Access to fresh, organic and local food is limited in the Hough neighborhood.
However, several residents and organizations are working to make it easier to attain nutritious foods and to create economic opportunity while they do it.
Northeast Ohio Restoration Alliance will provide fresh, local produce to the Hough neighborhood via League Park Market Garden, an urban farm and roadside stand located at East 79th Street and Superior Boulevard.
The organization aims to provide environmental advocacy, including information about urban farming and the creation of green jobs in Hough and surrounding areas. It is partnering with an organized group of community members, experts and advocates to host a kickoff event next month and discuss new ways to bring healthy food and living to Hough.
Simone Jelks, a program specialist from the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, has researched the issue of food accessibility in Hough. She discovered a profound imbalance of healthy and unhealthy food in this neighborhood.
“No large or major chain grocery stores exist within Hough,” Jelks said. “But there are smaller scale grocery stores that residents do not endorse as much as larger, major chain grocery stores outside of their community.”
For example, the nearest Giant Eagle grocery store is on Buckeye Road, just more than three miles away from the site of League Park Market Garden.
Veronica Walton works at the Market and is the executive director of NEO Restoration Alliance, the group responsible for League Park Market Garden.
“If you’re not growing any food there [Hough] or if you want meat or something to drink with your vegetables, you need a car,” Walton said.
For its third growing season, the Market will sell tomatoes, peppers, carrots and a variety of herbs, among other things.
Jelks said, “Hough is concentrated with fast-food and corner store food retail outlets, which is probably one reason one of my youth focus group members said that Hough is ‘a heart attack waiting to happen.’”
Walton said that several students from Youth Opportunities Unlimited, who volunteered at the Market and roadside stand last year, said they had never tasted cucumber or eggplant prior to their experience with her.
So in June, League Park Market Garden will offer a Community Supported Agriculture program. It will allow residents to pay in advance for an assortment of fresh produce from the Market.
Smith Crafton, an intern with Neighborhood Connections, who is involved with the planning of the Market event, said the kickoff would have food, demonstrations, art and music.
“It’s being planned to promote a gem of a Hough garden; to make people aware of the produce for sale, including CSA shares; and to connect those interested in working on food, health, sustainability and community engagement.”
The benefits of urban farming goes beyond healthy food. It is economically beneficial, too.
Walton said urban farming is becoming popular in large cities whose economies were once based on steel production, such as Youngstown and Pittsburgh.
“You can’t one day decide you’re going to take a farm to another state or out of the country. It’s sustainable,” she said.
In March, Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation was awarded close to $25,000 in grant money from the Youngstown Foundation to establish an urban farm and greenhouse structure in the City.
The organization’s website states that the project will employ residents, make use of vacant land, and provide opportunities for research and training related to horticulture.
Mansfield Frazier is a Hough resident and the leader behind a project that converted one of Hough’s vacant lots into The Vineyards of Château Hough, last May. His project demonstrates how urban farming has the potential for great profitability.
“The vineyard is designed to be a demonstration project which shows interested parties what can be done on vacant lots in inner-city communities,” he said in an e-mail.
“The ultimate goal, however, is to build a winery, restaurant, healthy cooking school and bed & breakfast in a campus setting somewhere in the Upper Chester area. The combined operations could employ dozens of residents and train hundreds more in marketable skills.”
Both League Park Market Garden and The Vineyards of Chateau Hough have several volunteer opportunities for residents of all ages to engage in urban farming and learn about healthy, sustainable and profitable ways of living.
Frazier said, “We encourage everyone, no matter the community they reside in, to come out and get involved. It’s a great way to learn about the propagation of grapevines, meet some new, interesting people, and get some exercise at the same time.”
The efforts of League Park Market Garden and The Vineyards at Chateau Hough are evidence that Hough residents can engage in urban farming to solve the food crisis there and revitalize their community.
By Nicole Green; NV Contributing Writer