ULI Cleveland’s Young Leaders Group Explores Opportunities for Healthy Food Access and Economic Development

Photo by Donny Davis.

Photo by Donny Davis.

An important aspect of a healthy community is access to healthy food. Fifteen percent of all U.S. households face food insecurity (limited access to adequate food) and that percentage is nearly three-times as high (41%) for households below the poverty threshold. Inner-city Cleveland, Ohio is notorious for being a food desert—an area that does not have easy access to affordable, fresh food.

The Evergreen Cooperative Corporation in Cleveland is working to ameliorate this issue through the creation of an urban greenhouse that not only cultivates produce but also facilitates worker-owned jobs and community economic development. Below, ULI member Donny Davis recaps a ULI Cleveland Young Leaders Group visit to the greenhouse on April 17, 2014, what they learned about food production and real estate, and how the greenhouse is impacting the community.


Guest Post by Donny Davis, Allegro Realty Advisors, Ltd.

Photo by Donny Davis.

Photo by Donny Davis.

In observance of Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, the Cleveland Young Leaders Group showcased the nation’s largest urban hydroponic greenhouse, located in the Central neighborhood of Cleveland. With an annual capacity of producing three million heads of lettuce and 300,000 pounds of herbs, the 3.25-acre project exemplifies sustainable land use practices and an innovative employment model. The greenhouse officially opened in February of 2013 and is a worker-owner business called Green City Growers Cooperative (GCGC). GCGC currently has 24 worker-owners, nearly half of which live in the immediate vicinity of the greenhouse.

The event brought together three speakers to discuss the project’s development and operations. Tim Perotti, Executive Director, Maingate Business Development, discussed the challenging parcel assemblage and the symbolic geography of the project, which is located in a commercial corridor with a long history of food processing and distribution.

Lillian Kuri, Program Director for Architecture, Urban Design, and Sustainable Development at The Cleveland Foundation, talked about the organization’s role as a key partner alongside the City of Cleveland, PNC Bank and the National Development Council.

Photo by Donny Davis.

Photo by Donny Davis.

Following the first two speakers, the group toured the project with John McMicken, CEO of Evergreen Cooperative Corporation, where he pointed out features like rainwater retention, state-of-the-art construction, and produce varieties such as green leaf lettuce and basil. The Evergreen Cooperatives is the larger umbrella organization for GCGC and two other worker-owned businesses.

The Evergreen Cooperatives are an integrated network of for-profit, employee-owned, green businesses in Cleveland. Evergreen transforms lives and neighborhoods by building profitable and sustainable worker-owned businesses linked to the supply chains of the city’s anchor institutions and other locally based customers. They are working to revitalize core city neighborhoods through job and wealth creation for employee-owners, while supplying our customers with highest quality, cost-competitive services.

Evergreen’s McMicken is focused on getting the greenhouse’s produce into local and regional grocery stores. McMicken also oversees Evergreen Laundry, serving Cleveland’s large anchor institutions like the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals and Evergreen Energy Solutions, where the focus is solar array installations and energy efficiency retrofits.

ULI Cleveland’s YLG members learned that building healthy places requires going beyond traditional real estate development and financing models in order to maximize projects’ local impact both economically and environmentally. Green City Growers greenhouse exemplifies such thinking.

To learn more about this project, please visit: http://evergreencooperatives.com/business/green-city-growers

For information about future ULI Cleveland events, please visit: http://cleveland.uli.org/events



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