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Local food needs a matchmaker and its own show

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/27/14 @ 4:00pm  |  Posted in Food

All of that craft beer and sausage you’re bringing home from the market could be a sign that Cleveland has an artisan economy waiting in the wings. In fact, a new report says an all-in effort should be made from the platform of local food champions like cheese, beer, bread and sausage made in CLE.

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A hankering for a hunk of cheese and all that mind and shelf space taken up by local beers has the potential to ring out $100 million in sales, says Bush Consulting Group. Cleveland is about four steps away from a boosting its food economy by that much, and employing roughly 1,000 makers.

Cleveland’s local food economy is on the right path, but needs a few more strategic investments, Bush says.

For example, the report calls for a regional food exposition space, and the hiring of a “match maker” to connect small producer with restaurants and retailers higher up in the food chain. The expo and matchmaker could work with the emerging Ohio Cheese Guild and Ohio Craft Brewer’s Association whose members are producing some award-winning products that rival anything on the market.

Hence the “Sustainable Foods Roadmap,” produced by a group that includes Cleveland’s Office of Sustainability and OSU Agriculture Extension. While it doesn’t place a dollar figure on the actions needed, it does claim that peeling off 1% from Anheuser-Busch and Jimmy Dean into the pockets of the young moms and pops has real potential. Luxury items such as chocolate, confections, hard liquor, milk, cream, coffee, ice cream, cheese, sausage, sauces, baked goods account for $1.3 billion in sales here, should be the focus of a mega-to-local food substitution effort.

The "recipe for success," Bush says, is something more intentional around the great but scattered work of small farmers, fermentors, brewers and cheese mongers who eke out a living. Look to models like Locavore Food Distributors in Detroit or the Wholesome Wave program in Bridgeport, Connecticut, which matches, dollar-for-dollar, “food stamps” that can now be used at farmer’s markets like North Union around Cleveland.

“This roadmap is a five-year plan, centered on competitively advantaged clusters, or ‘geographic concentrations of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions in a particular sector,’” it states.

If this local food roadmap continues to win the attention of the philanthropic community and the city, it is conceivable that its top goals (and secondary ones like diverting 45,000 tons of food waste) will also receive the programmatic resources it needs to grow.

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Mike in Cleveland
4 years ago

I would suggest they invest in sustainable foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish and meats instead of "chocolate, confections, hard liquor, milk, cream, coffee, ice cream, cheese, sausage, sauces" and "baked goods."

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