Saturday, February 26, 2011

Some Press

As evidenced by the above real postcard received from James in Denver, my sphere seems to be growing beyond family, friends, and Facebook. On February 17th, I gave a presentation at Cleveland State University about my farm, land re-usage, and current issues facing Cleveland farmers. Journalist, Lee Chilcote, was in attendance. Here is his report.

And James in Denver, I will be in touch in a few days.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Cleveland Urban Homestead Law

On Thursday the 17th at my Cleveland State presentation, one of the topics I was asked to touch upon is what else can the City of Cleveland do to further the local foods movement. Though there are several places for improvement, today I will focus on one subject in particular that I brought up to the crowd. This subject is long-term Cleveland Land Bank access and the potential to create Cleveland Urban Homesteading Laws.

In January, me and 50 or so other Re-Imagining Cleveland grantees signed a four-year lease with City of Cleveland for our subsequent Land Bank properties. This four-year document feels pretty good and secure at first. Then I start thinking about my current paw paws and the future chestnuts that I want to plant. It will be at least four years until I see any real fruits from these plantings. However, beyond the four year lease, Cleveland is being eerily, attorneyalistically quiet about its plan for the properties.

If you look at those photos above, it's pretty easy to see that my farm is located on a major Cleveland street near two major highways. Thousands of cars drive past every day. To shorten the verbiage and get to the point, my farm would make a kick-ass spot for a BP gas station. Then when you consider that these funds for Re-Imagining Cleveland came from the Federal government and technically not directly from Cleveland itself, it's also pretty easy to understand that these green spaces might just be only a holding pattern for the City. In four years, it's clear that Cleveland believes there might just be some corporate investing again. Maybe?

It is this complete lack of being "all-in" that terrifies many of us new and would-be Cleveland urban farmers. Admittedly, some of the folks in the urban foods and sustainability movement are total flakes, either having only heard these terms through Oprah and Martha, or just being a little too liberally extreme with what is acceptable for city land usage.

At this point, it feels as if we've reached an impasse. Cleveland farmers want what every farmer in the world wants: land security. Whereas, the City wants to protect itself from flakes/liability, while keeping its door open to a better economic opportunity. In all actuality, who could really blame Cleveland?

Being the solution-maker that I've been becoming, I have a solution. That solution is Cleveland Urban Homesteading Laws. These laws, or ordinances, or whatever they'd technically be in terms of legal jargon would be modeled after the Federal Homesteading Laws of yesteryear. I've often likened the land availability in Cleveland and the rest of the Rust Belt to what the early American settlers must have felt. It's just that this time there's no American Indian Genocide or African Slavery to taint (understatement) the historical record.

For those unaware, back in the day, up until about the 80's, the American government would give away large tracts of land to adventurous/rugged individuals to "homestead" the land. Basically what this meant is that the individual/family had a prescribed amount of time (often five to seven years) to prove to the American government that they could make a living off of the land (think trapping, fishing, mining, logging, farming, and very earlier tourism). If at the end of the allotted time frame, the individual/family could prove that they had earned a living from the land, then the family would be granted that tract.

I propose something in lines with this methodology as a way to create a formalized mechanism to grant land rights to Cleveland farmers. I would further suggest to even lower the bar from "earning a living" to "making quantifiable supplemental income." Being that all land bank lots are not created equally in terms of size, it may be necessary to put dollar amount standards on various lot sizes. For example, a Cleveland urban homesteader, working an eighth of an acre may need to show $3K of revenue earned; whereas, another Cleveland urban homesteader, working an acre may need to show revenue of $24K in order to be granted the land.

Cleveland's already way on the map and making its mark on the world in terms of urban food production and land re-use. However, being the first city in the United States to create urban homestead laws would be nothing short of revolutionary. It would empower people. It would help stabilize neighborhoods. And "gulp," it may even attract people to the city. And when I say people, I mean non-Ohioans.

