CLEVELAND, Ohio — Old MacDonald had a farm, but probably not on an abandoned city lot tended by a farmer from Burma and supported by some of the top restaurants in town.
Cleveland, however, has such unconventional growing places. After only a few years of operation, they are bringing home surprising harvests.
Taut-skinned eggplant and fragrant parsley are being snipped off a row and, within minutes, walked three blocks to Flying Fig, Great Lakes Brewing Co. and other popular dining spots in the city’s Ohio City neighborhood. Off East 55th Street, a flower and vegetable farm provides cherished jobs for folks with developmental disabilities.
A few forgotten acres in the Kinsman neighborhood are now a green training ground for farming entrepreneurs. And a vineyard in Hough hasn’t made its first bottle of wine yet, but the vines look good, and the first cork is expected to pop next year.
All four were featured as success stories in a midsummer tour organized by Cuyahoga County; Ohio State University Extension; and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, an organic food group based in Columbus.
You can still stop in and get a breath of fresh, urban-farm air.
Ohio City Farm
The managers of this six-acre plot are doing exactly what they said they would three years ago: grow big flavors on a small carbon footprint. Not only are vegetables and herbs being harvested and walked to restaurants, refugees are finding work and learning English through the Refugee Response program.
Dan Carmody, president of Detroit’s Eastern Market, said Ohio City Farm stood out on a recent tour of 22 Midwest urban farms.
“All the others looked like Americans were trying to be farmers again,” he said. “Ohio City Farm was lush. It looked like it was being worked by people who had done this all their lives.”
Want a share? Farmers markets are 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Friday and Saturday up to Thanksgiving; a fall farm subscription program is being considered ([email protected]), and Dante restaurant in Tremont is hosting the annual benefit Sunday, Oct. 14. Call 216-236-3877.
The farm is also looking for English tutors and an East Side farming spot. Despite the drought, the farmers surpassed last year’s production by August and are building hoop houses for year-round growing.
Ohio City Farm also includes other farm groups. Great Lakes Brewing Co. is growing vegetables for its restaurant, including hops for beer. Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, which owns the land, has a gardener-training program and farmers market. Central Roots, a private grower, offers farm subscriptions, and its owners sell hoop houses.
The farm is also a Cleveland Crops location, with headquarters at Stanard Farm.
There are a lot of hands in the dirt at Stanard Farm, just off East 55th Street near St. Clair Avenue. For the last few seasons, they’ve had only a generator to heat water to wash those hands.
But this year, silvery frames have gone up for a year-round, 15,000-square-foot seed-starting greenhouse, and construction has started on a former school building to create a processing plant for the program and offices for Ohio State University Extension.
It’s a $1.2 million project with help from all levels of government, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Stanard will become the hub for Cleveland Crops, which runs the farm and six other sites. Produce grown by 41 participants will be sorted and cleaned there. The dream is to develop food products that will help make it all self-sufficient.
Farming is the mode, said employment manager Daniel Nolen, but the mission is to provide full lives for those who are often shut out of the workplace.
Several high-profile restaurants, including those owned by Zack Bruell, buy Cleveland Crops products.
You can, too: 3-7 p.m. Wednesdays and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays at 27180 Schady Road, Olmsted Township; and in Cleveland, 3-7 p.m. Fridays at Gateway 105 Farmers Market, East 105th Street and Ashbury Avenue; 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Fridays at Ohio City Farm, West 24th Street and Bridge Avenue; 3-6 p.m. Thursdays, 5342 Stanard Ave.; and 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays, Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, 1275 Lakeside Ave. E., in the cafeteria.
Talk about a turnaround. This six-acre site was the scene of one of the city’s nastiest fires, a 1976 blaze that turned 40 houses to ash, due to a nonworking fire hydrant. Today, there’s a lot of dumping around the perimeter, but fields have been cleared and amended with about 2,000 cubic yards of topsoil and compost. As at the other city farms, soil has been tested, and in-ground planting is only allowed where it is safe.
Ohio State University Extension educators manage the site for about 10 farmers-in-training, from recent refugees to those already working the farmers-market circuit.
They include the creators of Amalfi Gardens, which specializes in Italian heirloom vegetables; refugees at HAPI (Healthy Asian Pacific Islander) Farms, Asian vegetables; and Justin Husher, a West Side farmer who is growing perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb and the native sunchokes. Find all three at Lakewood Farmers Market, 14886 Detroit Ave., Saturdays until Oct. 15 ( 216-256-7793).
“Smaller community gardens serve an important social role and help develop the self-sufficiency of individuals,” says Amanda Block of OSU Extension. “But at the end of the day, about a dollar per family is going into the local economy. We need to train commercial farmers if we want to keep food and money in our communities.”
When Mansfield Frazier says, “Welcome to Chateau Hough,” people laugh.
“You wouldn’t laugh if I said, ‘Welcome to Chateau Solon,’ ” he says. But it is a shock to see vines growing in neat rows in this older neighborhood dotted with newer homes.
Construction company owner, re-entry counselor and online columnist, Frazier came out of prison for counterfeiting with all pistons firing on renewal. The city will be better, he now believes, if everyone does his or her part to make it so, neighborhood by neighborhood. Chateau Hough, built by former prisoners, answered his question, “How do I maximize the attention to push my agenda forward?”
Talk about maximize: This summer, Frazier was interviewed for upcoming stories in The New York Times and O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine.
The vineyard may be a startling sight, but Frazier really wants to get traction on the concept of biocellars. Tear down a rotten house, cover the cellar with windows and grow high-profit crops such as strawberries and mushrooms below the frost line.
“It’s a game-changer,” he said of this tool for neighborhood renewal.
Meanwhile, he’s linked with gentleman winemaker Manny Calta and is picking some test grapes this year for a few bottles next year. Netting has to be removed first, a big job. If you want to help in late October, give him a call (216-469-0124 or email [email protected]).
“Anybody who helps can drink the wine next summer,” he says.