by Ruth Backstrom

Evergreen Cooperatives


We met with Mary Donnell (CEO of the Green City Growers Cooperative) from the Evergreen Cooperative Tuesday, September 5, 2012:

Context: Cleveland has gone from a population of 1,000,000 to 400,000 due to job losses from the automobile industry. There was an initiative in 2008 called Re-imagining Cleveland (http://reimaginingcleveland.org/) that made the case for developing more urban agriculture as the highest and best use of vacant land as a way to create jobs, and improve health outcomes in the inner city. This set the stage for Cleveland to become number two in the nation for local food according to Michael Shuman author of The 25% Shift (www.neofoodweb.org/video/25-shift-regional-food-authorities). They have put in place very farm friendly policies and organized extensive funding through institutional collaborations and regional foundation funding.

Evergreen Cooperatives: The Evergreen Cooperatives are businesses that are designed to not only create jobs but also develop wealth through business ownership by the employees. They are the result of a coalition between Case Western Reserve University, the hospitals, and the Cleveland Foundation aimed at bringing more jobs into the inner city. Ted Howard from the Democracy Collaborative identified community needs through surveys and helped design the coop structure to be a multi-stakeholder cooperative. There are 3 cooperative businesses that are being developed: a laundry business that will service the hospitals and hotels, a solar company and a hydroponics greenhouse agricultural business. Employee/owners will have $65,000 worth of equity in the laundry company at the end of 3 years. We met with Mary Donnell who is developing a 4 acre hydroponics greenhouse in the inner city of Cleveland. It will employ 20 people when the greenhouse is built and expand to employing 40 people. Construction is already far along on the project and she anticipates hiring 20 people in November.


Oberlin Project


We met with Heather Adelman (Assistant Director) and Bryan Stubbs (Managing Director) of the Oberlin Project Wednesday, September 6, 2012 and toured a building that has a “living machine” that monitors the efficiency of the building. It was designed so it that it created no ugliness upstream or downstream.

Context: Oberlin Project – partnership between City & 4 Educational Institutions (Vocational school, community college, K-12 school system, Oberlin College). They have a total of approximately 100 volunteers that they organize with a staff of four full time people.

Goals: 1) educational goal- build sustainability into all of the curriculum, 2) create a 70% shift to local food through creating midsize farms (500+ acres) and selling food to Oberlin College and retirement communities and others.. 3) Create a climate positive energy city that is carbon neutral by 2050 in partnership with the Clinton Foundation, 4) high road economic development – 10-20% local investment within the county. Create a LED Platinum + city block and have it re-use 80% of its water. 5) Create an economically viable model that can be replicated.

Local Food: Goal- 20,000 acres in productive farm use (forestry, carbon sinking, and farm land) through market transactions- not actual ownership.

3 Main Agricultural Projects:

1) Extend growing season through greenhouses and aquaponics

2) Become a regional food hub for colleges, junior colleges and other institutions

3) create a communal commercial kitchen so any farmer can create other products to sell as well thus increasing the capacity of local food market specialty items secured through institutional buyers creating a secure market.

How Do We Grow the Growers?

Average age of farmers is 62 years old. Need young people to become farmers.

Possible approaches:

-Establish a 2 yr. community college program that starts them growing on the land and at

the end of two years FDA will help finance their operation.

– Set up mentorships where 22 year olds take over old farms.

– Key to success is technical expertise embedded in program.

– Go to old farms and covert them – many farmers want out of the old system but don’t

know how to do it.

– Essential to create a market for local food and then the production will increase. – –

– Institutional anchor institutions buying will help solidify the market.

Benefits for Increased Local Food:

217 jobs will be created through this shift to 70% local food in Oberlin.

Improved health through more accessible local food. ( There are currently 20 yr differences in mortality rates in Cleveland between inner city residents and other parts of Cleveland)

Oberlin College found a tip in their enrollment such that 80% of the student essays talked about sustainability after the Agricultural project went on line.

Brad Masi, Leslie Schuller and Michael Shuman found that regions could experience extensive benefits by creating a 25% shift towards local food. In their research study The 25% Shift, (www.neofoodweb.org/…/the25shift-foodlocalizationintheNEOregion.., pg 2) they found that a 25% shift towards local food across a 16 county region in Ohio “could create 27,664 new jobs, providing work for about one in eight unemployed residents. It could increase annual regional output by $4.2 billion and expand state and local tax collections by $126 million. It could increase the food security of hundreds of thousands of people and reduce near-epidemic levels of obesity and Type-II diabetes. And it could significantly improve air and water quality, lower the region’s carbon footprint, attract tourists, boost local entrepreneurship, and enhance civic pride.”

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