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Is Cleveland a local food leader?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  05/26/10 @ 3:00pm  |  Posted in Local food system

In 2008, SustainLane ranked Cleveland as the second best city in the nation for its local foods/agriculture movement. Who is behind this movement in the Cleveland area?

One of the engines: The Re-Imagining a Greater Cleveland study, which is transitioning to a city initiative. Right now, 56 Re-Imagining pilot projects are breaking ground-testing ideas in urban agriculture, stormwater management, and soil remediation on vacant Cleveland land. While the pilots account for a mere 15 acres of reuse, they hold promise for a select few city residents to regain some semblance of order and hope dashed by decades of disinvestment punctuated by the foreclosure crisis. The pilots also offer a place to begin the grassroots inspired vision for a green city on a blue lake. Follow their progress here.

The Re-Imagining 2.0 initiative is being led by nonprofit groups Neighborhood Progress, Inc. and Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, and involves work groups at the City of Cleveland teaming scientists, experts in the field of urban agriculture, stormwater management and renewable energy and City Planning staff, including Director Bob Brown. Their deliverables include identifying the best vacant parcels for development of significant scale green enterprises. In addition, Re-Imagining is identifying policy reform at the city that will enable more systematic vacant land reuse. While Cleveland doesn't call it a 'shrinking cities' strategy like Youngstown, Re-Imagining aims to have the same impact-changing the way we look at vacant urban land from blight to opportunity.

OSU Extension is another support beam for Cleveland's urban farmers. In addition to its market garden training program, OSU Extension is providing technical support to the two dozen urban agriculture ReImagine pilot projects. They created a web page for vendors to bid on jobs from Cleveland's burgeoning urban agriculture economy. And they're partnering with Cuyahoga County Department of Developmental Disabilities to create the Stanard Farm.

There's a sense of poetry here: In 2009, Cleveland's Stanard School, long shuttered at E. 55th Street, was 'deconstructed'. A Piece of Cleveland, the city's demolition department, Councilman Joe Cimperman, St. Clair-Superior Community Development and an army of volunteers took down the old structure and donated bricks to neighbors for their foot paths, gardens and backyard patios instead of sending them to the landfill. The site became an urban garden thanks to Wonder City Farm. OSU Extension plans to expand it and form an agricultural training and hands-on learning center where more Clevelanders will learn from Master Gardeners how to garden for a local market. "This year's planting will include 'easy' crops, common vegetables that usually do well in Northeast Ohio like greens, tomatoes, beans, peas and peppers," the organizers say. "And as experience and success build, the enterprise will add more unusual or specialized varieties, perhaps hops, fruit trees and bushes, herbs and ornamentals."

Other local and sustainable food items of note:

  • Need another reason to go organic? Harvard University study links synthetic pesticides sprayed on strawberries and blueberries to cases of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in children.
  • What's fresh at your farmer's markets this week? You can find rhubarb, baby greens, fresh eggs, asparagus, mushrooms, radishes and lots of sustainable raised meats. Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy's Harvest Guide is a handy month-by-month look at what's fresh from the farm to the market.
  • Many area farmer's markets are open for business or will be within the month. The North Union farmer's market at Shaker Square has been operating for a month on Saturday mornings, and their Cleveland State University market heads into its second week this Thursday from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The CSU market will get a whole new look-the school is re-building the plaza in front of the law school with rain gardens, shelters and permeable pavers.
  • The downtown Cleveland composting effort-where a pilot project last fall diverted nine tons of food from the landfill and led to some of Cleveland's biggest companies composting on a commercial scale-had a nice write up in Cleveland.com and nationally in Environmental Leader this week.

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