Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Food Places

The Westside Market in the early 1900s.

The 8th International Public Markets Conference,  organized by the Project for Public Spaces and held here in Cleveland, just wrapped up on Sunday. Speeches, public and private conversations, Facebook posts and Tweets made it clear to me that attendees were impressed with our city, from the warm welcome and our extraordinary 100 year old West Side Market and the thriving culinary district growing up around it to all that’s been accomplished in establishing a thriving local food network.

Though not officially part of the Conference schedule, events kicked off Thursday night with a taped panel discussion at WVIZ/WCPN’s Idea Center.  I was in the audience. Part of the Cleveland Connects series moderated by Plain Dealer Chief Editorial Writer Joe Frolik, the topic was “Place Matters: Can distinctive restaurants, food-related businesses and urban farms nourish the rebirth of Cleveland’s neighborhoods?”  The answer was a resounding YES! David K. O’Neil, public market expert, Public Spaces staff member, and one of the Conference organizers spoke first, providing a fascinating historical perspective about the essential role markets have played in human life all over the world. Then joined he the group to take questions along with Patrick Conway, co-founder of Great Lakes Brewing Company; Colleen Gilson, Executive Director of Cleveland Neighborhood Development Coalition; and Randell McShepard, a thoroughly impressive guy who helped establish a flourishing, year round, jobs generating urban farm at 82nd and Kinsman. It was a lively and fascinating exchange. An edited version airs tomorrow, Thursday, September 27, at 10:00 PM on WVIZ/PBS.  The full 90-minute forum will be available by Friday at  There will also be a more action-oriented brainstorming follow-up session October 24. Details at Cleveland Connects.

Friday and Sunday were devoted to speeches and small group sessions. A complete list of topics and participants can be found here. Scholars, market managers and board members, consultants, representatives of CDC's, and many others with a variety of job descriptions from around the country, Canada, Japan, Poland and Bermuda  exchanged ideas about increasing access to healthy foods; the ins and outs of creating and operating market districts; the benefits of local food distribution.Saturday, the 200 plus attendees had a choice of four tours that took them to urban and rural markets, farms, and communities. Read through the options and its clear there’s a lot going on in the region.

For me, the real take home is that these issues and these places are important: they are what the leaders of this movement- and it is a movement- call “hubs of opportunity,” not just for access to good food but also for quality of life, social interaction, economic development, and civic vitality. The USDA has committed to supporting the idea of local food hubs and has launched a website full of information: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass .  

There's nothing new about coming together around the business of  food. And so what I learned is that we can draw on the past to make a better future. And Cleveland’s playing a leading role in getting us there.


Jack kalis said...
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Jack kalis said...

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