Green City Growers (2011)

Cleveland, OH

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Construction of a greenhouse and distribution facility for a co-op: GCGC is a 100% worker-owned, hydroponic, food production greenhouse located in the heart of Cleveland. It is a project of Evergreen Cooperatives of Cleveland, with support of the Cleveland Foundation and the City of Cleveland. Construction took place in 2014 on a 10-acre former brownfield site in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. The 5- acre campus (140,000 sq. ft.) now houses a hydroponic greenhouse, offices, advanced energy facilities and onsite parking.

Growing locally has many environmental benefits, including longer shelf life and reduced transportation costs. Potential customers include food retailers, wholesalers and food service companies. The initiative was designed to create an economic breakthrough in Cleveland. Rather than a trickle-down strategy, it focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up. Rather than offering public subsidy to induce corporations to bring what are often low-wage jobs into the city, the Evergreen strategy calls for catalyzing new businesses, owned by their employees. Rather than concentrate on workforce training for employment opportunities that are largely unavailable to low-skill and low-income workers, the Evergreen Initiative first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to fill them.

A Model Drawing Wide Attention

The resulting businesses have drawn national and even global media attention as well as wide interest from economic development professionals. “These are not your traditional small-scale co-ops,” wrote The Nation, noting the initiative’s large ambitions, and the national buzz it has created for “the Cleveland model.” Fast Company magazine noted the collective “is finding ways to make the city cleaner and more wealthy, in ways that will create permanent change for the city’s poorest residents.”

The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative remains an important model for healing neglected post-industrial economies in the American heartland. But it’s also part of a larger experiment in alternative wealth-building and wealth-sharing models being considered by stakeholders in the Greater University Circle Initiative. Says the Cleveland Foundation’s President/CEO and Evergreen Board Chairman, Ronn Richard: “Our goal is equitable wealth creation at scale.”

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Cleveland, OH