This week I participated for the first time in City Fresh, a project of the New Agrarian Center and the Ohio State University Cooperative Extension that seeks to bring more local fresh produce to the city center here in Cleveland, benefitting both city dwellers and nearby urban and rural farmers. City Fresh operates "fresh stops" all around town. You pay a week in advance for a full or half share of produce, at $10 to $20 - or half that if you fall below income guidelines which, happily and so far, I do not. You pick up on the following week. The bag is pre-packed, you get what's fresh and available.
I go to the fresh stop at E118 and Buckeye Road on Cleveland's East Side, half a mile and half a world from Shaker Heights. It is a neighborly place by day, with kids playing ball on side streets and lots of front porch sitting. It is also bedeviled by crime and gang activity. By day, it is friendly. Urban bicycling has given me an up close look at Cleveland's inner city neighborhoods, and I see vitality and hope - but also fear. When I rode into the fresh stop last week, the locals looked at me as if I were either naive or crazy. Maybe, but I ride to strike a blow against fear. In the daytime anyway. The city pulls at me, though not enough to dislodge me from my inner-ring suburb, where my kid goes to a good but under appreciated public high school and my needs are all met within walking distance. When he graduates - who knows?
These produce stand are part of a revival in the city, the arts is another part. Buckeye has the Passport Project, a storefront arts agency with a gallery, classes, dancing, drumming and a community garden. Public art reflects neighborhood pride.
Back to the produce. It was delicious. My $10 got me 2 yellow squash, a zucchini, peas, bok choy, red potatoes, lettuce, and a creaming onion. Not dirt cheap, but fairly priced, and fresh, fresh, fresh!It all looked great (see photo). What would I eat first?
I settled on the peas, combining them with the potatoes, the onion, some sour cream, and herbs from my garden. The lettuce was chopped with a few more herbs and dressed in nothing but a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This wasn't just another pretty dinner; it was delicious. Home grown potatoes were a revelation, much lighter in texture than what I get at the grocery, and local lettuce will spoil you for anything else. It's crunchy and flavorful. I ate well. I ate healthy. Civic as well as physical health.