Sustainable Neighborhoods: Downtown Cleveland’s “Farmville”

Ideastream is launching an occasional series looking at neighborhood sustainability projects – small efforts by residents to help make their communities greener.

Down by the train tracks and just over the hedges in downtown Cleveland is a patch of green that Chef Brad Gambrell calls “the real Farmville.”

Two dozen egg-laying hens, 15 honey bee colonies, three Mangalista hogs, and three goats surround a mostly edible garden that includes tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, and fresh herbs.

Gambrell works as executive chef at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland. During the day, he visits and tends to the animals and vegetables.

“The best thing about it is when I come down in the morning and I open those doors and everybody runs at me,” said Gambrell. “The chickens run at me, the goats run at me, just like when your kids come at you late night.”

The farm is the brainchild of Matt Del Regno, the convention center’s general manager, who learned about sustainable farming at a conference five years ago.

Del Regno says over the years, he’s had to learn how to tend a small farm – and keep bees.

“I’d never even stood next to a beehive, let alone kept them myself,” said Del Regno.

The bees and other ingredients from the farm inspire menu items for the convention center.

“We intentionally came up with a lot of honey recipes,” said Del Regno, mentioning honey cookies and a homemade granola bar.

But the small farm is not meant to feed the thousands of convention center attendees who visit Cleveland.

“Because we are a convention center and we do parties from 500 to 2000, this is basically just for ideas,” said Gambrell. “To educate our staff, educate our public.”

Del Regno says the animals are not raised for slaughter but rather help with the farm’s conservation efforts. The three goats, named after cheese (Chevy for Chevre, Emma for Emmental, and Brie) help with weed management. The hogs (Honey, Sage, and Eddie) eat any of the kitchen’s vegetable trimmings. 

The convention center’s sustainability program includes recycling and waste reduction. Through recycling efforts, the Huntington Convention Center says it diverted about 357,000 pounds of trash from the landfill in 2017.

To reduce waste, the center upcycles excess materials such as paint and fertilizer to local organizations including Habitat for Humanity and Karamu House. Leftover food goes to the Cleveland Food Bank.

A food waste recycling system inside the Convention Center turns waste into energy.

Del Regno says the farm shows that Cleveland’s convention center is dedicated to and supportive of local farms, and understands the effort needed to grow food sustainably.

“The reason we grow those vegetables is to show that we are working hard with local farms to make sure we can on a larger scale prove to the industry that we can make an impact and move the needle,” said Del Regno.

Composting and Recycling

You might not be able to raise a Mangalista hog to eat your food waste, but you can take steps to recycle and compost.

Communities have varying rules for curbside recycling, but most programs typically allow plastic bottles, cans, cartons, glass, paper and boxes. These items must be clean, dry, and in a container together in order to comply with Cuyahoga County recycling rules.

Be careful how you recycle – the city of Cleveland has recently started issuing fines to residents who don’t recycle properly.

Composting keeps organic material out of landfills, and can serve as a healthy additive to soil for a tree or garden.  Cuyahoga County’s website includes details on composting and a list of composting facilities open to the public. The county also hosts composting workshops throughout the year. Visit your county or city to find out how you can compost at home.

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