NewsLocal NewsA Better Land


Work-study program through Green Corps gives youth meaningful skills at urban farms throughout Cleveland

Posted at 10:50 AM, Apr 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-22 18:24:35-04

CLEVELAND — A local work-study program by Green Corps is helping teens find employment at urban farms in Midtown, Slavic Village, Fairfax and Buckeye-Woodland communities while giving them and residents around the farms access to fresh food.

For as sure as Shawn Dantzler's hands look in the dirt, you'd never know gardening didn't come easily to him once.

"We grew everything," said Dantzler. "They had us memorize every different type of variety of plant that we had: swiss chard, seven different kinds of tomatoes, things I'd never heard of before," said Dantzler.

Dantzler works in Green Corps' Fairfax farm where new students will grow produce this summer.

Dantzler had never heard of the food because fresh produce can be hard to find in parts of Cleveland.

"We're really just trying to get teenagers to eat vegetables," said Green Corps Director Kelly Barrett, smiling. "That's what this boils down to."

Barrett looks over the Fairfax farm.

Barrett's program takes roughly 50 students a year and splits them across four farms throughout Cleveland's east side in Midtown, Slavic Village, Fairfax, and Buckeye Woodland.

The Fairfax farm sits on what used to be four separate plots of land, according to county land records.

"The neighborhoods where our farms are at are considered to be food desserts, so produce in general isn't available sometimes," said Barrett.

Signs sit in Green Corps' Fairfax farm before 50 inner-city students start in the program this summer.

Students learn to grow food on one of the four farms, then sell it to people who live nearby at a steep discount.

"For a lot of the neighbors who are within walking distance, this is the most convenient place to go and buy local produce," said Barrett.

Green Corps staff get the Fairfax farm ready for warmer temperatures.

Dantzler says his three years in the program were connective not only because he was able to help his neighbors, but because of what he learned outside the farms. Green Corps members also spend part of their summers meeting with local professionals, learning about life skills and what waits for them after they've gotten too old to be part of Green Corps for the summer.

"I'm better at speaking with others and handling customers, I got that amazing customer service experience," said Dantzler.

Green Corps students get their own small plots where they can grow their own food, as long as it stays within the box.

Dantzler says Green Corps helped him crack out of his shell, setting him up to go to Cuyahoga Community College to be a physical trainer, giving him a bunch of new mentors and friend he'd never have made otherwise.

"You felt closer to the people you're with, which is rare nowadays," said Dantzler. "Most people don't even know their neighbors."

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.