Executive Director’s Letter

Urban farming?
It was not long ago that this phrase would have been regarded as an oxymoron. Urban gardening, on the other hand, has a long and treasured place in cities, including Cleveland. In fact, our Foundation’s 1996 annual report featured a photo essay on the urban gardens that each summer festoon our neighborhoods. This year, we widen the photographic lens to embrace that more expansive expression of city agriculture – the urban farm.

Cleveland neighborhoods have abundant vacant land, the result of many damaging forces in recent decades. But creative urbanists saw the verdant potential in that land. Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Kent State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative and the Cleveland City Planning Commission spearheaded creative thinking about that land with a program called Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland. Cleveland became the nation’s first city to adopt an urban agriculture overlay district in its zoning code. This work helped jump start the urban farming boom, putting vacant land back into productive use, and the city now has 55 farms, a threefold increase in the past five years.

Farms create a sense of community in their neighborhoods.

For some parcels, farming was conceived as a transitional use. But the benefits of farming have proven to be so overwhelming that any effort to repurpose many farms, including the three that are visually captured in this annual report, would certainly meet stiff resistance. The George Gund Foundation’s support for the urban farming movement in Cleveland has its roots in many of the values that animate our work, and they are captured in these additional ways that city farming pays off:

  • Agriculture puts people to work. Some of those who are tilling city soil might have difficulty finding jobs. This includes the new immigrants who work at the Ohio City Farm under the sponsorship of The Refugee Response and the clients of the Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities who operate the Stanard Farm on Cleveland’s east side. Both of these farms are portrayed in the photography in this year’s annual report.
  • It puts a dent in food deserts. As money and people have sprawled out in our region, many inner city neighborhoods have been left without easy access to fresh, healthy foods. Some estimate that obstacle faces more than half of the city’s residents. Farms are helping Cleveland achieve the goal set by City Council that every resident lives within a quarter mile of a community garden or farm.
  • We all benefit from a smaller carbon footprint. When food is grown locally, it not only is fresher and tastier but also means that it does not have to be shipped from some place across the country or beyond. That helps curb the use of fossil fuels. Many local restaurants are embracing this cause by purchasing fruits and vegetables from Cleveland farms. In addition, land used for farming also absorbs storm water, diverting it from our aged sewer system.
  • Farms create a sense of community in their neighborhoods. Farming is not just about the crop harvest. Many farms in the city also have festivals and events, farm stands for the sale of produce, educational programs, training sessions and more.

This unexpected bounty from urban farming should make all of us with a stake in Northeast Ohio consider it afresh, as I hope Greg Miller’s striking photographs do. One of his subjects is Rid-All Green Partnership, which creatively interconnects food, art and education on a three-acre site on the southeast side. At Rid-All, fish farming is also part of the mix. Tilapias grow in tanks next to greenhouses nurturing tomatoes, watercress and kale. And the mission transcends the crops and food, as it does at every urban farm. Keymah Durden, a cofounder of Rid-All, told Edible Cleveland, that Rid-All's work is actually a “mission to transform the city of Cleveland.”

That is a major part of our mission too, and it humbles us to observe and, where we can, to support the inspiring farmers in our midst.

David T. Abbott Signature

David T. Abbott
Executive Director