The Northeast Ohio area has a long history of community gardens--run by churches and schools and neighborhoods--but in the last two years, the region has seen more large-scale urban farming initiatives like Ohio City Farm, Cleveland Crops, Green Corps, and others. These groups focus on growing a sizable amount of crops for market.
Today organizers are breaking ground on a $17 million dollar urban farming project, called Green City Growers. It will join the ranks of the country's largest urban farms. The project spans 10 acres in a plot of land off of E 55th Street in Cleveland, and health reporter Anne Glausser went to check it out.
Green City Growers' CEO Mary Donnell gamely sinks her heels into the dirt, at the site of what will become one of the largest urban farming projects in the region and in the country.
DONNELL: We're looking at 10 acres of ground that has been assembled in the heart of Cleveland, in the Central neighborhood, where we'll be building out a 3.25-acre greenhouse for year-round food production of leafy greens and herbs.
Right now they're clearing and leveling the land--you can hear the backhoes in the distance. They're prepping to pour the foundation for the greenhouse which the for-profit company is paying for through loans.
Donnell says Green City Growers expects to have the greenhouse finished and the first crop planted by May of next year.
They'll grow lettuce and herbs, but not in soil. Donnell explains:
DONNELL: We will be growing hydroponically. We will have three acres of shallow ponds filled with nutrient-rich water and we will be floating lettuce and herb plants on top of those hydroponic ponds.
Local hospitals and universities have agreed to buy their produce. They'll also sell to retail stores and produce wholesalers. Their target market is within a 150 mile radius of Cleveland.
Green City Growers adds to the region's local food efforts. It has health as well as financial benefits.
More than 90 percent of U.S. lettuce is produced in California and Arizona, some 2000 miles away from Ohio. Vegetables lose nutrients during these long truck rides to market. Buying locally cuts out the travel so people get produce that packs more of a punch.
And, Green City Growers is adding about 40 jobs to the area. It will not only pay wages to its workers but will give them part ownership of the company.