Monday, December 6, 2010

The First Cleveland Farmer's Summit

On December 1, the day winter came again to Cleveland, I participated in the First Annual/Seasonal/Monthly Cleveland Farmer's Summit. The event was organized by Ms. Molly Murray at the OBOE Building on Lake Avenue. Though the email invite was extensive, the actual turnout was sparse. With a few exceptions (namely Lynn Rodeman, Eco Village Produce, and Blue Pike Farm), you could say the attendees were the hardcore, Cleveland farmers. There was Peter McDermott and his partner Virginia, George Remington, Eric Stoffer and Annabel Khouri, Erin "Mean Bean" Laffay, myself, and Molly. Refreshments consisted of homemade chai tea with Hartzler's milk, whose cream separated and froze, and I ate. Which had I left after eating the frozen glob of sweet cream, I would have left satisfied. But instead I stayed for the entire Summit and left extremely satisfied and completely energized.

Molly put together a formal forum that consisted of discussion based around successes, what we wanted to learn in the future, and our vision for this whole urban farming thing. What surprised me the most was the array of answers. About half the attendees (not me) wanted to scale up their operations to multiple acres and outside the city. I found this a little disheartening because I've always felt urban farming is about urban growth (especially in the Rust Belt), and one of our main competitive advantages as urban farmers is our closeness to our markets. But to each their own, not everybody likes rock n roll and independent restaurants. Molly iterated the need for cooperative buying, as we all buy our stuff from relatively the same places and because it's exceptionally difficult to buy basic farm goods like straw bales within city limits.

In terms of successes, I am excited to just have made it through my first year. Others named specific crops like carrots or arugula. But in general, we focused on what we all wanted to learn. I always pick mundane things like greens handling/processing/storage and drip irrigation; whereas, Peter McDermott threw out there some way bigger fishes like total farm planning (with an implied emphasis on spreadsheets). This became the great white whale of the evening and is the formal topic of our next Summit in January.

Erin Laffay presented the most refreshing perspectives of the evening. She's taken a page from the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative down in Athens and subsequently grows staple foods. This year she grew on a 900 square foot plot, dedicated to nothing but beans. What's refreshing about this is how Erin is completely bucking the high dollar veggie trend and is instead opting for high protein/high fiber/easily stored goods that typically do not bring in those high dollars. In case of the 2012 Zombie Apocalypse, we're going to need Erin's beans much more than anybody's arugula or carrots. And for that, Erin, I salute you.

Going home that evening, I found a certain comfort in knowing/learning that all of us are fairly still new to this urban farming thing, even the two-year seasoned veterans. My slight insecurities in terms of benchmarking against my peers completely went away after this meeting. I feel more secure and comfortable than ever with my farm and myself, and for that I'm grateful to have attended the First Cleveland Farmer's Summit. Here's to growth and the future.

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