Healthy Food

Localized approach increases community access to healthy food, creates jobs in Cleveland

Keymah Durden and Randy McShepard are very frank when talking about Cleveland’s Kinsman neighborhood, where the childhood friends grew up and where they joined forces with three other Black men to found Rid-All Green Partnership, a nonprofit organization focused on urban agriculture and education.

“People living in Kinsman are dealing with significant trauma as a result of being poor and from generational poverty. They feel disengaged, forgotten about, despised. So, when you show them that despite their trauma, that despite dropping out of high school or being unemployed or being poor, you can overcome that, when you come to Rid-All and see these people working tirelessly to build community and create jobs, people who are thinking about a brighter future where there is more abundance, it really impacts that poverty, which is not only poverty of the pocketbook, but also of the mind,” says Durden.

For Durden, McShepard and the rest of the Rid-All team, the solution is what McShepard calls “a localized food approach,” where people grow and buy food within their community, which not only increases access to fresh healthy food, but also creates jobs and strengthens the community, all of which are principles of Equitable Food Oriented Development (EFOD), a community-anchored development strategy centering Black, Indigenous and People of Color food and agriculture projects and enterprises as vehicles for shared power, cultural expression and community asset building. Rid-All is a 2022 recipient of a grant through the EFOD Collaborative’s practitioner-controlled EFOD Fund, which supports BIPOC-led organizations working at the intersection of food and agriculture and community asset-building.

Kresge, one of the philanthropic funders supporting the EFOD Collaborative, connected with Rid-All during a recent visit to Cleveland, and had the opportunity to experience the impact of Rid-All’s work first hand.

In addition to building a food oasis in the Kinsman area, the nonprofit also runs a five-month training program focused on learning to manage a farming business, offers paid apprenticeships at various Rid-All operations, owns and operates a wildly successful business that uses aquaponics and hydroponics to raise and sell more than 70,000 tilapia annually, and produces and sells its own proprietary soil, among other things, much of which happens on a dead end street on 18 acres of land that previously served as an illegal dumping ground.

“Next door to us is a city playground that attended no one for the first two years we were here when we started Rid-All in 2011,” said McShepard. With prompting from Rid-All, the county’s illegal dumping task force eventually unearthed and removed more than 2,000 tires from the site, along with burned out cars and abandoned refrigerators, among other things.

Fast forward 12 years and today the area is not only the home base of Rid-All’s operations but also the site Fresh Fest Cleveland, an annual festival focused on arts, culture, music and urban farming that Rid-All helps to organize and that attracts more than 7,000 attendees annually. In many respects, the transformation is symbolic of Rid-All’s mission to transform communities through food.

“Of course it’s about figuring out how to get healthy food for people with limited means, but not only so that they have a full belly. It’s also about changing the way they feel about themselves and their community and about improving their overall health,” says McShepard.

“Because without those people, without the community, none of this makes sense. It’s no good to have a farm without people. It’s not good to raise fish without people. What we have learned on our journey is that the average person wants to live. If we can provide some solutions to their quality of life issues, then we will have done our job for the day.”

In some cases, that solution may take the form of food. In other instances, it may be employment, whether through Rid-All’s training programs or the 18 new jobs created by Rid-All to date. Or a safe place to catch one’s breath, like the hoop house that is available exclusively for veterans and is operated by one of the co-founders who is a veteran himself. Or a chance to imagine a different future for the 2,500 kids living in poverty who tour Rid-All’s facilities in a given year.

It was after one of those tours that a student told his teacher that “the best part of the field trip was seeing that all of the bosses looked just like me.”