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Local food network forms

Marc Lefkowitz  |  12/08/08 @ 10:44am

"As growers, we feel alone," Jocelyn Kirkwood of Gather 'Round Farm shared with a large, sympathetic gathering interested in urban agriculture at AJ Rocco's last week.

Evidenced by the turnout and recent surge in energy around building a local food movement, urban farmers and their advocates are getting together and building a community.

Topics of this unaffiliated group ranged from how to get more earthworms in your compost to expanding the EBT (or Food Stamps) program at farmer's markets. Themes emerged, including a need for a stronger voice and more organization of ideas and individual growers. Speaking of the latter, Kirkwood proposed an Urban Growers Association, a support network for those market gardeners in the city and the small farmers in the region looking to expand markets for their mushrooms, honey, heirloom tomatoes, artisan bread and on.

"We need a mission and goals, like get the city to open up more vacant land. Cleveland should look at what's going on in Youngstown, where they're buying (vacant land) cheaply or leasing it," Kirkwood said, referring to the new Grow Youngstown program. "That's how we'll build up an agriculture economy and food security for the region."

Converting Cleveland's 3,000 vacant lots and unoccupied properties into productive use would save the city an estimated $3 million in maintenance costs, said Nick Swetye, manager of the Nature Project at EarthDay Coalition.

(Editor's note: More about that in a later post, a report about an exciting vacant properties proposal informally known as Cleveland Land Lab which had a public airing at the Cleveland Planning Commission last week)

The urban agriculture group pledged to meet once a month, and to post comments on localfoodcleveland.org. The next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 8 at AJ Rocco's.

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