Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc.
Residents of the Kinsman Neighborhood have watched the efforts of Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. transform their community from a desolate area to one of the most innovative models of urban agricultural development.
Using Urban Agriculture to Transform a Community
Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Inc. (BBC) was founded in Ward 5, near downtown Cleveland, in 1990 with a passion for community development. Over the past two decades, it has seen great progress including a 16% decrease in crime, the creation of many jobs, and hundreds of acres of land revitalized. Today, residents of the Kinsman neighborhood are proud to call it home.
When asked about BBC’s best practices, Executive Director Tim Tramble doesn’t delve into the details of the nonprofit’s many programs. Instead, he points to the path of listening well that enabled BBC to find the “best fit” solutions for the community.
Given its background in housing development, BBC was expected to continue that work in the Kinsman neighborhood. But careful study of the community and consideration of the sentiments of residents and stakeholders indicated that housing wasn’t its greatest need. Instead, Tramble and his team asked, “How can we take large plots of vacant land and convert them to productive reuse? That’s the question we posed to the community.”
BBC came up with the idea of investing in urban agriculture. This was before this community development strategy had become a darling of the industry. Initially, some neighbors were skeptical of the concept, but over time they came to embrace it.
“We wanted to do urban agriculture, we thought this was the place, and boy were we right,” chuckles Tramble. BBC didn’t set out to be on the forefront of this popular trend in development. It just so happened that this “best fit” program garnered significant enthusiasm from funders and partners. So, with the community’s support, BBC caught the wave of urban agriculture just as it was beginning to form and rode it to the establishment of their successful initiatives.
What began the community’s vision for an urban tree farm has grown into what is being fostered as the 28-acre “Urban Agricultural Innovation Zone.” BBC has teamed up with Rid-All Green Partnership and Ohio State University Extension to develop this “forgotten” land into successful farms producing thousands of pounds of fresh vegetables and herbs, raising tilapia in a closed aquaponics system, and cultivating compost.
Amid all the success of these initiatives, Tramble and his team noticed there was still a disconnect between their efforts and the lives of community members. “As we began to build, we realized that just because we had urban agriculture, it didn’t mean that it would actually change the way the people in the community ate. We wanted to find ways to connect the field to the plate,” explains Tramble. In the community planning process, staff and residents generated creative ideas for adding a health and wellness component to their plans.
Previously deemed a “food desert” by the US Department of Agriculture, the Kinsman neighborhood is now a leader in innovative food access programs. BBC developed a three-fold “Healthy Food Access” program:
- The Bridgeport Café to give residents a healthy alternative to fast food. Located on the neighborhood’s main thoroughfare, the café serves affordable and nutritious wraps, sandwiches, salads, and soups using locally grown produce;
- A community kitchen space where residents can attend classes to learn how to cook healthy meals. The kitchen is also used by local food growers to clean, prepare, and package their produce;
- A Mobile Market produce truck. It brings affordable, locally grown produce to underserved areas both in the Kinsman neighborhood and others throughout Cleveland.
Even though he acknowledges that other nonprofits may benefit from exploring BBC’s successful Urban Agriculture Innovation Zone, Tim Tramble thinks that what others can learn most from BBC is to listen to the needs of their community and build to its strengths. He says, “Ultimately, a successful community is a community that is unique. A community that has its own identity and assets.”