After Marc White graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1982 he went on to attend the famed Kent State University fashion program. And his early success—getting his designs in front of the likes of Winton Marsalis—seemed to hint at a big career. But, something didn’t feel right. Soon after, White ditched it all and moved to Ghana where he began a new chapter. Searching for his calling, he dug wells in Benin before moving to Israel where he grew food on a kibbutz in the Negev desert.
He was 15 years into this life, plus 30 as a vegan, when he got a call from his friend, Randy McShepard, Vice President of Public Affairs at RPM International, who was helping their friend Damien Forshe start up a farm.
But this wasn't just any farm. It would take over a vacant lot in Cleveland that had served as a dumping ground and was polluted by heavy manufacturing.
Their ambitions won the support of no less than Will Allen, who had spread a similar urban farm over a few acres of abandoned land in Milwaukee, which had spread the seed of hope into a heavily impacted neighborhood. Would White take what he had learned from Israel about growing food in the desert and bring it back to the food desert around Kinsman Road and E. 81st Street?
And so, he move back to the States to help operate the farm, which was modeled after Allen’s: under giant hoop houses, on soil rich from their own compost and built with the latest low-tech, high-return green methods like vermicomposting, a Dutch aquaculture system, and rain water harvesting.
A few years later, and the dream is a full-scale urban agriculture operation—and education center. One of the hoop houses hundreds of neighborhood kids who come to learn about nitrogen cycles and the benefits of a plant-based diet.
“People here are starving for it,” White says of the environmental education and “superfoods” that they serve up. “But, they need a relatable link.”
The team that forms the Rid-All Green Partnership (named after Forshe’s exterminating company) got to work on creating the links. They partnered with a local comic artist to launch the Green n the Ghetto series which draws from real-life and empowers local kids as super eco-heroes. They started a community supported agriculture (CSA) program that has 20 families eating their greens, tomatoes and okra this summer. They sell their fish to local restaurants like Edwins in Shaker Square. But most of all, they are living examples of and eloquent spokesmen for healthy living as a way to combat the ills of an urban life with too few resources.
The land is being remediated with three feet of wood chips they get from tree companies, and interesting plants are sprouting up all over the place, not just in the thick, black soil rows. There’s volunteer zucchini, melons and barnyard grass growing in the five giant compost bins, deer grass growing where bull frogs swim in the pond (which captures the rain water that the rain barrels don’t get); watercress and tomato grow above the fish tanks (drawing from and cleansing the tank water). White hands me a sprig from a moringa plant to munch on for its medicinal benefit. White and Co. believe that the removal of junk that was being routinely dumped here has cleared the way for a new line of thinking.
“It’s an ecosystem now,” he says. “Once you clear the tires and fridges it creates the environment for life to exist. And the environment has a way of changing your predisposition.
If I have three generations of illness, my family is ‘predisposed’ to illness like diabetes," he explains. "But ‘epigenetics’ tells us that I can change my diet and alleviate certain things that can cause me harm. I can live longer than my father.”