This story was originally posted by Next city and is reproduced here with permission.
On a dead end street in Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood, on 18 acres of land that was once used as an illegal dumping ground, an entire food ecosystem has emerged and thrived under the guidance of local residents.
Rid-All Green partnership started with a single circle-shaped house erected in February 2011; now acres of farmland are home to a community kitchen and farmer’s market. All food waste is turned into compost, which sustains the farm and is sold throughout Cleveland. A training program and paid apprenticeships attract community members, while an aquaponics and hydroponics system generates local jobs. Specialized programs have sprung up to serve veterans and youth.
“We’ve created a circular economy,” says Keymah Durden, co-founder of Rid-All who grew up in the neighborhood. “Piece by piece, we’ve built this business with things that complement each other.”
Durden is one of three co-founders, all childhood friends who grew up in east Cleveland. Rid-All’s name comes from late co-founder Damien Forshe’s company, Rid-All Exterminating Corporation, which he ran for 15 years before switching to farming. He was inspired by a research report written by co-founder Randy McShepard that advocated building urban farms on vacant land after the 2009 foreclosure crisis. (Cleveland had one of the the highest foreclosure rates in the countrywith many evacuated houses demolished.)
The trio secured 1.3 vacant acres in Kinsman, a neighborhood struggling with divestment and entrenched poverty. They prompted the county and others to clean up the illegal dump; more than 2,000 tires, burnt-out cars and abandoned refrigerators were removed. They participated in a five-month training program at Milwaukee Growing Power’s urban farm and were inspired by two things: creating their own soil to replace the contaminated soil on their land, and investing in fish farming, which could become a generator. income to support a large urban farm.
In addition to building a greenhouse to begin growing plants and vegetables, they collected food waste from local businesses around Cleveland, creating compost for their farm and selling it. They built a self-contained hydroponic system to grow fish in tanks and vegetables on a connected upper level, fish waste fortifying plants, and plants supporting clean water for fish. In the first three years, they grew and sold 10,000 tilapia fish in a greenhouse.
The success was enough to warrant an investment in building a 7,200 square foot urban fish farm, which now produces 70,000 tilapia that Rid-All sells to local restaurants. “These two essential parts of our business – fish farming and compost – came from our early learnings and the realization that there was a market for both,” says McShepard.
As Rid-All grew, the nonprofit obtained adjacent land. It is now an 18-acre campus with two greenhouses, six greenhouses, a commercial composting station and a rain catchment pond. The nonprofit has also been named the official tree nursery of the Cleveland Tree Coalition and will grow and sell at least 5,000 trees over the next few years as part of a larger effort to reforest the city.
“We looked for ways to stay current and evolve over time,” says Marc White, a founding partner who serves as chief operating officer. “We didn’t want to be stuck growing vegetables, we wanted to grow the community.”
To this end, Rid-All has introduced workshops, training and learning programsincluding specific programming for youth And Veterans. The farm now employs 18 people, many of whom are from the neighborhood, and offers summer jobs to young people.
Its last two developments have cemented Rid-All’s circular economy model. In the summer of 2020, Rid-All began operating a farmer’s market in Maple Heights, a suburb bordering Cleveland considered a food wasteland. This was Rid-All’s first opportunity to sell products on a large scale. “Anything we grow on the farm, we can sell at the market and anything that doesn’t sell, we bring it back and it becomes compost,” says McShepard. A chef comes to the market once a month to share meals and recipes based on the products currently on sale.
In the spring of 2021, Rid-All opened a new building on its campus to serve as a community kitchen, market, and restaurant. As in the market, everything grown by Rid-All is cooked and sold in the community kitchen, all food waste becomes compost. “It’s now a complete, closed-loop ecosystem,” McSheperd says.
Durden oversees the community kitchen. “The building is designed like a log cabin, which is such a unique feature of downtown Cleveland, that it’s almost become a centerpiece,” he says. On Tuesdays and Fridays, they sell food cooked by rotating guest chefs; Kinsman residents often eat alongside local government officials and professional athletes.
Rid-All hosts cooking and nutrition classes here and rents out the space for meetings and special events. They also plan to use the kitchen as an incubator for emerging food companies and a gathering place for food products that require processing and packaging.
Durden calls the Farmer’s Market and Community Kitchen “game changers” in that “whatever we grow here on the farm, we can translate into our market and into our kitchen.”
“It’s a real Cleveland story,” he says. “It’s as local as it gets – three kids who grew up on the east side who now represent this message of good faith and hope around agriculture that shows what can be possible.”