Of course, I encourage all other cities to create their own urban homesteading laws. It's just that being that I farm in Cleveland, I would like Cleveland to do it first. Something like a homegrown revolution.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Old Husher's Marketing Materials

If you live in Cleveland, and somewhat moderately pay attention to your surroundings (like you notice new graffiti every so often), and run around the single degree of separation that is also Cleveland, then you may have noticed some of my marketing materials here or there.

If not, I'm glad I have this chance to tell you all about them. First off, I invite you to take a mighty gander at them up top of this blog.

In order of appearance from top to bottom, you see the flyer for my "Produce Prepaids Program" that has affectionately synonymously morphed into my "Not-A-CSA" program; the classic and almost soldoutish "A Farm in Cleveland?!" t-shirt is next; and last but not least is the sentiment we're all feeling more and more these days, "CORPORATE FOOD STILL SUCKS," the sticker, which is soon to be followed by the t-shirt.

Currently, I'm most excited about the Produce Prepaids Program, aka the Not-A-CSA. That being said, the Prepaids are similar to a traditional CSA program in that the customer buys-in or prepays in advance for fresh produce in the future. Both systems create a commitment directly from customer to farmer/salesperson, or in my case directly from customer to me.

Now from there, the Prepaids are different from a traditional CSA program. I would like to take the chance right now to accentuate these differences. First off, my Prepaids are more affordable and therefore more accessible than other CSAs. The cost of the Prepaids is only $50, which is in stunning contrast to my peers'/competitors' cost that range from $400-$700.

Now that you know you can most likely afford it, and just like Devo's 1980 breakthrough album, I give the Prepaids "Freedom of Choice," which also differs from traditional CSAs.

My Prepaid customers have the freedom to choose the vegetables of their choice. I will not pre-determine/determine somebody's food-buying like other CSAs. My customers will not get sick of kale or bok choy unless they want to get sick of kale or bok choy. If my Prepaids need 10 pounds of canning tomatoes, then they got 10 pounds of canning tomatoes.

Furthermore, unlike other traditional/stuffy CSAs, my Prepaids are not locked into a singular/concrete pick-up day and time. Rather, my Prepaids have the freedom to choose their pickup time (within reason) at my Lakewood home in the detached garage when it is convenient for them. Micro-local delivery will also be available for a $2 delivery fee, which will be waived if the delivery is on the way to something else.

Because my Prepaids will only be inundated by my vegetables at their choosing, this gives my Prepaids additional freedoms like the ability to spread their wealth to other farmers and farmer's markets. My Prepaids can give Old Husher the brake for a couple of weeks/months. This is in the name of customer service and for my other urban farmer brethren.

Finally, because the Prepaids Program is cash-based versus time-based, a Prepaid customer's contract lasts only as long as there is cash in their account. A Prepaid customer will never feel "trapped" through an entire growing season like the traditional time-based CSAs. Once the $50 is spent, a Prepaid customer may move on (a very unlikely event), buy-in another $50, or simply agree to accept sales texts going into the future.

This brings me to my next outlier question. Exactly, how do I communicate veggie availability with my Prepaids? Availability will be communicated via sales texts when the produce comes available and will also be listed on Old Husher's Farm page when that comes into existence on Facebook later this month.

So to make the deal even sweeter, I'm running a special right now through February that a $50 prepay will actually buy a $60 credit. That's like a 20% bonus coupon!

Back in 2009 when this plan was first starting to come together, I would tell everybody I knew about it. Back then, there was a small group of individuals, who I was basically preaching to the converted about my would-be urban farm. But in general, most recipients of my farm diatribe would look confused and fairly often exclaimed, "A Farm in Cleveland?!" From this naturally occurring re-occurrence, my first logo was born in the form of nine-colored "A Farm in Cleveland?!" t-shirt.

