Urban farm cultivates more than fresh produce

July 10, 2018 | GET MORE : Entrepreneurship

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U.S. Bank partnered with Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland to expand the organization’s horticulture program.

In Cleveland’s urban core, De’Angelo Bradley walks me through a lush green hoop house on a 100-degree afternoon. 

The 18-year-old (pictured above) points out and talks about how he works 15-20 hours a week planting and tending to tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, flowers and more. He remembers the first tomato he went on to sell, to a visitor at the club.

“He was like, ‘Wowww, these tomatoes are big and nice,’” De’Angelo says. “It was really great to see people interested in our stuff.”

Every summer, a dozen teens take up summer jobs in Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland’s farm program, learning to plant, grow, harvest and sell. Last year, De’Angelo and the group saw their produce all the way through the supply chain when a local food manufacturer turned their cayenne and jalapeño peppers into co-branded hot sauce.

BGCC program manager Alys Virzi (pictured below, right), who has a master’s in environmental studies and wrote her thesis on urban gardening, helped the teens connect with local grocers and specialty shops to sell nearly 500 bottles of the hot sauce. 

Woman in blue shirt with a shovel talks to woman (Alys Virzi) in grey shirt giving directions

“This is about more than farming and food manufacturing. It’s about basic job skills,” says Virzi, pausing.

I interject, noting that De’Angelo had mentioned learning the value of patience and communication.

“Thanks D…” Virzi laughs. “…exactly.”

Urban farming is a growing trend in the U.S. In Detroit, an “agrihood” as the centerpiece of a mixed-use development plan. In New York City, a job training program that spawned a dirt-less farm within a shipping container. And in St. Louis, an experimental farm atop a two-story self-storage building.

Back in Cleveland, BGCC is aiming to introduce younger club members to horticulture. With help from a $20,000 grant and 50 sweaty volunteers from U.S. Bank, the organization opened a new children’s garden with educational components such as weather instruments and balance scales. 

“It’s our privilege to partner with Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland,” said Alan Zang (pictured above, second from right), market president for U.S. Bank in Cleveland. “We hope the children’s garden will enrich already outstanding programming by giving kids an opportunity to explore new interests through educational play.”

Through its Community Possible platform, U.S. Bank focuses its giving and volunteerism on closing gaps between people and possibility in the areas of Work, Home and Play. This summer, the bank is pushing to impact 1 million people by providing entrepreneurship-themed financial education and creating play spaces across the country.

At the end of the day, Virzi says, BGCC and the farm program’s mix of work and play prepares young people for the next phase of their life.

Case in point, De’Angelo, who this fall is heading off to University of Mount Union to study environmental science and communication and walk on to the football team.

“Plants are like people or animals,” De’Angelo said. “You have to support them as they grow.”

Pat Swanson works in public affairs and communications with U.S. Bank.