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A shopping mall becomes a truly green building. Millions have passed through the Galleria at Erieview in Cleveland, Ohio, sun glinting on its barrel-shaped glass roof. But it took a nurseryman's granddaughter to look up and think: This place looks like a giant greenhouse. Now Vicky Poole, the Galleria's marketing and events director, who worked on her grandpa's farm as a child, expects that by late spring or early summer, there will be fresh tomatoes for sale among the shops and galleries at the downtown Cleveland mall. Very fresh -- as in vine-grown in bags and troughs hanging from steel stair banisters and ceiling beams in the shopping center that stretches between East Ninth and East 12th streets.
"I said, 'That's our food court.' "
She was reminded of the picturesque glass rotunda in the Galleria's food court that she often curtains off for wedding receptions. Renting out party space is one of the ways Poole has found to make up for the Galleria's losing many of its retail businesses.
"It's not really a shopping mall anymore," she said about the complex that opened in 1987.
It wasn't long until Poole and Jack Hamilton, whose Artist Review Today magazine office and gallery are in the Galleria, teamed up to form Gardens Under Glass, their name for a project they call an "urban eco village."
This month, they were awarded a $30,000 start-up grant from Civic Innovation Lab.
Poole and Hamilton said the project is meant to be a bold statement about sustainability as well as a novel way to attract more people -- and their money -- to the mall.
"I know of no other urban garden in the country like this," said Hamilton about Gardens Under Glass. He hopes the project will grow every day.
Poole and Hamilton put in the first green stuff this week -- a 12-foot cart of lettuce and other greens near the Galleria's first-floor escalators.
Their aim is to start an education center and store in a former candy shop, invite sustainable-product makers to display and sell their items, and sell produce to restaurants and individuals.
They dream of hosting school groups and teams of volunteer urban gardeners eager to work beds of herbs and greens and vine systems raised hydroponically, aquaponically and in organic soils.
Their giant greenhouse idea has raised interest around town. On Thursday, Poole gave a presentation to the Cleveland chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, composed of professionals and students.
"One of the students came up to me after and said, 'Have you ever considered growing aereoponically?' " said Poole. "I invited him to come in and help me set up a system."
Because of Ohio's short growing season and the fact that the Galleria will not be heated to greenhouse temperatures, Poole is focusing on easily raised greens, herbs and tomatoes.
That is good news for Saravanan Chandrababu, manager of Sweetwater's Cafe Sausalito, a long-established Galleria restaurant. He sells a lot of salads at lunchtime.
"I'm very excited about the project," said Chandrababu, who has already given a list of the herbs the restaurant uses to Poole. He doesn't foresee replacing the five vendors from whom he now buys large orders with Gardens Under Glass' produce, which will be available only in small quantities at first. But he's interested in the novelty of mall-turned-greenhouse.
"We'll try it," Chandrababu said. "We'll advertise that it's fresh. Maybe that will bring more people to the Galleria."
Michele and Mark Bishop, who operate Urban Organics from their Brunswick farm, will soon provide Sweet Peet, an organic mulch, as well as organic soils to Gardens Under Glass.
Meanwhile, Poole, 57, and Hamilton, 44, have collected products from other such vendors to grow the plants they are purchasing with grant money.
"So far, we haven't had to pay for a thing," said Poole, who is also searching for a composting system that would take care of scraps from the food court.
Within two weeks, two portable 6-by-12-foot beds will be installed on the first floor of the Galleria, where passers-by will watch greens grow.
"We'll be propagating seeds for that this week," said Poole. By summer, she expects lush banister mountings of greens and tomatoes. "It will be beautiful."