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Marcy Kaptur Speaks to Support a “Fruit-Belt” Economy: Replacing Corporate Profits With “Capital Circulation” in Northern Ohio

February 20, 2009

A high density vertical growing system demonstration plot recently installed by CIFT.

A high density vertical growing system demonstration plot recently installed by CIFT.

By L.C. Berlekamp and J.B. Pribanic, Co-Founders of The Erie Wire

Sandusky, Ohio – This past Wednesday, February 18, 2009, U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) held the summit, “City in a Garden,” at the Toledo Botanical Garden to explain her initiatives with the stimulus money that is available for Urban Agriculture programs. She highlighted the potential of the Toledo community to solve their struggle to feed the growing number of hungry citizens with locally grown food.

Serving her fourteenth term, Kaptur is currently the most senior female Member of the U.S. Congress. She serves as the delegate for the 9th Congressional District of Ohio in the United States House of Representatives. The district is based in Toledo and serves Lucas, Ottawa, Erie and Lorain counties along Lake Erie. Kaptur is the most senior Democratic woman on the influential House Appropriations Committee, which is in charge of setting the specific expenditures of money by the federal government. Kaptur also serves on the Appropriations subcommittees for Transportation, Housing, Urban Development and Agriculture. Agriculture is the leading industry in the state of Ohio.

In her introduction, Kaptur stated that although agriculture is Ohio’s biggest business, of the food that is consumed by Ohio families, only 2% of that food is actually grown in Ohio. As the economy continues to shed jobs and decline dramatically, the demand for food is up 9 percent to 46 percent in Ohio, depending on the location, while food costs are increasing 26 percent to 55 percent. Food distribution expenses also are also up. At the same time, donations to food banks are down an average of 8 percent statewide, she said. About 11 million people make up the state population and just in the last few months of 2008, 1.8 million Ohioans sought help from food pantries. So far this year, the need is up another 25 percent.

Back in 2006, the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio put together a discomforting research report on the hunger problems of the area. In the eastern half of the 9th District, where annual tourism rates are higher than in any other area in Ohio, over 14 percent of the population lives below the poverty line in Erie and Lorain counties.

Through presentations given by local food banks and organizations like the Toledo-based Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), Kaptur and her team shared with a large group of social service providers and religious leaders the most accessible options to growing food within urban areas to serve the multicultural communities of the 9th District. 

Cauliflower grown in an Urban Garden in Sandusky during the 2008 season.

Cauliflower grown in an Urban Garden in Sandusky during the 2008 season.

“We have the capacity to raise product here,” Ms. Kaptur said. She discussed the limitless potential of working with local municipalities on piloting local farming projects. The possibility of setting aside some land for the traditional farming of fruits and vegetables would serve the demands of the area’s schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other regional establishments.

She continued with, “You either work in the wheat or you work in the weeds” – taken from the passage of a parable read by Reverend Raymond Bishop in a recent sermon at Mt. Pilgrim Church. She emphasized the need for planning and cooperation as she told the “sewing story”, illustrating how all the parts of our local food systems need to be threaded together skillfully and carefully so as to produce something useful. She believes cultural participation in the form of community gardens, community supported agriculture (CSA), cooperatives, food processors, food banks, school gardens, farmers markets and restaurant growers will empower the local food economy with the affinity to provide for the diverse group of people who live here.

The agenda item, “Why Food Stamps Aren’t Enough,” gave reasons to promote more programs like the UDSA’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The SFMNP is a federal program which provides coupons for low-income seniors to buy fresh, unprepared foods at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and through community supported agriculture programs. It is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Like other states, Ohio maintains the use of the coupons for locally grown produce only, to encourage support of our state farmers.

On February 2, the congresswoman had announced a major federal award to the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The OVH, which has been in operation for more than 115 years, is run through a cooperative effort between the federal government, Veterans Affairs, and the state of Ohio known as the State Home Program. The award of $1.26 million will be used to upgrade mechanical systems at OVH and cover 65 percent of the cost of construction. The remainder of the project will be funded through the state of Ohio. She stated that the work will not only stimulate the local economy, but improve the quality of life for our veterans at the home in Sandusky.

