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Urban farm in Cleveland growing food and futures, and embracing a new neighbor

It is one of the largest urban farms in the nation.
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Posted at 9:37 AM, Jun 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-10 11:38:57-04

CLEVELAND — The farm stand outside The Ohio City Farm officially opens for the season on Saturday, June 11, and will be open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon through Thanksgiving.

You can find the farm stand at West 24th Street and Bridge, just outside the gates to the farm, which is an unexpected juxtaposition of rural and urban life.

Equally unexpected, are the amazing stories of the humble, hard workers at the farm, like Lar Doe.

"I'm very happy to work here and to be part of the city," said Doe.

He resettled in Cleveland after he says he fled a civil war in Burma, now called Myanmar, in Southeast Asia, and spent 15 years in a refugee camp in Thailand; only a small fraction of refugees is ever resettled.

The land is owned by Ohio City Incorporated and the Cuyahoga Metropolitan Housing Authority but operated by The Refugee Response; a Cleveland nonprofit that says it empowers resettled families to grow roots in their new communities and earn a living.

"We're here to do more than just grow really great produce," said Michael Bartunek, senior farm manager.

Now, in its 12th consecutive growing season, Bartunek said The Ohio City Farm sells the bulk of its harvest through a weekly, summer produce share called CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. He said they serve nearly 300 families a week now with the CSA program. It is sold out for the summer.

The food that's grown on the farm also supports local restaurants, the May Dugan Center, and is sold at the farm stand.

"The Ohio City Farm produces, not even produces, but sells at least 60,000 pounds of food every year," said Bartunek.

It is one of the largest urban farms in the nation.

However, its 6 acres is about to become five.

"We sit just south of a new-coming attraction in Ohio City,” he said.

Bartunek is talking about the Irishtown Bend Park. Work is underway to stabilize the hillside near the farm and build the 23-acre park that will run down to the Cuyahoga River.

The farm will lose its north acre to the park, but Bartunek said they consider it a gain.

"We're embracing that because there's a lot to be gained; not just for us, but for the community at large," he said. "To be able to have that kind of green space, I think that's going to bring more people out to the farm and closer to the farm, and we can have even more of an impact."

Bartunek said they’re looking to make The Ohio City Farm more of a destination. He said that includes ways to farm longer into the year, perhaps add a three or four-season market, and possibly build a commercial kitchen, as well. He said he expects those plans will play out over the next couple of years.

Meantime, the public is invited to come walk the pathways at the farm, but remember it is a working farm.

Doe said it is hard work, but he loves working outside and the views from his "office."

As stunning as the views is the impact the land has had on lives. Doe met his wife in Cleveland, and the couple just celebrated their baby girl's first birthday. He is now a U.S. citizen and grateful for the life he's been able to grow for himself and his family in Cleveland. He has been here 10 years now and said it feels like home.

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