How To Find A Site:
Depending on what you’re trying to do, finding a site may be just a phone call away, or it may be one of the most difficult tasks in your entire urban farm career. This may seem odd when you consider there are 14,000 vacant lots in Cleveland.
One the main obstacles to urban ag in Cleveland right now is what the development world calls “future development potential.” Basically, any lot that seems like it could be a future fast food restaurant, town home, or gas station seems off limits to farmers these days. This typically delegates growers to side streets and out of the way places. I personally lost my farm due to this mentality, and three years later my former farm is still an empty lot, just waiting to realize its future development potential.
At a bare minimum, you’ll want plenty of sun and access to water (most likely through a fire hydrant). You’ll probably also want a relatively flat or gently southerly sloping site, avoiding sites with pockmarked crater-y pits. Ideally, the site will be relatively clean so that your time can be spent working the soil versus cleaning the site; but as we know in Cleveland, empty lots often become dumping grounds. While we’re on the subject of wouldn’t-it-be-great-ifs, it would be great to find all of the above plus a fence around the site. A parking spot is also nice.
Now that we have determined basic standards for site selection, there are numerous ways to go about actually finding a site. As a most likely cash-strapped farmer, you will probably need the backing of your local community development corporation (CDC). That being said, convincing a CDC to support you should be considered your first sale. Not only are CDCs the gatekeepers of the neighborhood, they also are familiar with their neighborhood’s assets.
The CDC may already know of an available former farm site or two. That site may have raised beds built. It may have had the soil tested; the debris dug out. It could possibly be fenced. It may even have a hoophouse that the previous tenant had abandoned. All in all, that’s about $15,000 in upgrades and labor that may be yours for the asking. The hyperlink below shows a map of Cleveland’s neighborhoods and their respective CDCs with contact information.
Even if you don’t get so lucky, the CDC still can probably let you know about vacant lots in the neighborhood, as well as let you know if they’re receptive to your gardening proclivities. Unfortunately, just because you want to farm an area does not mean an area wants you to farm it. Cleveland is in its 2.0 stage of urban farming right now, and the first wave left a bad taste in some folks’ mouths.
Many farmers are do-it-yourself types and prefer to blaze their own paths. In which case, finding a site is typically a combination of driving around in a car or bike with a notepad and using mapping programs like Google Maps and Cleveland’s planning department’s GIS. I have created a screenshot tutorial of the planning department’s GIS on the next webpage. Ironically once you find an appropriate spot, you will still want to contact that neighborhood’s CDC and confirm that they’re onboard with your future farming plans. Once you find a spot, you’ll want to apply for legal access to it. City applications for farms and gardens can be found via the hyperlink below.
Two additional almost turnkey farm spots exist north of Kinsman Road off of East 82nd. The first is a six acre farm that’s divvied up into quarter acre parcels, called the Kinsman Farm. Rent is $250 a year and comes with water access and a fence. West Creek Conservancy is the lessor of Kinsman Farm, and Jakob Hamlescher is the administrator for Kinsman Farm at West Creek Conservancy. For more information, contact Jakob. http://westcreek.org/staff-board/jakob-hamlescher/
The entire area around Kinsman Farm is comprised of 28 acres called the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone. Given a name like that, its main purpose is to provide opportunities via land access to would-be budding urban agriculturists. Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. is the facilitator/gatekeeper to the Ag Zone and would like to hear your proposals. Jeff Sugalski is the contact person. email@example.com
Other non-traditional options to finding a site include churches and schools with under-utilized space, as well as real estate auctions. Auctions provide the best opportunity for the least CDC intrusion; however, I only know of one farmer to ever go this route.
Lastly, it should be mentioned that this entire section was written with urban farmers as the intended audience, but this information is applicable to community gardeners as well. That being said, community gardeners have much easier options available to them via Cleveland’s Summer Sprout program, which is administered by Courtney Woelfl at OSU Extension. Her contact information follows: 216-429-8200 x246, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Courtney can direct you to the nearest community garden, or help you start one.