Economic opportunity, beautification, new jobs and access to fresh, local produce are being wrapped into one pretty package for the Greater Cleveland community.
Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County has received more than $840,000 in grants to help new farmers get started on small tracts of land in the city, with a special focus on training for women, minorities, refugees, immigrants and limited resource adults with developmental disabilities.
Projects supported by the grants will address several key city issues at once, said Marie Barni, director of the Cuyahoga County office for OSU Extension, including urban blight, food deserts, and unemployment.
The Beginning Entrepreneurs in Agricultural Networks (BEAN) and the Urban Agriculture Innovation District (UAID) projects will turn vacant tracts into lush, productive gardens and farms, Barni said.
“Many people in our county live without ready access to fresh produce. Infusing agriculture throughout our county provides healthy foods in our neighborhoods. Perhaps most importantly, these projects target people most in need of work and economic opportunity,” she said.
The BEAN project will work with about 35 beginning farmers annually, providing training on intensive, sustainable agriculture, direct marketing, and small business development. The UAID project will support the clustering of 20 market garden sites in an emerging “Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone” as an effort to realize economies of scale for hard costs of these projects, including water infrastructure, fencing, tool sheds and “hoop house” greenhouses, and the potential for cooperative marketing of produce.
The grants come from a number of supporters. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided $740,096 for BEAN. The Ohio Department of Agriculture, with support from Governor Ted Strickland, provided $100,000 for UAID.
“We are extremely grateful to the visionary leaders who saw a critical need in the Greater Cleveland area and responded with financial support,” said Keith Smith, director of OSU Extension and associate vice president for agricultural administration at Ohio State. “These efforts would not be coming to fruition without the support of Senators George Voinovich and Sherrod Brown and Representative Dennis Kucinich. I also want to recognize ODA Director Bob Boggs for his support and vision.”
Collaborating partners include the city of Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Board of Development Disabilities, the International Services Center, and the Cleveland Catholic Diocese/Immigration and Refugee Services. “The BEAN Project allows us to focus on the abilities of people with development disabilities in an inclusive community. We have a very capable workforce available to increase the economic vitality of our community,” said Terrence Ryan, superintendent of the Cuyahoga County Board of Development Disabilities.
The BEAN and UAID projects build on collaborative efforts already underway, Barni said, including the Re-Imagining Cleveland Grant Program, Cleveland’s Gardening for Greenbacks program, an extensive Community Gardening Program, and the work of the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition.