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ReImagining a More Sustainable Greater Cleveland

Returning vacant land to productive uses—such as helping Cleveland's hungry grow their own food or creating natural habitats that improve quality of life, soak up rainwater and act as a carbon sink—is at the center of a new policy discussion in cities and suburbs.

Garden Boyz<br />teaches youth in Cleveland to garden, bring healthy food home, and sell produceInternational Village Garden<br />International Village, a block club on Cleveland's West Side Stockyard's neighborhood, tends a dozen gardens and an orchard on vacant and abandoned land.Ohio City Farm<br />Burmese and Liberian refugees raise food for sale to businesses including Great Lakes Brewing at the Ohio City Farm.The Thymekeepers<br />The proprietors of local food business The Thymekeepers at Gather 'Round Farm in Ohio CityBlue Pike Farm, Cleveland<br />Blue Pike was the first commercial farm established in Cleveland in 2007.Food deserts in Cuyahoga County<br />Orange squares are grocery stores greater than 25,000 square feet. Red dots are fast food restaurants. Dark blue areas are where residents have fast food closer (half-mile away) and grocery stores further (one mile). Data and maps produced by the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission in 2008.Cabbage in tire planters<br />Cleveland urban aquaponics<br />The Rid-All Green Partnership has established this vertical aquaponic growing system under a greenhouse with the help of Will Allen on a vacant lot at Kinsman and W. 81st StreetHoop houses Cleveland urban farm<br />Stanard Farm is a ten-acre urban farm on former grounds of Stanard School in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. It is tended by workers from the Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities. The hoop houses were constructed by Cleveland company, Tunnel Vision Hoops.Gather 'Round Farm<br />An urban farm built over an asphalt parking lot at Lorain and W. 38th StreetCleveland Botanical Garden Green Corps garden at Dunham Tavern<br />In Midtown ClevelandGiant cabbage from community garden<br />grown organically in a community garden on a vacant lot in Cleveland HeightsA community garden in Cleveland<br />A community garden tended by members of the International Community Block Club in the Stockyards neighborhood of ClevelandNaturehood garden at W. 48th Street in Cleveland<br />A project of EarthDay Coalition, vacant lots in Cleveland are converted to native plant nurseries. Chain of rain barrels<br />at Ohio City's Gather 'Round Farm
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A groundbreaking effort called ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland envisions how to convert some of Cleveland's 3,000 parcels of vacant land into greenspace, farms, stormwater parks or renewable energy sites. The recommendations from the ReImagine plan were presented in 2011 to the city of Cleveland (which was a major partner).

Suburbs, which were also hit by waves of vacancy from 2007 to 2012, are looking to how Cleveland's ReImagine action shapes local economies. South Euclid, with its Green Neighborhoods Initiative and its Farm-to-School pilot program, is a leading example.

In 2011, Cleveland adopted some laudable urban agriculture policies, such as allowing the raising of chickens, bees and livestock, and allowing urban agriculture and farm stands on vacant lots in residential districts. Some urban farmers have argued that the city needs to resolve long-term issues like land ownership and access to water.

It might seem hard to “Reimagine a More Sustainable Cleveland”, but anyone familiar with Cleveland history will take heart that urban agriculture rose up to help folks feed themselves and their families in the past (such as the Victory Gardens during World War II) during times when the economic picture looked bleak. 

GCBL has reported on Mayor Jackson’s stated willingness to reform the city’s land use plans, to perhaps set aside land for urban agriculture with the caveat that urban growers show him they are ready to work that land. Recent trends indicate a rise in interest where food comes from and a desire to have it grown closer to home, including:

These are some of the indicators of the growth curve for urban food production.

Is it so hard to picture growing our own food or seeing rows of crops in the city? Not for those old enough to remember Cleveland City Schools’ K-12 horticulture program, which provided hands-on learning to hundreds of kids and restless teens from the 1920s to the late 1970s. Elementary students at Benjamin Franklin and Harvey Rice once learned how to plant and cultivate gardens. At West Tech High School, one could see open fields of food crops planted and tended by students in the Green Thumb Program.

Thanks to Cleveland State University, the city’s horticulture knowledge will not fade to myth. The CSU Library has acquired the entire curriculum of the Cleveland urban horticulture program, according to Barbara Strauss at CSU.

Compelling images of Cleveland’s proud urban agriculture heritage can now be found at Cleveland Memory Project/Feeding Cleveland: Urban Agriculture site. Kids planting rows of crops in school yards, workers at the Greenhouse Vegetable Packing Company at Berea Fairgrounds, Mayor Raymond Thomas Miller's work relief gardens as seen from the Denison-Harvard Bridge in September, 1933 and more.

Cleveland now has an abundance of land. Teaching the lost art of growing food in the schools is a great vocational opportunity (and can be matched to local horticulture jobs and internships). Market gardens can create ‘green’ jobs for middle and lower income residents of Cleveland who might lack the resources to break into a highly technical field or can’t get themselves out to the outer suburbs where lower wage service jobs have moved. 

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