Toledo - Urban AgricultureKaptur was especially excited about the work of Michael Szuberla, who gave a presentation on behalf of Toledo GROWs, the community gardening outreach program of Toledo Botanical Garden. Mr. Szuberla gave examples of their success with over  50 community gardens. He gave a thorough explanation of how community gardening enhances the quality of life in many ways by beautifying neighborhoods; connecting urban dwellers back to the land and nature; providing wholesome, nutritious, and economical food; reducing crime and blight; and promoting the creation and use of green space. He also commented on the need for local policies and ordinances to allow for people who want the power of providing their own nutrition to be able to run with     these ideas to encourage others to recognize them as socially acceptable and economically viable. He noted the absurdity of people being allowed to have massive dogs on one foot chains in their yards but are unable to keep 2 or 3 chickens so that they can have fresh eggs and fertilize their gardens. He went on to discuss

Ms. Kidd and a boy with their harvest.

Ms. Kidd and a boy with their harvest.

how communication increases and culture is preserved when there is access and availability to local food. He gave an example of Ms. CeeBee Kidd, who at the age of 96 still volunteers for Toledo GROWs and helps pass on techniques and stories in the gardens.

On Saturday, February 28,  from 11a.m. to 3:15p.m, Toledo GROWs and the Toledo Botanical Garden will be hosting the 5th Annual Seed Swap at the conference center where the City in a Garden summit took place. The Seed Swap is a free and public event.

Creating Art & Culture - YAAW mural at Ten Eyck Garden

Creating Art & Culture - YAAW mural at Ten Eyck Garden

Soil & Creativity - YAAW Mural

Soil & Creativity - YAAW Mural

The Center For Innovative Food TechnologyCIFT presented two of their very successful hands-on studies of sustainable growing methods for urban areas. One was the use of hoop houses to extend the seasons and their profitability through a growing environment, demonstrated at Bittersweet Farms, whose mission is to maximize opportunities adults with autism by providing services to individuals and support to their families.

Photovoltaic 'Tree' in Styria, Austria

Photovoltaic 'Tree' in Styria, Austria

The other was the use of vertical gardens that can be set up in places such as empty parking lots or roof tops to grow produce. This was demonstrated at Flower Hospital, with the fresh harvest used as food in its meal program. Both of the studies included a complete breakdown of methods, materials, time commitments, costs and profits. They briefly touched on experimenting with the use of photovoltaic technology in order to meet the resource demands of these structures. CIFT also promoted community kitchens in order to demonstrate and teach food safety. 

Overall the program showed the success of current local food initiatives in Northern Ohio, but struggled with the question of how to join them in a common identity. On this question, representative Joshua Pribanic, with Co-Founder Lauren Berlekamp of The Erilogo2e Wire, spoke out on how to “sew the parts together.” The Erie Wire is an online news organization concerned about increasing regional capitol circulation and economic sovereignty. Mr. Pribanic suggested looking at the certification tactic used by the free market economy, which could allow for all local food parts to cooperate under a regional symbol. The symbol’s criteria would include the diversity in regional food developments within the 9th District, and set exclusionary standards for the industrial food system. He went on to explain the significance of the area’s geographical advantages in soil fertility from the Laurentide Glacial recession, and how a “fruit-belt” certification title could offset the rustbelt label of the region. After pointing out this unique attribute in the symbol of the event, the discussion was finalized. Everyone then bowed their heads in a prayer led by Reverend Clarence Coleman of the Greater Nazarene Baptist Church, and said yes to a local food economy.

A Food Policy Listening Session will be held by the Ohio Food Policy Council on April 9, from 10:00am to 12:00pm, at the Center for Innovative Food Technology, 5555 Airport Highway, Suite #100, Toledo, Ohio 43615 . This will be an opportunity for the public to share their concerns about existing obstacles to the creation of local food systems, such as the upcoming international trade initiatives of Ohio’s agribusiness with Israel or Ohio’s notorious struggle with genetically-engineered foods. The Ohio Food Policy Council is a public-private collaboration established by Governor Strickland in August of 2007 to improve the food system in Ohio and to increase access to healthy foods for all Ohioans. 

Open Letter to Sandusky City Commissioner Julie Farrar Regarding the Momentum of Congresswoman Kaptur’s Local Food Movement – Thursday, February 19, 2009


Hello Julie,

Yesterday Joshua Pribanic, Co-Founder of The Erie Wire, and I attended the meeting brought together by Marcy Kaptur as grassroots representation on behalf of Erie County and the City of Sandusky. The Executive Director of Veggie U, Debra Nickoloff, attended with us on behalf of Veggie U and The Chef’s Garden, who were among the organizations specially invited by the congresswoman.

The urban agricultural initiatives that she spoke on focused heavily on encouraging local food programs that are similar to Toledo Grows and the Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT), also based in Toledo. These programs are meant to increase local capital and give people the ability to come together and provide themselves their basic needs – most importantly of which is nutritious food and clean water.

