Let me introduce myself. I’m Nicole Born-Crow, a new staff member at the Foundation Center – Cleveland. I’m a Cleveland boomerang, born and raised here, and recently repatriated after 10 years away. I readily admit I was unsure of what fate awaited me in regards to employment opportunities in Cleveland, not to mention my fears of where I was going to get my seasonal produce, the local food I took for granted in the city I was leaving. Imagine my surprise to find that Cleveland is not merely hanging on, but reinventing itself in ways previously unimaginable, especially in the realm of local food.
In its heyday, Cleveland was known for its extensive network of school gardens and landmarks such as the West Side Market. Though the West Side Market is still flourishing, the school gardens have almost completely disappeared. In their place, hundreds of community gardens and urban farms are springing up, putting Cleveland on the map for the movement that’s building around local food, a movement I’m happy to be part of. As a result of the subprime mortgage/foreclosure meltdown and a changing economy in which Cleveland manufacturing jobs have gone elsewhere, we have thousands of vacant lots in Cleveland. True to our scrappy reputation for digging in and getting things done, that dirt under our nails these days is from harvesting the straw that we’re spinning into gold. Our so-called blighted urban neighborhoods are literally blossoming into lush urban farms. Is "urban" becoming what was traditionally the domain of rural? Hey, why not? We're living with the "new normal." Why not the "new rural"?
We’ve all heard the reasons why we should buy local food. It’s more nutritious. It’s better for the planet. It tastes better. Even if you aren’t moved by any of those reasons, consider this. According to the Northeast Ohio Food Assessment and Plan, The 25% SHIFT: The Benefits of Food Localization for Northeast Ohio & How to Realize Them, completed in 2010 by Michal Shuman, Brad Masi, and Leslie Schaller, a 25 percent shift in food purchasing that supports local farms and food businesses has the potential to create 27,664 new jobs and increase the annual regional economic output by $4.2 billion. So while I’m sure the billions we’re betting on building medical marts and casinos will boost Cleveland’s economy in the long haul, it seems like investing in Northeast Ohio’s food economy is another safe bet to be taken seriously.
What will it take to build up our regional food system? In my semi-novice opinion, we need to:
- Get local farmers growing. We need farmers, farmers and more farmers.
- Replicate success and offer local food in the same places as California and Mexico – everywhere! Grocery stores, restaurants, schools…
- Provide affordable places for small farms to process and distribute their food and opportunity to add value to it by producing things we love to eat like pie, bread, and jam. These things exist for big farms, but small ones need extra support to compete.
- Enact local food policies and support active collaborations across sectors that are constantly brainstorming, innovating, and leveraging what works.
Many of these things are already happening all over Northeast Ohio. Urban farms and farmer’s markets continue to pop up. Our First Lady is bringing national attention to the importance of what we eat. And, there are great restaurants throughout the region that are buying locally and also doing the growing.
I had a recent sit-down with Saul Kliorys from Great Lakes Brewing Company to talk about their stake in local food. Great Lakes is a prime example of a small business that not only buys food from local farmers, but is a champion for sustainability. Listen:
Audio: Great Lakes Brewing Company's Saul Kliorys
(3 minutes, 28 seconds. Try right clicking and choosing "open" if audio won't play)
To close, I encourage you to support our region’s farmers and to eat seasonally. Together we can enjoy the bounty that local food can bring to our economy.
It's Blog Action Day 2011! Tell your friends.