Nation’s Largest Urban Food Production Greenhouse Officially Opens in Cleveland

Cooperative business is wealth-building strategy for employee-owners and neighborhood

CLEVELAND – Over the past 16 months, Cleveland’s Central neighborhood has watched a 3.5-acre state-of-the-art greenhouse sprout up in the heart of the city, at E. 55th Street near Kinsman Avenue. Today, Green City Growers Cooperative officially opens as the nation’s largest urban food production facility.

A year-round greenhouse the size of three football fields, Green City Growers will produce 3 million heads of lettuce and 300,000 pounds of herbs annually. Green City Growers planted its first seeds on Dec. 12, 2012, and marked its first harvest on Jan. 16, 2013. The greenhouse is producing 60,000 heads of lettuce per week and distributing to customers within a 50-mile radius.

“Buying locally grown, delicious lettuces and herbs throughout the year just got easier in Cleveland, Ohio,” said Mary Donnell, Chief Executive Officer of Green City Growers. “Most lettuce sold in Ohio in the winter is grown in Arizona and California. Green City lettuce travels no more than 50 miles and is distributed to our customers within 24 hours of harvest. In addition, our crops are planted, tended, harvested, and packed by hand, so the leafy greens are handled with tender loving care throughout the growing and harvesting process. This results in fresh, high-quality produce that tastes great and has an excellent shelf life.”

As a cooperative business, Green City Growers has created living-wage jobs that will allow its 25 employees to become owners of the business, sharing in its profits.

The city of Cleveland was an early and key supporter of Green City Growers, embracing the vision of transforming an urban neighborhood into the site of one of the largest local food initiatives in the country.

“Green City Growers is a great example of community benefit,” said Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson. “It’s a public-private-nonprofit partnership that gives our residents the opportunity to not only have a job, but become an owner in the business. It helps keep our investment dollars and our resources local and provides direct benefit to our residents. It is a model of how Cleveland can become truly sustainable.”

National Development Council and PNC Bank, also primary funders, believe the greatest return on investment is the potential long-term benefit for the employees, most of whom are from the surrounding neighborhoods, and for the community as a whole.

“In the last decade, the Greater Cleveland area has faced significant economic challenges; the Green City Growers project exemplifies the efforts of the city to spur economic development and create much-needed jobs for area residents,” said Robert W. Davenport, president of the National Development Council. “We are honored to have partnered in this project. With the opening of Green City Growers, the neighborhood will certainly see an enhancement in the areas critical to the city of Cleveland’s wealth-building and development initiatives.”

“Green City Growers is a shining example of how neighbors are taking an active role in the health and vitality of their neighborhoods and, in return, reaping the entrepreneurial opportunities provided by shared ownership,” said Michael Taylor, senior vice president and west territory manager of PNC Community Development Banking. “Our local economy benefits from the addition of a thriving new enterprise, while a new generation of entrepreneurs is provided the opportunity to build a legacy.”

Local legislators have also been steadfast supporters of Green City Growers. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown helped procure more than $10 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for the project.

“Green City Growers will be a vital part of the Cleveland community and a model for urban centers across the country,” said Brown, (D-OH). “Green City creates jobs, allows workers to become small-business owners, and gives local residents fresh, healthy produce grown right here at home.”

U.S. Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, (OH-11), advocated for federal tax credits for Green City Growers.

“Green City Growers is an outstanding example of the promise and potential of urban agriculture,” said Fudge. “Its modern, hydroponic greenhouse will provide lifelong skills, employment, and ownership opportunities for residents in the heart of Cleveland and wholesome, locally grown produce to the region. I was pleased to advocate for New Markets Tax Credits, a federal program that helped launch Green City Growers into what it has become – a public, private, and nonprofit partnership that has attracted national attention.”

Green City Growers is the third cooperative business to join Cleveland’s growing Evergreen Cooperatives network, which the

Cleveland Foundation helped launch in 2009 as part of the Greater University Circle Initiative. Evergreen’s goal is to produce high-quality, cost-competitive goods and services, while also achieving its social mission: to create jobs and build financial assets for residents of the city’s underserved neighborhoods.

“The Evergreen Cooperatives network is a unique collaboration that has resulted in urban redevelopment, job creation, and increased sustainability – all within our own backyard,” said Steve Standley, chief administrative officer, University Hospitals, and chair of the Evergreen Cooperative Corp. “Green City Growers and other members of the network – Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and Evergreen Energy Solutions – have created many ‘green-collar’ jobs and ownership opportunities for neighborhood residents of Greater University Circle. Transforming our neighborhood is good for all of us – employers, residents, and the thousands of employees who come to work here in Greater University Circle each day.”

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