Agriculture and Local Food in Cleveland-­-An Urban Renaissance or a Return to the Past? by Brad Masi

The .pdf file is here

Brad Masi is an independent consultant with 19 years of experience in local food systems development, non-profit management, and ecological design. A social entrepreneur, writer, filmmaker, community organizer, and teacher, Masi is one of the early innovators in local food systems development in Northeast Ohio, beginning his work co-founding a local food purchasing initiative as a student at Oberlin College in 1990. Masi worked with the nationally renown Environmental Studies Program at Oberlin College to coordinate community outreach programs in 1995-2000 and founded the New Agrarian Center (NAC) in 2000 and served as its Executive Director until 2009. Through his work at the NAC, Masi founded several social enterprises to address the development of a more sustainable regional food system in Northeast Ohio.

Masi founded the George Jones Farm and Nature Preserve in 2000 on a 70 acre farmstead owned by Oberlin College, following several years of work on sustainable agriculture education at the college. The farm modeled transitional strategies for moving from high-input commodity farming to low-input sustainable farming. The farm has provided training and entrepreneurial opportunities for over 100 high school and college students, and recent college graduates. The farm also offers a model for ecological design applied to rural landscapes, community-supported agriculture, habitat restoration, composting systems, natural building design, renewable energy systems, and youth education.

Masi spearheaded and organized the first regional Food Congress for Northeast Ohio in 2003. The Congress was an extension of Masi’s graduate studies at Cleveland State University under the direction of Edward “Ned” Hill. His graduate thesis consisted of a regional food assessment of Northeast Ohio’s local food system, with emphasis on the role of Cleveland as a catalyst for food system development. Masi worked with Leslie Schaller from ACENet to frame a strategic framework for regional food development at the Food Congress which included 80 food system stakeholders.

Masi co-founded the City Fresh initiative and served as its first director in 2004. City Fresh was one of the strategic projects that emerged out of the regional food Congress, focused on improving urban market access for rural farmers while improving food access in urban neighborhoods in Cleveland. City Fresh has evolved into a regional initiative that includes farmers and urban neighborhoods from six counties. City Fresh works with neighborhoods to organize Fresh Stop food centers which combine nutrition education and local food distribution. City Fresh also founded the market garden training program in 2005 in collaboration with Ohio State University Extension to train urban farmers to utilize vacant land to grow food for market.

Masi founded the Agrarian Learning Network in 2006 which served as a tool to encourage cross-learning between communities in Northeast Ohio. The network hosted two permacutlure training intensives with renown international permacutlure designer Darren Doherty and over 40 topical workshops for urban and beginning farmers. The network also spawned several digital media projects, which culminated in two feature length documentary films, including the Real Low Calorie Diet (2007)and PolyCultures: Food Where We Live (2009)PolyCultures was a featured selection of the Cleveland International Film Festival and has since played at five other film festivals across the globe.

Masi co-founded the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition in 2007 in collaboration with the Cleveland Department of Public Health, OSU Extension, and Case Western Reserve University. The coalition provides a collaborative network of more than 50 organizations, agencies, and businesses focused on improving food access, public health, urban agriculture, food waste recovery, community food assessment, and rural-urban linking.

Masi received his B.A. with Honors in Environmental Studies and Government at Oberlin College in 1993. He received an M.S. in Urban Studies at Cleveland State University in 2002 where he graduated with honors and received an award for meritorious scholarship. Masi is currently working on a book combining natural history, regenerative design, and local food systems development which will draw on examples from Northeast Ohio’s food system efforts.


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