Cleveland’s “Forgotten Triangle” was once an isolated, dangerous dumping ground. It was at the same time a neighborhood and the childhood home to three men who would leave to find success and then, in 2009, return to make a difference by improving the quality of life in this community. In particular, explains Keymah Durden, one of these men, they were moved by the community’s lack of access to healthy food. They took action by founding the Rid-All Green Partnership, a renowned nonprofit urban farm that grows produce for sale to local establishments and trains and educates urban youth and adults about farming and healthy living, giving them experience and skills they can use in the workforce. Rid-All is also a sustainable organization that employs a variety of business models to be successful.
Rid-All, which stands for Redeem, Integrity and Determination for All Mankind, and its innovative work, attracted the attention of many people, including the folks at Western Reserve Land Conservancy. The two organizations began to engage in a dialogue and found, says Durden, “a synergy in our work.” Partnering naturally followed, with collaborations on events held at the farm and sharing guest speakers to create a consciousness. One of the keys to the partnership, explains Durden, is Western Reserve Land Conservancy President and CEO Rich Cochran’s commitment to working with Rid-All.
“Rid-All is an essential partner for our urban work,” says Cochran. “The people who founded Rid-All, and the people who spend time there, represent the community. They have wisdom about their community that we could never develop. And they are inspiring and effective. It is an amazing asset for our city and region.”
In return, the land conservancy helps Rid-All through networking. “Our work with Rid-All is less directly related to traditional land trust work and based more around relationships and sharing ideas,” explains Kendrick Chittock, project manager at the land conservancy. “Our building is in a totally opposite world from where they are, so we’ll bring people over there so donors can see the work that’s being done.”
Rid-All’s work has truly been transformative. In the five years since its founding, not only has the contaminated land been turned into a productive farm, but the neighborhood has completely changed as well. Ohio State University Extension followed, and the city, which leases Rid-All the land, renamed the area the Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone. The crime rate and illegal dumping dramatically decreased, and people started utilizing the adjacent Otter Park, which previously had been deserted. Now families come out for recreation and people walk their dogs there. “We’re not just teaching about sustainable living,” says Durden.” We’re ‘place-making.’ We’re recreating the canvas of urban America.”
Rid-All’s success has led the three founders, Durden, Damien Forshe and Randy McShepard, to help recreate their model in other neighborhoods that previously didn’t have access to fresh, healthy foods. “We’re the new World Wide Web,” says Durden. “All of our work combines on a grassroots level to help return the planet to a pristine state. The social justice movement is an important part of that. We’re creating this bond between everyday people who want to see change.”
This mission interconnects with the land conservancy’s, whose work, Chittock describes, breaks down as one third natural areas, one third farms and one third urban areas. “All of these things are tied together though,” he says. “If we want to save the land outside the city, we need to help make the city a desirable place to be.”