From Housing Projects to Farmland: Clevelanders Build Largest Contiguous Urban Farm in America

The Urban Farm sits on 6 acres between the Cuyahoga River and the Riverview Housing Projects in Cleveland, Ohio.

Until recently, a chain-link fence surrounded the abandoned six acres that were once home to housing projects near downtown Cleveland. The Army Corps of Engineers declared the sloped land unusable and unstable. For years, locals talked about other uses for this prime real estate, but nothing surfaced. Literally.

Then, in 2009, a small community development corporation obsessed with local food and social justice began brainstorming the idea for an urban farm. And they knew just the perfect place.

The Ohio City Fresh Food Collaborative took core soil samples and determined the land free from any toxin that would prevent farming. With a five-year lease at $10 per year (no, that's not a typo, it's really just $10 per year), the Ohio City Farm was born. To tend the land, founding partners and licensees were selected -- the Refugee Response, Great Lakes Brewing Co., Central Roots, and members of the CMHA Green Team.

Refugee Response, a nonprofit group working on local resettlement of immigrants, runs 1½ acres of the farm. Fifteen refugee trainees, paid $10/hour, work the farm with over 100 varieties of heirloom fruits and vegetables. In addition to agriculture training, the refugees are offered free financial literary and culinary classes.

"The farm addresses many urban issues from vacant land reuse to local food, to population loss," said launch Project Director Graham Veysey. "The cross disciplinary nature of this project is one of the many exciting sustainability efforts in Cleveland that is making it a truly green city on a blue lake."