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16 October 2010

Food Is Part of the Economic Solution

What are our biggest problems in the Rust Belt? How do we solve them?

I want to preface this post by acknowledging that I am not an expert on Economics, Education, Energy or any other important issue beginning with the letter E. I am merely an enthusiastic engaged resident of Northeast Ohio who spends many waking nights considering how we can solve our problems. These "solutions" aren't new, they are not necessarily exciting and they certainly may not work. I just wanted to throw out some of my ideas and see if any of them can potentially evolve into a solution, make a few others think of better ideas or, at best, spawn meaningful conversation.

Let's Tackle High Unemployment and Poverty! Easy, right??

These two demons have plagued the Rust Belt for decades. They are not mutually exclusive; they are inter-related and get their jollies off on affecting nearly every other issue that politicians, cranky uncles and songbirds have debated since before capitalism was even a glimmer in some medieval Dutchman's eye. How do we solve them, then? "Tax Cuts, Tax Cuts! Tax CUTS!!!!!!!!!" may be a familiar hymn that can be heard being chanted from John Boehner's castle in West Chester, Ohio. Well, Mr. Boner, I think your solution would work well if intended for Joe Six-Pack and not solely for the likes of the John Rockefellers out there. Specify who is getting these tax cuts, my friend....Businesses? Poor folks? Everyone? Now, that would just be silly.

Many conservatives feel that lowering taxes would be great. Being a poor man myself, I realize that I already pay very little in Federal Income taxes. If I made 200K a year, I'd be OK with paying a bit more. So let's keep taxes where they should be, with a progressive model in which the poor pay a lower percentage of their wages and the rich pay a higher percentage.

Let's also be supportive of policies and programs that are a good use of these taxes. How about we invest in our crumbling infrastructure? How about more rail options, so I don't have to drive to Columbus every time I want to see the Buckeyes play? Or maybe so those without cars can travel in general?? How about we spend it on switching to alternative energies that are sustainable and locally generated? Education? Housing for the poor? Yes, efficient government is important. Acting as if taxes are evil and should be eliminated is foolish. If used wisely, tax dollars can ensure that we maintain a high quality of life here in the good 'ole US of A.

Taxes aside, how about we actually tackle the real problem: NO ONE IS HIRING! How can we encourage businesses (small and large) to hire, especially in THIS economy? If I were a businessperson I would focus first on ensuring that I could run my operations and make a few bucks to pay my employees and a few extra for profit. Businesses need to be innovative, smart and flexible. They also need to have morals. We need to focus directly on local businesses who have an actual presence and are vested in this region.

The City of Cleveland passed legislation in March giving preference to contracting with local businesses. They provide a 2% bid discount to local businesses which are sustainable, locally-based, and/or purchase at least 20% of their food locally. The total discount available is 4%. How about that? It can certainly be implemented in other municipalities.

Think LOCAL. Luckily this is a movement that is gaining ground in the Rust Belt. Poverty and high unemployment won't go away soon. But let's invest in those with the best ability to combat it: local businesses. One way to chip away at our economic woes is to support local food initiatives. Really, DO IT, it has more of an impact than you currently realize.
Northeast Ohio is focusing on local food to create jobs. This movement is gaining momentum as entrepreneurs are starting urban farms in Cleveland, such as the Stanard Farm, which is a collaboration between the Department of Developmental Disabilities and local growers. DD provides the land and the workforce and urban farmers lease the land. The workforce learns valuable skills and makes a few bucks while doing it.

There is also the Ohio City Farm, which started in June at Riverview Towers on W. 25th Street.
It's a 6 acre site which is a collaboration between the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority, Ohio City-Near West community development corp and a few others. Urban Farmers can lease land here and grow within a few thousand feet of where the food will be sold. Refugee Response is currently training refugees there how to farm in our climate.
Nearby, at the West Side Market, you can purchase arugula or tomatoes grown down the street. Great Lakes Brewery purchases produce from The Ohio City Farm for its restaurant. This and the Stanard Farm are two urban examples of entrepreneurship at its very roots in the city. They are co-operations between people with great ideas and the nerve to jump in, but also with patience, realizing there is a learning curve along the way. They are local pioneers showing how vacant land can be made useful once again.

Also in the works is a space where growers can rent kitchen space, storage space, flash-freezing capabilities and several other value-added options in a one-stop shop. Look for this incubator of local food processing in Cleveland in the near future.

Is food the only solution? Certainly not. But if you consider that in Northeast Ohio we spend 1% of our food dollars locally, you realize that there is a lot of potential out there. So check out local CSAs such as City Fresh, which bring locally grown food to your neighborhood once a week at a cheap price (starting at $12 per share weekly).

Go to a farmer's market. Join a community garden. Go to an Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S) event at the Great Lakes Tasting Room ( Or, if anything, support a local restaurant that purchases food grown locally. Why not? If we make it a goal to spend just 10% of our food dollars locally, as opposed to 1%, it will make a significant improvement in our local economy as well as lower our carbon footprint, which improves national security (or so I'm told).

For more information, check out the new Cleveland-Cuyahoga Food Policy Coalition Website at:

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