CLEVELAND, Ohio — Residents in a part of Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood will soon get some relief from living in a food desert — where dollar burgers and quarter candies often are more accessible than fresh fruits, vegetables and other good nutrition.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently awarded Burten, Bell, Car Development inc., a community development corporation, $759,374 to establish a fresh food production center on Kinsman Avenue near the former Garden Valley Estates. The aim is to improve access to fresh fruits, vegetables and nutritious meals and eliminate food deserts in underserved communities.
Food deserts are communities where residents have to travel more than a mile to get fresh fruits, vegetables and meats. The Kinsman neighborhood, in one of the city’s poorest wards, doesn’t have a major grocery store or fresh food market. Experts say many residents — particularly the elderly and those without reliable transportation — get their food from convenience stores or businesses that don’t sell fresh produce, or they eat fast food, which is less healthy or fresh.
The group’s MC2 Food Access Initiative, will be housed in a 4,183-square foot space next to its headquarters at Bridgeport Place on Kinsman. it will feature fresh food stands, a cafe with hot meals and organic foods made from local products and a community kitchen where local farmers can clean and store produce and where chefs will hold cooking demonstrations to show residents how to prepare healthy meals.
The construction for the MC2 project, short for market, caf and community kitchen, will begin in February and is expected to serve at least 20,000 in the first year of the project and create 64 jobs for low-income residents, said Timothy Tramble, executive director for Bell, Burton and Carr Development inc.
“In these (low-income) communities, people are eating unhealthy because fresh produce is something not accessible,” Tramble said. “This is going to eliminate the food desert in this ward and acclimate people to foods they have never seen or tried.”
Tramble expects the facility to open in the spring of 2012.
Ward 5 Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland, who represents the area, said the grant will help young people, especially single parents, learn about proper nutrition for their children and provide a nearby place where they can buy fresh foods.
“I think we have an overabundance of corner stores in our community and they are not providing people with what they need,” Cleveland said. “They have products that attract people, the cigarettes, beer and candy, but not the things people need to be healthy.”
Access to fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, is important because it helps fight against obesity, diabetes and other chronic illnesses, said Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietician at University Hospitals. And knowing how to cook fresh foods plays a key role.
“We are so focused on convenience, fast food or things easily prepared in the microwave that we have gotten away from how to prepare fresh foods,” Cimperman said. “Hopefully this facility will cause a shift in the diets of people.”
BBC’s Tramble said he expects the program to work with other community development corporations in the city. He said the community kitchen would hold at least 50 cooking demonstrations per year.
He said as part of the five-year grant, there also will be a mobile market that will allow people to purchase fresh food from a vehicle that drives through the community daily. The mobile market will travel to other wards in the city as well.
Most of the vegetables will come from the Urban Agricultural Innovation Zone near East 83rd Street and Kinsman Avenue, he said.
“We are trying to create a totally sustainable local food distribution system that not just serves urban agriculture enthusiasts but everyone in the neighborhood,” Tramble said.
Marie Barni, director for the Ohio State University Extension in Cuyahoga County, which has a program that has trained residents how to grow produce, said the BBC project will create jobs and increase the interest level in urban farming on the city’s East side.
“The fact we are going to have this new facility and it is the Kinsman neighborhood is wonderful,” Barni said. “This is going to make people in the area healthier and eliminate the food desert.”
Willie Mae Jolly, 63, lives in the neighborhood and also tends a community garden with other residents on land owned by the Ohio State University Extension on East 81st Street. she said she hopes MC2 will teach residents in the area about gardening, cooking and how to store vegetables.
Jolly has been harvesting tomatoes and greens from the garden for the last few weeks. she said she and a few others who tend the garden distribute food to people in the neighborhood, but not many people try to learn how to grow vegetables.
“A lot of young people don’t know how to cook complete meals or certain vegetables nowadays so the center will be good so they will have a place where they can learn,” Jolly said.
Nadine Head, 51, a resident at Heritage View Homes (on the former site of Garden Valley Estates) and president of the property’s local advisory council, expects residents — especially those who don’t have transportation and rely on busing — will welcome the center.
“Where we live, we don’t have many options,” Head said. “We have a store down the street but the quality of the food is not good and the produce is very limited.”