Local artist, Stephe DK, was commissioned for the Cleveland mirror-image and my likeness design. From there, the design went to print at the National screen printer juggernaut, that is located right here in Cleveland, known as Jakprints. Because I believe men and womens' bodies are very differently shaped, I opted for both a man and woman's cut t-shirt. The woman's t-shirt is available in sizes small through extra-large, is 100% organic cotton, is made in the USA, is Bella brand, and is form fitting. The man's t-shirt is 100% cotton and made by Gildan. The man's t-shirt was selected based on what I found most in my drawer. It is also available from small through extra-large.

For me, the ultimate goal of the "A Farm in Cleveland?!" logo is for me to have helped change Cleveland and the subsequent National dialogue regarding Cleveland. I would like Cleveland's National "burning river" image to change a more appropriate "a farm in Cleveland!" with the question mark removed on purpose. There's enough of it happening here that it seems completely plausible to me.

If you'd like to get a hold of one of these t-shirts and wondering how, I am pleased to announce there are options. If you see me in Cleveland within this one degree of separation, chances are I'll have t-shirts (say at Gordon Square Farmer's Market or at my public speaking event at CSU tomorrow). They're $20. Also, the Root Cafe in Lakewood carries a stock of shirts, also for $20. Now beyond Cleveland, the t-shirts are $25 postage paid via Paypal. See below. Please indicate gender and size in the special instructions section.

Lastly, "CORPORATE FOOD STILL SUCKS" is a sentiment that's growing more and more everyday, especially with the recent presidential approval of Monsatan's genetically modified alfalfa, beets, and corn. If you see me around town, the stickers are free. Otherwise, the stickers are 3 for $2 postage paid . Also, via Paypal.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


I've been suffering a massive dose of writer's block this winter, which would be okay if I had nothing to say, or nothing was happening. However, the contrary is true, and I just feel stumped to type. So I'm a gonna attempt to force this one out in a non-linear train of thought fashion though I generally disdain others' blogs that write in this manner.

Wow, seems like yesteryear when it was last warm out in Cleveland, Ohio. Wait, it was yesteryear. December 31st to be exact. I took full advantage of an eight hour farm day to round out the year and "installed" something akin to a lasagna bed at a spot on the farm that somewhat naturally has a hole and a decline. I started off with a whole lotta corn tortillas as my carbohydrate base 'cause they always go stale in our household when we buy the 50 packs. Followed by the non-reusable yards bags of Autumn. Then several hundred pounds of formerly espresso-nated Loop coffee grinds were applied in a haphazard manner. Then the heavy lifting ensued with the courtesy of Birch and a trip to Rocky River Metropark, where we picked up a bunch of woodchips in Subee-1 for the next layer. We layered again with coffee grinds, fruits, and woodchips with subsequent Loop and Metropark trips accordingly. At that point, Birch was cashed out, but we still had light. So I picked up my other buddy, Gabe, and we drove to Leaf Humusville for 180 gallons of leaf humus for the final topping of last year. It was a great way to end 2010. Thanks Birch and Gabe.

We had another one of those Cleveland Farmer's Summits on the 14th of January. I formally tried to pass a motion to amend the name from "Cleveland Farmer's Meeting" to my way-preferred and in my opinion more stoic sounding "Cleveland Farmer's Summit." I'm pretty sure everybody thought I was joking because there was a chuckle and no dialogue ensued beyond that. So in my not-normally-passive aggressive way, I'm just gonna continue to refer to it as the Cleveland Farmer's Summit. And in my normally direct manner, I will bring it up again at the next Summit, which is scheduled for next week...Wednesday, I think. Gotta look that one up.

The theme for January's Summit was farm planning. Eric Stoffer of Bay Branch Farm and Peter McDermott of Urban Growth Farm both presented; whereas, I just spoke. I think I speak for most of us in attendance that we were pretty much drop-jaw and in-awe of Peter's ultra spreadsheet approach to planning with 1.3 times fudge factors, a detailed weekly CSA delivery schedule, a data-crunching breakdown per vegetable, and the like. This very much contrasted with my still developing "conceptual" approach to planning that mingles interesting sounding veggies with some sales projection hocus pocus on top of it. I'm not saying I don't use spreadsheets. I'm just saying I'm doing pre-algebra; and Peter's figuring out astral projection calculus; and also to his credit, Eric is like trig. At any rate, it was a great Summit, and it was encouraging to see some new folks.

