Recently, I heard a rumor that someone had recently donated a large chunk of land to the City of Renton.
The tip was from my mom and it was a pretty good one. For the past couple of years she’s enjoyed retirement and working part-time during the summers at the beautiful and serene ponds at the Springbrook Trout Farm just off Talbot Road near Valley Medical Center.
Apparently, the donated land in question was near the trout farm.
My mom knows that land in Renton is something I’ve been interested in for a few years now. You could say it’s at the top of my list. You know the one we all have. The “I CANNOT believe that Renton doesn’t have one of these!” lists.
From conversations about town, I know that at the top of more than a few Rentonites is:
• I CANNOT believe Renton doesn’t have a Trader Joes!
• I CANNOT believe Renton isn’t the home of a beautiful new stadium and the Seattle Sonics!
And while I love both the above-mentioned suggestions, at the top of my list is a community farm and co-op. The kids and I have already named it, The Renton Community Farm and Co-op.
A place where families, school kids and essentially any one and everyone in our community come and take tours, learn about nature, farm animals, composting, and plant free community gardens. There will also be an open kitchen where all ages are welcome to learn how to make healthy and delicious meals with our collective bounty!
So yes, I was interested in digging deeper to find out about whether the existence of this land was real.
When I called the City of Renton to get the scoop, it was just my luck to get hold of Leslie A. Betlach, Parks Planning and Natural Resources director. Apparently, Betlach has worked for the City of Renton for more than 22 years. She was very helpful when I asked her about a “chunk of property over by Springbrook Trout Farm that had been recently donated to the city?”
“Oh, you must be talking about The Cleveland property,” she said.
Edwin and Virginia Cleveland purchased the 24 acres of farmland off Talbot Road 60 years ago. Edwin was a milk man and Virginia stayed home with their growing family, eight kids in total.
I was excited to talk to the family about the story behind the land and Heidi Cleveland, who is an eighth-grade teacher and daughter of Edwin and Virginia, was equally excited to tell me about her family’s beloved farm.
“Dad was a milk man during the week and farmed on the weekends. Mom stayed at home with us kids and we helped her with the 300 chickens. When Mom and Dad bought the place, ours was the smallest farm around.”
The farm grew and the family raised sheep, dairy cows, chickens, pigs and a herd of Angus.
Heidi added, “The family home was a wonderful place to grow up and experience the outdoors. Not only did we have all types of livestock but wildlife that continues to gather there. In the last year we have had deer, coyotes, raccoons, as well as all kinds of birds, osprey, heron, eagles that fish in the pond.
However, by the early 1990s the Cleveland place was the last farm left. All the other pieces had been sold off and developed.
The family began feeling the pressure to sell.
“It seemed like everyday building contractors with nice, fat checks would show up on our doorsteps asking us to sell. Mom would cry because she didn’t want to sell the place.”
But the Cleveland’s also didn’t want the land to be split up. At around the same time the City of Renton stopped by the Cleveland place and inquired whether the Clevelands would be interested in selling three acres to create a walking trail by the Springbrook stream.
Saving the precious land for the community to enjoy appealed to the Cleveland family, so instead of just selling three acres, Edwin asked the city if it would like to buy all 24 acres.
It was a good time for the city to buy property because they had recently received funds from the 1989 King County Open Space Bond.
According to Betlach, Renton acquired the Cleveland property in 1995 for $1.2 million. At the same time the city formalized a life estate on five acres in exchange for Edwin and Virginia to remain on the property maintaining the house and all of the acreage.
Edwin passed in October 2003 at 88 and Virginia passed on November 2011 at age of 94.
Now that both owners are deceased, the property reverted back to the City in mid-2012.
Hence the rumor of the donated land.
Still, following this story has been fun. It’s been nice to be surprised by government. By our city’s foresight to protect this land when it had the opportunity.
While the property is in the city’s ownership, there isn’t available funding to construct a park.
I asked Heidi what her family’s vision of the property was.
“An educational center with either a wetland theme or a small working farm would be such a gift to the neighborhood and fulfill a need for the community to enjoy these experiences,” she said.
Now when the kids and I are drawing our schematics for the farm we’ve revised the title from Renton Community Farm and Co-op to:
Cleveland/Richardson Community Farm and Co-op.
I love suggestions! If you know of people or places in Renton that surprise, delight and inspire the community, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also follow Carolyn on her blog, www.pippimamma.com.