new potluck event to build sense of community around local food

Everyone loves a potluck. They inspire people to bring their A-game and try new, exciting dishes, showcase diverse cultural backgrounds, and spark conversations about where our food comes from.

This Saturday from 4:30-7 p.m., what one might call the mother of all potlucks is taking place at Edgewater Park. The grassroots "Potluck in the Park" aims to bring residents together from across the city to celebrate local food in Cleveland and share a meal together.

"The idea was inspired when a group of us went to Detroit and learned about their potlucks," says Lilah Zautner, Sustainability Manager for Neighborhood Progress Incorporated and a lead organizer of the event. "They get 200-plus people at their potlucks, a big spectrum of folks. You'll find super-delicious homemade quinoa next to a bucket of KFC fried chicken. Everything goes on the table and everyone eats."

Although the primary purpose of the event is to build a sense of community around local food, the potluck will also celebrate the city's Year of Local Food. Zautner says the effort, led by Sustainable Cleveland 2019, has been a success.

"New farms are coming online literally every week, the strength and number of farmers markets are growing, and we're getting lots of press," she says. "The quality, size and sophistication of these food-based businesses are growing."

Helping urban farmers in Cleveland grow to the next level was also a big topic of discussion at a Cleveland Connects event hosted last week by ideastream and The Plain Dealer. It raised the question, "Can distinctive restaurants, food-related businesses and urban farms nourish the rebirth of Cleveland's neighborhoods?"

"We want to use microenterprise programs to help bring farmers to scale and create value-added products," responded Colleen Gilson, Executive Director of Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition (CNDC). "These products will allow farmers to sell their products for more money and create more jobs."

"People have innovation and drive but not the facilities," Gilson added. "The growth of commercial kitchens would really help to spur more development."

"The sky is the limit," said David O'Neil with the Project for Public Spaces. "Cleveland, you have enormous potential to grow your local food system."

The Potluck in the Park is open to anyone; bring a dish to share and, of course, local food is encouraged. Guests can register in advance on the Eventbrite page.

Source: Lilah Zautner, Colleen Gilson, David O'Neil
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