How Coit Road Farmers Market is encouraging entrepreneurship among urban farmers

The Coit Road Farmers Market is helping East Clevelanders cultivate their own crops with its beginning farmers apprenticeship program. This program comes just in time for the market’s 90th anniversary and the start of the 2022 growing season.

Coit Road Farmers Market. Photo by Kevin Scheuring.

The Coit Road Farmers Market is helping East Clevelanders cultivate their own crops with its beginning farmers apprenticeship program. This program comes just in time for the market’s 90th anniversary and the start of the 2022 growing season.

The market is a lifeline to the community, which has faced growing levels of food insecurity in recent years. It’s one of the few farmer’s markets in Northeast Ohio open year-round and has provided access to quality, affordable food since 1932. 

In addition to weekend shopping, the Coit Road Farmers Market offers space for urban farmers; FoodStrong, a learning garden for children; and East Cleveland’s community garden (EC Grows). Food-based business owners utilize the space to hone their skills and potentially grow their audiences. 

Coit Road’s rich history and reputation for growing small businesses drew Desiree Hall to sign up for the beginning farmers apprenticeship program. Hall, who currently runs a crop business called Fruits of my Desires, took after her grandfather.

“I am a foodie and I love plants,” said Hall. “And that is what has gotten me to this program currently. I’ve been an avid gardener for the last six years.” 

The apprenticeship program began in March 2022 and is a collaboration between the market and Central State University. It gives participants over 60 hours of hands-on experience in cultivating crops on their own plot of land provided by the market. This year, 25 participants have the opportunity to make a profit on their crops by becoming market vendors, said Joe Jerdonek of Coit Road Farmers Market.

Farmers also prepare and revise a business plan to secure funding from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and hopefully continue growing their businesses. They’ll receive a certification from CSU following the completion of the first year of programming. 

Hall didn’t initially expect to be a farmer. Her grandfather grew up on a farm in Georgia, and when he moved to Cleveland, “it was just the requirement that he have a garden and he made everybody participate and I hated it growing up,” she said. “But, after I purchased my house, which was about six years ago, he asked me if I was going to have a garden and he came out and assisted me with it and questions I had. And here I am.”

Hall’s grandfather passed away last year due to COVID. She felt as if it was her duty to honor him by taking gardening seriously, going to “farm school,” and starting a small business. 

Osaze (left) and Hall prepping a field as part of the beginning farmers program. Photo courtesy of Joe Jerdonek.

Dyese Osaze, another participant in the program, shares similar experiences with farming. One of her earliest childhood memories is of volunteering to help maintain her grandparents’ garden. Whether it was planting seeds or picking weeds, Osaze was always out assisting in the yard. 

Osaze’s grandparents “planted” the interest in her at a young age, and she still considers farming a hobby today. 

As a birth worker / midwife, she’s a huge proponent of being able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to her clients. She loves gifting crops to friends and family, she added.

Knowing this, Osaze’s mentor recommended that she sign up for the apprenticeship program to hone her gardening skills and possibly start a business. Osaze is unsure what her business plan would look like since it’s still early in the program, but knows she wants to share the gift of fresh produce with others. 

She stressed the importance of maintaining a diet full of fruits and vegetables, and said that she’s willing to get her hands dirty to make it happen. 

Kevin Schuering, the market’s manager, agreed. “A lot of people don’t understand where their food comes from … I had some neighbors across the street from here and they had a plum tree in their backyard,” he said. “This was a Slovenian neighborhood back in the day, and everybody grew plums to make plum brandy and stuff like that. I asked the little girl, “Do you ever eat the plums?” And her response was, ‘we only eat the real ones from the store.’”

“She thought that was weird, that somebody would pull [fruit] off a tree and eat it because, in her mind, food came from a grocery store. It struck me as being like a real disconnect from where food comes from when you don’t consider the food that’s free in your backyard.”

Education is a major part of Coit’s mission. During the winter months, Schuering hosts weekly cooking classes on the property, in addition to handling the market’s day to day operations.

You can learn more about the market by visiting their website or attending the 90th anniversary celebration on May 21 from 10 am to 1 pm.

Hannah Davis graduated from Kent State University with a degree in journalism in May 2022. She was an intern with The Land and The NewsLab at KSU.

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