Fresh Fest shows just how charming is urban farming

In the vacant land known as “the forgotten triangle” in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood, only trash jumped around in the breeze at the Otter Park playground in 2010. But Damien Forshe envisioned a solution for this urban community, which had grown into a “food desert,” lacking access to affordable and quality fresh food. With help from the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone in 2011, Forshe and his co-founders cleaned up and repurposed the land for urban farming.

Growing a food oasis

On Saturday, Sept. 7, Fresh Fest Cleveland 2019 celebrated agriculture, entrepreneurship, and the arts at popular Rid-All Farm and Otter Park.

Fresh Fest visitors sampled ingredients that make up healthy meals and a sustainable community. “This is primarily a place-making project,” said Kim Foreman, executive director of Environmental Health Watch, the lead agency that organized Fresh Fest. “We want to make food more accessible. And to promote healthy lifestyles, we added connections with local entrepreneurs.” Her assistant, Windi Moore, helped coordinate these area artists and businesses.

“To support our entrepreneurs and artists, we invited them to display their music, arts, and businesses, free of charge,” said Foreman. Red tents lined the festival grounds with tables of colorful products and wellness services.

Arts can maintain balance

Sustainability is about balance, preventing depletion of a resource. Fresh Fest demonstrated to participants how fresh food and the arts can help with the balancing act of everyday life.

The entrance on East 81st Street pulsed with electronic music. Audiences gathered close to live bands that played all day on the Main Stage near East 83rd Street.  

Tucked under a lush canopy of trees, chefs demonstrated healthy cooking techniques. Free food tastings were set up at small tables throughout the park. Joining in were a farmers market, the food truck MoBite, the Hough winery The Land, and Cleveland’s Platform Beer Co. to help feed hundreds of food-curious visitors.

In front of a 25-foot-high teepee, groups were led in guided meditations, with white, crystal sound bowls ringing above the festival chatter. Mothers waited patiently for 5-minute massages in 10-minute lines. Festival-goers rested on the grassy mounds in front of the main stage.

Toddlers to teens explored painting projects, chalk sidewalks, puppetry and recycled materials from Upcycle. Otter Park even featured a “Fresh Hoops Basket Ball” tournament and playground equipment.

The all-day music festival culminated in the calming reggae grooves of the popular Carlos Jones and The P.L.U.S. Band. Then the energy increased as rapper, DJ and beat boxer Biz Markie headlined for the festival. He has lost substantial weight through healthier eating and wanted to share his music and story.

Swiss Chard growing at the Rid-All Green PartnershipVision grows alongside plants

Rid-All Farm continues to expand operations within the 26.5-acre Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone, once known as "the forgotten triangle." Damien Forshe passed away tragically in November 2018, but his vision is sustained by two childhood friends and co-founders Keymah Durden and Randy McShepard, as well as the entire Rid-All Green Partnership.

According to McShepard, the farm has two greenhouses and four hoop houses that grow vegetables year round. The farm even teaches how to build hoop houses for customers. It also boasts 22 fruit trees, 18 berry trees, and an aquaponics system for its thriving tilapia farm, already producing 25,000 fish annually, year round through heated tanks. The farm is valued for its composting field, producing compost for customers by the bucket and truckload.

“The knock on urban farming has been our three-month summer, but we teach others how to expand their vision and income streams,” says McShepard. Rid-All Farm works with private and pubic schools to teach students about science, agriculture and sustainable farming. "We also produce the comic book series 'Brink City,' in which regular citizens save cities who are on the brink of disaster.”

Fresh Fest event coordinator Windi Moore and Kim Foreman, executive director for Environmental Health Watch.Engaging youth

Environmental Health Watch and the Rid-All Green Partnership have worked together on many projects and summer festivals over the years. Both organizations know that the real future of sustainable practices lies in educating youth. Funding from the Kresge Foundation provided a boost to their goals for young people, ages 13 to 18.

In 2016, the Kresge Foundation provided grant funding to develop food-oriented initiatives in cities across the nation. The initiative was titled “FreshLo”–“Fresh, Local & Equitable: Food as a Creative Platform for Neighborhood Revitalization.”

Youth enrolled in Cleveland’s FreshLo program helped plan Fresh Fest Cleveland 2019, learning an important lesson. Whether plants, human beings, or communities, we can all help each other grow.

Read more articles by Cindy Hill.

Cindy Hill is a freelance writer, based in Shaker Heights. She enjoys telling the stories of impact makers—the organizations and businesses that keep Cleveland at the forefront of innovation. For over 22 years, she has produced award-winning curriculum, proposals, books, and articles, driven by her insatiable curiosity to find out “what’s next.”
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