Ashley thinks local in Cleveland


When people map out road trips, Cleveland, Ohio isn’t necessarily at the top of the destination list.

Mealsharing host Ashley is here to argue for Cleveland’s delicious case! A Cleveland native, Ashley returned to her roots in more ways than one. As the Market Manager of the Downtown Farmers Market at Public Square, Ashley works hard to make sure local products are available in her community. With passion (and food!) to fuel her, not to mention a Masters to back it up, Ashley is focused on making healthy living accessible.

Ashley works for the Historic Warehouse District Development Corporation, a Community Development Corporation (CDC) in downtown Cleveland. Many of Cleveland’s neighborhoods have CDC’s to assist with community and economic development projects. Cleveland has a long history of neighborhood-based planning, and many of its most impactful projects have been very grassroots and organized by residents themselves. For example, one CDC was founded by residents who were fed up with drug dealers on their street; another by residents who moved into an abandoned downtown warehouse and wanted to better the neighborhood around them. Thirty-some years later and both neighborhoods are thriving residential and commercial districts! Residents here really take pride in where they live because they can have a positive impact on the city with every a small idea.

Big things are happening here! So why Cleveland? While it may initially seem an unlikely place, the explanation is simple. During the start of the 2008 recession, Cleveland starting looking inward for solutions. With affordable arable land, Cleveland focused more on using this land to provide for itself. Now, thanks to the Healthy Cleveland initiative, farmers markets are available every day of the week and soon every resident will have a community garden within six blocks of their home. Ashley is proud to see this growth, and be a part of it.

“Like many Rust Belt cities, we had a lot of vacant land but seized the opportunity to turn it into an asset by dedicating a significant amount to farming,“ commented Ashley. “Now that we have such easy access to fresh local food, it has turned into a way of life and we’ll continue to demand quality food for years to come.”

The Downtown Farmers Market, now in its fourth season, features locally grown and produced food every Friday afternoon. Big growth is underway, as the market is now a yearlong farmers market, providing things like locally canned goods, breads, cheeses, and sauces. The use of greenhouses and hoop houses will allow kale and herbs to be available in the midst of winter.

Before returning to Cleveland, Ashley had been working in the video game industry in Los Angeles. “It just wasn’t very rewarding. I had grown up in Cleveland, but didn’t necessarily have plans to go back. I was looking at grad schools and was really interested in urban agriculture, and realized there was no more perfect city than Cleveland.” She got a Masters in Economic Development and Urban Studies, and has been eagerly applying her knowledge.

Ashley grew up cooking in her family home, and good food has always been a part of her life. However, it was local food that changed her life. “It wasn’t until I moved back to Cleveland that I really started eating local food. Once I had access to it, once I tasted what a real strawberry, real carrot, or real tomato tasted like. I don’t think I could go back to buying anything else!” Eating locally is a way of life, that is not only healthier, but cheaper, better for the local economy, and tastier too. Ashley stocks up on local ingredients all summer to keep in her freezer, and eat year round.

Cleveland is a city big enough to provide resources and opportunities and small enough to be dynamic at a grass roots level. The impact that people can have on their community is inspiring, and is one of the big reasons Ashley loves Cleveland. Wanting a change, working for a change, and seeing a change is a real occurrence.

Part of the reward of the farmers market is seeing how people grow in their perceptions of food, and what it means to be healthy. Aside from providing fresh produce and other locally produced products, the Downtown Farmers Market also provides educational opportunities.  Cooking classes are held on the second Friday of every month, and local chefs shop at the market for all the ingredients. Every participant gets to take home a bag of produce after the class, so they learn not only how to be healthy, but how to be healthy at home. One student in a cooking class thought her whole life that she hated beets-until a course that gave her a different method for preparing them. Now she grows them in her own backyard.

This mealsharer loves sharing her city through food and is one of the reasons meal-sharing appealed to her. “Meal-sharing lets you be an ambassador for your city. You get to show out-of-towners around the city you love, and for visitors, they get to see what locals do.”

The first thing Ashley recommends seeing in Cleveland is the West Side Market, a 100-year-old public market located in the Ohio City neighborhood. Its vendors are very artisan focused offering quality items that you might find at a European-style market like olive oil, meats, cheeses and breads. To Ashley, the accessibility of the West Side Market and Cleveland’s many farmers markets goes beyond food. “It influences the way you think about food. Having access to good food is important, but the relationships that are formed with the local producers when you’re purchasing your food, and the interactions that take place with your neighbors at the market are the real rewards.”

Just around the corner from the West Side Market is the largest urban farm in the US. Clearly, Clevelanders are finding more reasons to stay- and maybe non-Clevelanders are finding more reasons to go.

For more recipes, ideas, and tips on living and eating healthy, follow Ashley on twitter: ashley [email protected]

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