Cleveland Roots: Growing an Oasis in a Food Desert

Cleveland Roots: Growing an Oasis in a Food Desert

Working at food banks and shelters, Anne Melfo noticed the low quality of food that’s often given to these organizations. “The donated food was seconds, thirds and fourths,” she says. “What about firsts?”

Many Clevelanders don’t have access to fresh food, living among the numerous food deserts in Northeast Ohio. That’s why partners Melfo and Doug Fawcett of Richfield built Cleveland Roots, a fledgling organization in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood working to address this need.

In three years, Fawcett, Melfo and a team of determined community members established the foundation for what could be a real solution. With a 17-acre farm in Richfield that’s ideal for production of organic fruits, vegetables and eggs, and a greenhouse and community garden in Cleveland’s Clark-Fulton community, they are just getting started.

One idea they’re developing is a pay-what-you-can CSA (community supported agriculture) program that would provide top-notch, organic produce to folks who typically can’t access such food. Giving the highest quality produce to those living in food deserts grows out of blending personal experience. Fawcett came from an idyllic farm background and lacked nothing, while Melfo grew up in a community with so little information about farms and food that some might have guessed turkeys had four legs.

While they’ve had success, Cleveland Roots still faces funding challenges. The immediate need is to build fencing on the Richfield farm (to protect crops from voracious deer). Once that growing space is available, they will have vastly expanded capacity. Rich with ideas and plans, they are in search of capital to realize them. Melfo puts it this way: “We have a destination, but we don’t have a car.”

Despite such challenges, Cleveland Roots is growing. Last year, they added 20 raised beds at the headquarters in Clark-Fulton and constructed a hydroponic growing space that’s ready for use this year. The hydroponic operation will help make Cleveland Roots more self-sustaining, while the garden beds are at the center of the organization’s mission to create opportunities for urban agriculture and to cultivate community. By canvassing the neighborhood, Cleveland Roots was able to offer use of the new garden beds to their immediate neighbors.

The Clark-Fulton neighbor-gardeners hail from Michigan, Texas, Rwanda, Burundi, El Salvador, Guatemala, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ohio. Communicating and executing garden plans involves several languages (helpful multilingual kids often translate for the group). A few families grew varieties of squash and other vegetables that are new to this region.

The eclectic group of families, friends and neighbors will continue this collaborative community project in the coming growing season from mid-April to mid-November.

  1. Take a class Free of charge!
  2. Volunteer at the Clark-Fulton greenhouse or the farm in Richfield.
  3. Spread the word by sharing this story and telling your friends.


Photos courtesy of Maria Livers 

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