season lasts 16 weeks from the beginning of May until November, which works out to being less than $30 a week for a variety of produce.
“Shareholders come in Saturdays between 10-12. It’s easy; you come in and just fill up a bag. It’s a really wonderful experience; if you live close by I would seriously consider buying a share next year,” explained Elizabeth Doshi, another Waldorf teacher and Enright Ridge resident.
“You’re not just supporting the actual farm. You’re supporting the education that goes with the farm, which is almost equal in value,” added Doshi.
The CSA was recently granted $30,000 to restore a greenhouse. This, combined with the acreage the CSA gains, is bringing in substantial yields annually.
Enright Ridge has built impressive infrastructure over the last 10 years. In a state where industrial agriculture rules as one of the most powerful industries, this community is showing its neighbors the strength and potential of urban agriculture.
The ecovillage has had small impact. To many they are still unknown. But this minimal impact is more of a difference than doing nothing. The Schenks say they believe America needs a paradigm shift toward living with less and instilling resilience. Enright Ridge, they say, is transforming the community from the inside out.
Certainly, it’s not for everybody. But Kate Reidel makes an interesting point in defense of her lifestyle.
“In this culture, people are really quick to move, people are quick to leave their space and not dig deep roots…” she says. “You can’t do that in permaculture. You have to be committed for a really long time, and you have to start right now and not feel overwhelmed.”