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Urban growers discuss local food economy

Marc Lefkowitz  |  01/09/09 @ 4:38pm

What good is 3,300 vacant parcels of land in Cleveland if you can't do anything productive with it? Can growing food on empty lots, backyards and vast tracts of open land in the city translate into economic gain? What do you need to put into the land to make it ready to grow food? These and many more questions were discussed by a group of urban food growers and advocates of local food at their second gathering last night at AJ Rocco's in downtown Cleveland.

Again the subject of banding together as an Urban Growers Association surfaced: Improving buying power and creating larger lots of food to make it easier to sell appealed to the urban farmers who numbered 20 of the roughly 40 in the crowd. Nobody seemed to know if this idea is a new one or if a group existed here or elsewhere that they could join or use as a model.

The need for a value statement was discussed: Should the group adopt principles such as, help the community feed itself, consider gardening as a social equity activity that can have intergenerational learning and economic prosperity for low income communities at its core; should they advocate that the city ease the process of converting vacant land to farmland?

The group decided to break into smaller discussions focused on the following topics to help the local food economy grow:

  • Urban Growers Association ? Local food is a niche and growers are competing for limited resources. There are limited number of slots available at Farmer's Markets. Do growers need more opportunities to combine and sell (More Fresh Stops? Food Co-ops?) and more innovation (i.e. a Veggie Mobile so that food isn't anchored to one location and limited hours of operation)? The group started a conversation on localfoodcleveland.org
  • Education ? How do you explain to people on a fixed income the benefits of locally grown food versus the higher cost?
  • Land use ? What are the barriers to converting land from the Cleveland Land Bank? What tools exist (i.e. Cleveland's Urban Garden overlay district) and what land-use policies are needed (i.e. the adoption of City Planning's new decision matrix to reutilize vacant land and the Cuyahoga County Land Bank)?
  • Regulations ? How do we affect the right kind of change and ensure the adoption of urban agriculture regulations, like the Chickens & Bees legislation being considered by the city of Cleveland?
  • Social Justice ? How do we make locally produced food available to everyone?
  • Marketing ? Do we need a label or brand 'Grown in Cleveland'?

For more information about the group and its discussions, see Josh Klein's discussion page on localfoodcleveland.org. The group will meet next on Feb. 5 at Cleveland State University Library from 6-10 p.m.

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