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Cleveland adopts local food incentives

Marc Lefkowitz  |  04/13/10 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Local food system

Today's Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition meeting shed light on Cleveland's new policy to attract and create local, sustainable business. New legislation allows the city to offer a 5% discount to local food businesses bidding for city contracts.

Since most bids are decided by 5% or less, a discount for being a certified Local Sustainable Business-a process that will be determined by the Cleveland Office of Sustainability-will offer a 'huge' advantage, said one staffer at the city.

"This is the springboard for Mayor Jackson's self-help economy," said Jermaine Brooks of Cleveland's Office of Equal Opportunity, which will monitor the bids and contracts along with its Minority and Female-owned bid incentive programs. "We will be known by purchasing locally."

A subcategory of Local Sustainable Business is Local Food which, for the time being, does not include a 'sustainable' requirement (i.e. the food could be grown within 150 miles of Cleveland, but it doesn't necessarily have to be organic or raised sustainably).

Amanda Dempsey, executive assistant to Cleveland Councilman Joe Cimperman -- who helped introduce the Local Food purchasing and similar legislation (such as allowing residents to raise chickens and bees in the city) – promised to work with the city to phase in 'sustainably raised' as part of the Local Food certification.

"We're looking at best practices, like Markham, Ontario (the first municipality in Canada to adopt Local Food Plus) and hope to emulate them."

The bid incentives get even better if you are a minority, female and sustainable business - - your bid will get 9% knocked off the budget (that means, even if your bid is higher than a competitor, with the discount, you could be the low bidder). The cap on bid incentives is $75,000 for all three (MBE, FBE and SBE) or $50,000 if you qualify for just one.

"The city would rather put $50,000 in the hands of a Local Sustainable Business to stimulate the local, self-help economy," Brooks said.

The Cleveland Office of Sustainability will release its certification requirements to be a Local Sustainable Business within 60 days. While the local food policy doesn't directly impact the city's biggest food purchaser -- the Cleveland Municipal School District -- the District follows the Office of Equal Opportunity's policies on Minority and Female owned business, Brooks said, so the Local Sustainable Business and local food policy might be considered. He added that the city is also planning to reach out to the West Side Market about its local food ordinance.

Local food is not available at the West Side Market. That's an opportunity, said Ben Bebenroth, chef and co-owner of Spice of Life Catering, which provides a local and seasonal menu for big events. Bebenroth is working with urban farmers and restaurateurs like Flying Fig chef/owner Karen Small to change the model of the market back to what it once was: A place for local food.

"We see the West Side Market as a perfectly centralized distribution point," he said. "It could be where local farmers and purchasers like us have a marketplace a few times a week."

To operate a local food catering business, Bebenroth has to travel around to four farmer's markets a week. Spice of Life decided it would be more sustainable to take matters in their own hands. They pay for a ½-acre plot at Muddy Fork Farm, which Bebenroth says recently installed a wind mill. "It feels good that all of our purchases of asparagus and arugula were the downpayment for the wind mill." They slaughtered their own pig at a local farm, drove it home and made all of their charcuterie and sausage by hand.

"It seems very Tuscan to do it this way. We're reinventing our culinary practices. We're also composting and have reduced our trash volume by 30 percent. It fits our philosophy and also finances on the back end."

Bebenroth sees local food shaping living patterns. The West Side Market as a centrally located, local food depot supports 'getting your food on foot' and on transit. And it doesn't have to cater to the wealthy.

"Nutrition isn't just a thing enhanced by getting closer to your source. It's a snapshot of your region."

David Pearl, producer of Polycultures and now co-convener of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition (FPC), talked about buying local food from the consumer's viewpoint. He first considered what buying local meant to him and then set a goal to purchase his groceries this summer from his Cleveland west side neighborhood, even though it lacks a grocery store, from local farmers and/or local businesses (with a strong preference for naturally raised, healthful food).

He found online resources, such as localfoodcleveland.org's Buy Local Food guidemaps and to make it fun he uses Four Square which is an online network where you earn points for discovering what's cool about your city (and share it via 'tweets' with friends). He also has a goal to work with his nearby corner store owner to improve their fruit and veggie selection. As an aside, I asked, is this an opportunity to revisit The Corner Store Project, which was started by former FPC co-convener, Matt Russell? Pearl said a core project at Prevention Research Center at Case, where he also works, is getting healthier food into 'underserved' neighborhoods, starting with East Cleveland and Central, with a particular focus on K-8 schools and corner stores.

As another aside, I chatted for a while with a staffer at a community development corporation in Glenville who had explored the possibility of reopening the East Side Market as a local food depot. She said there is a growing interest in Glenville (and the east side of Cleveland) for starting a farmer's market. Glenville certainly aligns with the areas where vacant land presents some of the greatest opportunities for residents to ReImagine where their food comes from- and with the right connections, the areas of the city with the worst food security can acquire the tools of the urban agriculture trade.

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