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19 October 2010

Bike! Bike! Bike!

Remember those days of riding your bike around the neighborhood with your friends? You'd bike up to the corner store, spending your allowance on 5 Butterfingers, a few 50 cent apple pies and a 20 ounce cherry coke. Then you'd ride on the trails in that patch of woods a few blocks over until you got a flat tire from a menacing thorn. It ruined your day.

Eventually you turned 16 (or in some cases 18, 22, or some insanely inappropriate age) and you got your driver's license. Your bike was set aside in your parents' garage...and eventually made its way to its dusty grave next to a scarecrow and a herd of mal-nourished reindeer. And now, years later, you fear to take it down, realizing that the neglect has probably left it with no reflectors, a rusty chain and rotting tires.

FEAR NOT!! You live in the RUST BELT! This is a place where folks respect such activities as hot yoga, going to orchestra concerts, and biking! Here in the Rust Belt we are fortunate to have a thriving biking community. Biking is an efficient form of transportation, it's good for your body, and, as I recently realized, it can make you feel like a kid again.

This summer my roommate wrote a 50 word essay about my obsession with sustainability. With one-liners like "a part of him dies every time he turns the key" and "his pledge to eat only food he grows himself has made him anemic,"* she certainly won the sympathies of Bike Week magazine, who awarded me with a fancy new bike (shown here, with model biker lady "M.T.").

Since getting this amazing (and free) bike in August, I've ridden to work a few times, ridden on the Towpath in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park from Rockside Road in Valley View to Peninsula and back, and ridden in one Cleveland Critical Mass event in September. I've also ridden my longest ride yet! This was a 45 mile journey from Ashtabula to Warren on the Western Reserve Greenway. This photo was taken at the mid-point of that journey.

I am not a biker. After two years of running consistently, I can now call myself a runner. But, for various reasons, including my hatred of fossil fuel dependency, the thrill of going down hill, and my desire to have great legs, I plan on being a biker again. I took baby steps this summer and will make larger strides next year (I don't trust myself on ice/snow yet...). If you are a novice biker like me, there are multiple opportunities awaiting you:

Critical Mass is a group of bikers who meet on the last Friday of the month at a certain location and ride around town together. Novice? No worries. This group is very friendly and varies from Lance Armstrong to Betty White and everything in between. The rides are typically 5 miles long. I know they happen in Cleveland (starting at public square at 6:30pm), Columbus (Statehouse lawn at 5:30), Pittsburgh (Carnegie Library on Forbes Ave @ 6pm).

There are many bike trail options in the region. You can check out the Western Reserve Greenway from Ashtabula to Warren, which is a 45 mile trail that used to be a railway. Now it is a relatively flat and straight ride through the forests and farmlands of Northeast Ohio. I went last weekend in mid-October, and couldn't have asked for better scenery. If near Youngstown you should give the Mill Creek Metroparks Bikeway a shot. This is an 11 mile trail stretch through the western burbs of Austintown and Canfield which is much like that in Ashtabula and Trumbull Counties. It starts at the OSU Mahoning County Farm, goes through neighborhoods and forest and ends at the Trumbull County Line. Not to be forgotten is the Towpath between Cleveland and Akron in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Here you can see great treasures such as downtown Peninsula, Boston Station and the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad.

Other opportunities to look for include those nifty bike lanes showing up in our cities. Euclid Avenue in Cleveland (shown here) is a great example of incorporating bikes into street design (as well as buses, pedestrians and cars). So get out there and try to bike. I'm making it a personal goal to bike at least once weekly during nice weather. OK...I know that being a fair weather biker may seem like a cop-out, but I feel that lifestyle changes become more permanent if they start with small habit changes. With all of the biking opportunity and an amazing culture of biking at my fingertips, why wouldn't I give it a shot?

*these lines from my roommate's essay may have been exaggerated for effect.

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: