September 27-28

Cleveland sports a familiar grey this morning, and I’m watching an infinitesimal drizzle from a downtown café. After an uncommonly sunny summer, the return of sluggish skies and disintegrating temperatures feels a little like a post-vacation let down.  The street offers an unflattering vantage point as the hems of my jeans soak up dirty water; every building wears the same blank stare against the gray, and behind the rain-specked lenses of my glasses, it doesn’t really matter how the skyline looks anyway. Sometimes somber weather diffuses the glow of the good things about this town, but even as rain collects on the trees lining the sidewalks outside, I’m feeling rather fond – perhaps even proud of- where I’m from.

There is a growing interest amongst Clevelanders in their hometown. More and more people are asking about its history, brainstorming about its future, and reveling in the offerings of its present-day entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, farmers, and chefs. The glamour of an imported product seems to be dimming in the excitement over the term “home-grown,” and this enthusiasm has affected our perception of this oft-drizzly city in some striking ways.  Known widely for the industrial landscape of the flats or for the blighted, abandoned warehouses and homes scattered throughout the county, Cleveland is beginning to add some splashes of green to its concrete jungle.

Farmer’s markets have grown in popularity and number. More people boast memberships to Community Supported Agriculture programs, bringing home weekly prizes of fresh produce from the farm they’ve signed up with. Area restaurateurs are forging relationships with growers to bring in the freshest food, producing dining of the absolute best quality- the words “local” and “seasonal” can be found on menus all over greater Cleveland. Urban gardens are popping up almost as fast as local foods are finding their ways into the city’s kitchens. From multiple-acre fields to modest rooftop plots, plants are taking root in places once known only for brick walls and sidewalks- and people from all walks have access to the fruit of these city plots through programs like Lakewood’s LEAF or via partnerships between WIC (Women, Infants & Children) and the North Union Farmer’s Market.

Veteran market goers and new shoppers alike get to enjoy Northeast Ohio in a particular way. The arrival of spring means not only that daylight inches further and further into the evening, but that offerings from local farmers begin to change. The excitement over new crops might be the most telling indication of the city shedding its winter coat. Last year’s storage crops give way to bright greens, tender brassicas, and stalks of rhubarb; garlic scapes and strawberries follow, and as the season picks up heat, snap peas and blueberries animate urban shoppers right into the advent of summer’s prize: peaches. Today, Clevelanders have bid farewell to soft summer fruit and now begin to tote home hearty winter squash, piquant concord grapes, and apples with names and flavors unheard of in any supermarket.

Autumn is coming in, invited or not, and this morning it’s caught the Erie lakefront under a soggy quilt of clouds. My shoes are soaked and my shape is barely discernible underneath fall layers. Still, however discouraging, the spitting rain hasn’t interrupted the steady current of anticipation I feel for the next farmer’s market. Reminders of failed industry and faulty planning are interspersed now with hints of a new kind of development, and those bright little flashes of green are igniting a curiosity in Cleveland as an agricultural contender. The excitement can only grow as people learn just what our land can do- replacing steelyards with cropland will cultivate not only produce, but pride.

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