Issue: March/April 2012
Community Impact Awards 2012: Neighborhood Roots
The Ohio City Farm provides fresh food and career opportunities for a growing city district.
Early last year, Allan Branch was working at an adult activity day center sorting mail and doing other odd jobs. But he soon grew restless. He dreamed of working for a larger organization, somewhere he could learn new things.
Branch found that and more last May at an unexpected place: the Ohio City Farm, a stretch of land nestled along the Cuyahoga River that had been vacant and run-down for nearly 10 years.
“At first I thought working on a farm would be about milking cows,” Branch says with a laugh. “But I found out it wasn’t about that at all. It was fun, but it was a lot of hard work.”
In June 2010, Ohio City Inc. and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority partnered to turn the area behind Riverview Tower into nearly six acres of urban farmland with a stand to sell the produce grown there.
The land, which had been the site of Riverview family housing that was torn down in 1999, was tilled by traditional draft horses and divided into five plots for tenant
Groups including Refugee Response, which assists and trains refugees from countries such as Somalia and Rwanda, and Cleveland Crops, a program of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities, came on as tenants.
The farm fit the neighborhood’s collection of brewers, artisan shops and restaurants while also providing a source of much needed fresh food to a place where 37 percent of residents live below the poverty line.
“This program has created jobs, transformed vacant land into one of the largest urban farms in the country and provides fresh local food to CMHA residents and Greater Cleveland,” says Virginia Houston, director of marketing and development at Ohio City Inc. “It’s taken this land and turned it into productivity for this neighborhood.”
Branch, a 21-year-old who moved to Cleveland from New Orleans to travel and try new things, seized the opportunity with Cleveland Crops.
His good work ethic — he goes to bed early and is careful to never arrive late — and creativity are already paying off: Branch planted different types of lettuce in a pattern so that when it sprouted, the colors would look appealing to people walking by.
He is also a leader when it comes to selling produce at the stand, which was built from a repurposed Great Lakes shipping container.
“I will call over people who are walking by our stand and talk to them so we can sell more produce,” says Branch.
The stand generated about $5,700 of the farm’s $41,000 in produce revenue last year. About 11 percent of that came from CMHA residents, who can use their Ohio Direction Card as payment. Restaurants such as Dante and Flying Fig purchase Ohio City Farms produce for their dishes.
“I love working on the farm,” Branch adds. “I don’t plan to ever leave.”
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