I gotta new food addiction for the new year. Oddly enough, it's in stunning contrast to my other longtime running food addictions that include buffalo chicken wings (death to all other flavors, traitors!), western omelettes with cheese aka a Denver omelette, and a Dirty Greek Gyro (pork, fries, onions, mustard; plus, I get to say "I'll have a dirty Greek")from Greek Village Grille.

So drum roll, please. My latest food addiction is brussel sprouts! This is really weird, considering I cried at the age of 12 when my parents forced me to eat them. Besides the onion, the brussel sprout is the only vegetable to have made me cry. But like all good addictions, this one for brussel sprouts came in hard and fast, and seemingly out of nowhere. It all started about a year ago at Michael Symon's Lolita, where I got my first taste, fried in lard with capers, anchovies, and balsamic; I'm tremensing now typing about them. I had 'em a couple more times over the months, but I wouldn't say I became addicted until Decemberish at a dinner party hosted by the Origin Beanery folks, where the garlic roasted sprouts were the perfect compliment to the duck and squash pasta confit. Now a week doesn't go by without me craving and roasting some sprouts. I mostly keep to the routine of garlic, salt, and either bacon fat or avocado oil, just depending whether or not Sarah is looking over my shoulder whilst I cook. Sometimes, I "get crazy" with soy sauce or balsamic or something else mundane, but not often, and definitely not more than five ingredients.

This addiction is going so far that it has affected my conceptual farm planning this year. And despite them taking a ridiculous 110 days to mature, and taking up lots of space, and being bastard-aphid magnets, I plan on growing brussel sprouts this year. A variety called Long Island Improved. Yeah, the Chinese may be calling it the Year of the Rabbit, but for me, it's the Year of the Brussel Sprout. And if I catch a rabbit eating one of my Sprouts this year, then I may be vending some lucky rabbit's foots at my stand this summer.

On the Local Food Cleveland website last year, I started the Cleveland Farmers Buyers Club to achieve some economies of scale for us smaller urban growers. Last year, it existed without a lot of fanfare or hullabaloo or members. And let's face it, the members who joined were friends. I'm proud to say a year later the Cleveland Farmers Buyers Club has commenced it first group order with a purchase of 3,660 onion plants with nine participating buyers. In addition, the online Club is also starting to attract members whom I don't know. There's more and more sizzle everyday.

Cleveland recently made some awesome headlines as one of Yahoo's World's Most Visionary Cities for our urban farming, along with Abu Dhabi's off-the-grid Masdar City. Furthermore, the highlighted project for the article is Gardens Under Glass, where I just finished a brief hydroponics internship! Good Job, Vicky!

In other news, I've been helping the grassroots entity known as Gordon Square Farmers' Market, where I sale my produce, get all formal. We've been doing things like writing Articles of Incorporation, finding attorneys to review those Articles, and having meetings about how to formally go forward with a Board and By-Laws and the such. By becoming non-profit, it will allow Gordon Square Farmers' Market to proceed in a much more business-like fashion for things like insurance, grant opportunities, and perhaps a stipend for the market manager (which will never be me for clarifications sake).

Next week on the 17th, I'm doing a public speaking event at Cleveland State University. There are five Re-Imagining Cleveland Grantees and their projects being highlighted. I am to represent the for-profit, entrepreneurial spirit of urban farming and the Re-Imagining Grant. I am extremely excited about this opportunity to represent the for-profit urban farmer, who often gets condemnation and a drought of funding opportunities, because we do it for "ourselves," while technically trying to be sustainable and pay taxes. I believe socially responsible capitalism is where its at.

I think I'm done. I feel done. That felt like a pretty good ramblin. For sure, it's a load off my shoulders. I'm feeling better about typing again. I think those structured blogs on the back burner will be coming out soon. Look for some on Marketing and Local Food Sustainability 2.0 soon.