The Cuyahoga Land Bank recently hosted a luncheon for members of the First Suburbs Consortium to discuss urban agriculture as a creative reuse strategy for vacant land. Cuyahoga Land Bank staff, representatives from Congresswoman Marcia Fudge’s Office, Berea, South Euclid, Shaker Heights, Euclid, Bedford Heights, University Heights and Cleveland Heights all enjoyed a nutritious and tasty lunch made by SPICE Kitchen from locally grown ingredients while listening to a panel of speakers discuss urban farming.
“I’ve asked you here today because the Cuyahoga Land Bank sees great potential for urban gardening and agriculture as a way to breathe new life into vacant land and as a way to create jobs, provide people with fresh food and decrease Cuyahoga County’s carbon footprint,” said Cuyahoga Land Bank President Gus Frangos. “We realize that we need to come together and coordinate our efforts in order to fully take advantage of the opportunities of urban agriculture.” After a brief introduction, Frangos yielded the floor to the first of several panelists – Carlton Jackson, co-founder of Tunnel Vision Hoops and one of the Land Bank’s partners in the area of urban gardening. Tunnel Vision Hoops specializes in the construction and installation of hoop houses that capture heat and protect crops from the elements, essentially making it possible to farm year-round in Northeast Ohio. Jackson discussed the benefits of urban agriculture in comparison to mass scale food production. Some of the eye-opening facts Jackson shared included:
– $0.90 of every $1 spent on food currently leaves the state;
– People eat about 1 gallon of fossil fuels (in terms of food transportation) every day;
– Mass food production expends 35,000 calories of energy for a 3,000 calorie intake;
Urban agriculture, on the other hand, Jackson explained, creates jobs, keeps food dollars local and decreases our carbon footprint.
Jackson was followed by Alfonso Norwood of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), who informed participants of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative. Through this program, the USDA is offering $150,000 in competitive grants to 25 applicants annually for the establishment of urban gardens or farms. The USDA grants can be used for land mitigation, hoop tunnel installation and a variety of other steps necessary to launch an urban farm or garden.
Lilah Zautner, Sustainability Manager for Neighborhood Progress, Inc. (NPI), has been involved in the urban agriculture movement in Cuyahoga County since its infancy. She gave the audience an overview of NPI’s 2009 Re-Imagining Cleveland Initiative, which has expended $1.6 million in Neighborhood Stabilization (NSP2) funds for side yard expansions, vineyards and community gardens through a competitive grant process. Zautner advised the cities to set policies specifically related to urban agriculture rather than looking for loopholes in current law to make it possible.
The luncheon participants got to hear from a real life urban farmer when Shawn Belt, Farm Manager for Refugee Response took the floor. Refugee Response is responsible for a 6 acre space within Ohio City Farm where they employ refugees, primarily from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, to farm. Belt discussed what goes into successfully operating the farm, which sells its food to eight local restaurants, including SPICE Kitchen. Luncheon participants we able to taste radishes that Belt had plucked from the farm that morning.
The luncheon concluded with an energetic presentation from Ben Bebenroth, founder of SPICE Kitchen. Bebenroth echoed Jackson’s affirmations of the value of local agriculture in terms of job production, sustainability and health. He encouraged participants to take on the mission of the urban agriculture movement, so that healthy, locally grown food becomes a given for our children.