CLEVELAND, Ohio – Ohio City, agricultural country.
Six vacant acres of Cleveland’s West Side, a few blocks from cutting-edge restaurants and the revered West Side Market, turn to a fresh produce project and a plow.
If all goes well, the harvest won’t need to travel more than a few blocks.
Tillers on June 30 opened the new Ohio City Farm behind Riverview Tower, a public housing project one block from the market off West 25th Street.
“I understand this will be one of the largest contiguous urban farms in the country,” said Eric Wobser, executive director of the Ohio City Near West Development Corp., creators of the project.
It will also be among the cleanest urban farms. Graham Veysey, director of the project, said soil samples were taken from 36 sites and found free of contaminants by laboratories at the University of Massachusetts.
“The land was remediated after the housing was demolished in 1999,” said Veysey. “In addition to digging the foundations and removing the material, they brought quality soil.
“The results of the soil analyzes made us realize that this project was feasible.
More than a place of food culture, the farm is conceived as a driving force behind the neighborhood’s economic development.
Products raised there could create income for recent immigrants and other farmers, variety for patrons looking for local food at the West Side Market, and better access to fresh food for public housing residents, which would be sold at a discount .
Cleveland City Councilor Joe Cimperman said he’d like to see the unfilled side of the produce arcade filled with farmers “who don’t have to switch on” to sell food. Negotiations for stand space at the market have started.
“People shouldn’t buy garlic from China when we can grow it here,” he said.
The group’s strategic plan also includes the creation of a commercial kitchen allowing producers to transform their products into salsas, dressings and other items at a higher profit. The results of a kitchen feasibility study are expected in three months.
An immigrant support group and a local restaurant have signed up as producers, and farm applications will be processed this fall for next year’s growing season.
“I think our problem is going to be, is six acres enough? Wobser asked.
Refugee Response, a nonprofit group working on the resettlement of Burmese, Bhutanese and Burundian immigrants, has pledged to work 1 1/2 acres of the farm, said co-founder Paul Neundorfer. Refugee Response will work with an immigrant support group from the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland.
Neundorfer and his group connected experienced Burmese farmers with educators at the Ohio State University Extension to learn more about testing the soil and identifying end-of-season crops for sale. Hoop houses to extend the season are under study.
Great Lakes Brewing Co. will retain an acre of land, Wobser said, but the immigrant group will cultivate it for the restaurant in the rest of the season.
Pat Conway, owner of Great Lakes, said he is looking forward to having a second garden now. A few years ago the restaurant launched Pint Size Farm at Hale Farm and Village in Bath, fertilizing less than an acre with spent barley from the brewery. This garden, Conway said, helped supply the restaurant’s menu, which he says is up to 40 percent locally sourced.
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Conway hopes to grow food and compost on the property, mixing his barley with leftover vegetables from the West Side Market.
“We’ve been talking about this with the market for years,” he said. “It’s more enlightened. Why not use this waste in our own backyard for a city garden? Thousands of dollars can be saved by keeping it out of landfills.”
The proximity of the garden opens up the educational possibilities of a restaurant and a brasserie which frequently organizes visits. A neighborhood school program is also planned.
“Here we can walk two blocks instead of driving 30 minutes,” Conway said.
“It’s exciting. To top it off, it offers one of the most breathtaking views in the city. If this was Chicago, this would be one of the most sought after real estate.
“We are thinking of having an Oktoberfest there or flooding the fields for ice skating in the winter. There is a romantic side to the project with a practical side.”
The Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority had planned to build on the land, but ruled out that idea when an engineering study showed the edges of the property closest to the Cuyahoga River were on a fault line. and vulnerable to collapse.
“It’s not suitable for construction,” said George Phillips, CEO of ACSM. But he said the section available for agriculture is stable.
“Originally, we thought about creating a green space because there aren’t many in the neighborhood.
“Many of our residents love to garden, and there will be an educational component for our younger residents. It meets a lot of our needs.”
The CMHA board of directors voted last month to allow Phillips to negotiate a lease on the land. The Ohio City Near West Development Corporation board of directors gave the project final approval on July 7 on the lease, which will cost $ 10 per year for the next five years.
A $ 20,000 grant from the local nonprofit group Neighborhood Progress Inc. is being used to start the farm’s insurance coverage and capital improvements, although more grants are requested, Wobser said.
“Ultimately, we will want to recoup these costs with a rental agreement from our tenants,” he said.
The highest goals, Wobser said, are to increase the availability of fresh local produce for all city residents and to use the West Side Market to rename the Ohio City area as a market district. – known as a food sales center. , especially local foods.
“We are just trying to promote local food as a viable product,” he said.
A project profile of the proposed farm is available on ohiocityfarm.com, where internship applications are pending.