As many of the area’s new urban farmers have testified, it’s not easy jumping through the hoops to get a large-scale agricultural project going in Cleveland. After seeing the complex juggling involved in getting the six-acre Ohio City Farm up and running this summer, we were a little skeptical when we heard that a new 28-acre urban farming project, called the Cleveland Urban Agriculture Incubator Pilot Project, was being announced for the Kinsman neighborhood.
A splashy press conference last week in Otter Park on East 83rd Street featured a lineup of speakers that included United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, Congressman Dennis Kucinich, and officials from the city and state. It was announced that the project had reaped more than $840,000 in federal and state money, via the Ohio State Extension program.
It turns out the project has more modest initial goals.
“Next year, we’ll have 20 garden plots on six acres,” said Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland. “We’ll increase that each year.” She said that area residents will apply to be part of the project and receive intensive training through OSU’s market garden program. But the area’s community development corporation, Burten, Bell, Carr has identified 28 acres — a swath of mostly vacant land now held by the county land bank that formerly held housing — that could be developed in future years.
Burten, Bell, Carr executive director Timothy Tramble says that the project being launched next spring is the result of a neighborhood planning study the CDC commissioned four years ago. It found the neighbors wanted housing, which wasn’t feasible given the oversupply amid a crumbling real-estate market. Plan B was a tree farm, which turned out to require a large investment for dubious return. Plan C was the urban agriculture incubator.
“I proposed to our board and to the community that we look at an urban agriculture innovation zone,” says Tramble. “Why not open up opportunities for entrepreneurs who would like to come to urban core to test some agricultural enterprises? Our vision is not just growing plants for food. Our vision is a wide range of projects: aquaponics, bio-remediation, biofuels.”
The first entrepreneur has already signed on: Rid-All Green Partnership, which will train people from the neighborhood in growing techniques. Rid-All owner Damien Forshe and his cousin Dave Hester were at the press conference sporting gear with the slogan “Green in the Ghetto.” Hester said they were inspired by the model of Will Allen’s urban farming project Growing Power in Milwaukee. “I’ve been farming for 45 years,” said Hester. “Now I want to do that on a larger scale.” — Anastasia Pantsios