Ohio’s biggest business is the agricultural and food processing sector. However, of the food that is consumed by Ohio families, only 2% is grown in Ohio. Near the lake, we have a unique climate that allows us three growing seasons that can produce tomatoes, peppers, squash, zucchini, pumpkins, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, celery, carrots, sweet corn, onions, spinach, lettuces, onions, sweet corn, beans, peas, potatoes, beets, radishes, grains, grapes, apples, pears, plums, melons, a variety of berries, etc. I’m sure you understand my point – on top of the food security that would be provided by growing this all locally, it is money that can be made and invested back into our community.

Recently a study was done for the City of Sandusky by Haag Environmental that showed the city spending $60 million dollars each year with $40 million going to resources outside Erie County. If the City of Sandusky could bring half of that spending inside Erie County, that would be the equivalent of bringing in a new business that spends $20 million each year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that spending also provided a viable way to allow access to nutritious locally grown food?

I did speak briefly with Tom Spear of the Sandusky Green House, who also exchanged information with Deb about a possible partnership with Veggie U for learning programs. I gave him some information on Urban Agriculture, Community and Municipal Supported Agriculture Programs (CSAs or MSAs – currently, The Erie Wire is in the process of organizing a CSA for Sandusky), schoolyard gardens, neighborhood gardens, and programs to provide food for low-income residents. It is my understanding that although the Sandusky Greenhouse holds a tremendous amount of knowledge regarding the growth of flowers and other aesthetic pleasure plants, they do not know how to grow vegetables; however, there are many resources that are available immediately within our area to aid in this – some that were presented yesterday and some that are “in our backyard.” For example, Karen and Mark Langan grow organic starter plants at Mulberry Creek Farm on Bogart Road; Bobby Jones, Jr. of The Chef’s Garden is the president of the Ohio Produce Growers & Marketers Association.  The New Agrarian Center hosts workshops in Oberlin. With the information presented yesterday, it is obvious that edible gardens and parks are a necessary adaptation to keep up with the movement Marcy is pushing for. This is also an element of eco-tourism.

Excited about the goals of The Erie Wire, members of Marcy Kaptur’s team let us know that they are going to help us in any way they can to foster these ideas in Sandusky and promote awareness of them so that they are accepted and initiated as soon as possible. She expressed that the urgency of all of this is especially important not only because of the time sensitivity of the stimulus money available but also to keep an overwhelming social discourse from growing as people become more desperate to provide for their families. A point was mentioned yesterday that studies have shown that the lack of nutritious food available is congruent with higher crime rates. 

I understand that there are revisions being made to the 10 Year Comprehensive Plan for the City of Sandusky. Serving as our guide, structure and shield, the comprehensive plan must include policies and ordinance changes that promote a local food system and enable people to provide for themselves. One of the presenters, Michael Szuberla of Toledo Grows, emphasized this point and even mentioned that Cleveland has recently adopted an ordinance to allow for backyard chickens. He talked about Gene Logston of Upper Sandusky who has been trying to make it possible for people there to have backyard chickens and noted the absurdity of people being allowed to have massive guard dogs on 1 foot chains in their yards but are unable to keep 2 or 3 chickens so that they can have fresh eggs. We need local policies and programs to allow for people who want the power of providing their own nutrition to be able to run with these ideas to encourage others to recognize these ideas as socially acceptable and economically viable.

This is where Marcy is taking the 9th district. We will have her support (through grant programs as well as through her powerful representation) in these initiatives as long as we don’t get caught up in the politicking for tack which has inhibited sustainable growth and kept the stability of a cultural system that is supportive of the city’s decisions from strengthening those who actually live here year-round. In order to keep ourselves from falling further into the large crack between the sustainable progressions in Cleveland and Toledo, we cannot hesitate to act.

I encourage you to look at the links of the highlighted words in this email in order to get a better handle on the potential for our area. Here are also links to the information that I gave Mr. Spear:

This article explains almost everything about the potential for local food:

Agricultural Urbanism & Municipal Supported Agriculture

American Community Garden Association

Growing Gardens Project in Portland Oregon (Sandusky can do this!)

Berkeley Community Gardening Collaborative (Sandusky can do this!)

The Garden Project (Sandusky can do this!) 

Thank you for your time and support and we look forward to working with you.
Best regards,
Lauren Berlekamp
Co-Founder, Editor-in-Chief
The Erie Wire



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