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Increase the Dollar – Economic Growth Proposal

January 23, 2009
What would it look like if 10% of the food that families in Cleveland ate was grown within the city limits?  

This question leads to an interesting and pretty inspiring story problem.

Follow me for a bit here:
1. According to the latest U.S. Census data, the City of Cleveland is home to about 438,000 people.

2. According to organic gardening guru John Jeavons, it’s possible to grow enough food to feed one person year-round on about 4,000 square feet – about one-tenth of an acre. This is assuming a 6 month growing season (which we can extend considerably using simple, relatively inexpensive technologies).

3. 438,000 people x 4,000 sq ft = 1.75 billion sq ft = 40,000 acres (to feed the entire population)

4. 10% of 40,000 acres = 4,000 acres

So in order to feed 10% of Cleveland’s population locally we would need to devote around 4,000 acres of land to community gardens and urban farms..

What does that look like? Well, that’s roughly the size of downtown Cleveland:

Interestingly enough, this is also about 10% of the entire land mass of Cleveland proper.

So what would 10% local food mean for our economy:
1. 4,000 acres in production = 4,000 one-acre urban farms

2. Joe Kovach at the OARDC in Wooster, OH is doing research on intensive fruit and vegetable production that can gross up to $90,000 an acre or $10/row foot growing a combination of fruit trees, brambles, and annual fruit and vegetable crops.

3. 4,000 acres x $90,000 = $360 million in gross revenues per year

4. A one-acre urban farm will on average employ 2 full time farmers as well as seasonal part-time labor. If we just consider the full-time positions, that’s 8,000 new green jobs that we could create in the City of Cleveland.

Let’s make it very simple: 10% Local = 4,000 acres = $360 million = 8,000 jobs

Now I am making a few assumptions here. Only an experienced and skilled intensive gardener could produce the yields that Jeavon’s suggests are possible on 4,000 square feet. $90,000/acre is also pretty extraordinary. But it’s no more extraordinary than the inefficiency of industrial agribusiness, which is wildly inefficient both in terms of space and energy. That is food calories produced per square foot and EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) – i.e. calories of food produced per calorie of energy input (pesticides, fertilizers, fuel for heavy machinery and transportation, etc.).

Plus, when you consider the impact that this increased production would have on supporting industries like food distribution, value added processing, food waste composting, etc. we are looking at a potential local food economy in the billions of dollars.

And that’s just the economic benefit. How much storm water could 4,000 acres of urban gardens capture? How much money would that save the Northeast Ohio Sewer District (now building more than $2 billion in new sewers to meet clean water…)? How much raw sewage would that divert from flowing into Lake Erie during heavy storms? How might that impact the health of children who swim at Edgewater Beach? How might the health those same children benefit from access to fresh, abundant, locally grown fruits and vegetables? How much carbon emissions could we reduce by not shipping our apples in from Argentina? Our broccoli from California?

The benefits go on and on and on…

So what do you think? Is it possible? How can we make it happen?

I think this economy is waiting for us. Now is the time to make it a reality.

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