Urban Greens in East End gives the community a place to garden locally grown produce

Grocery stores and farmers markets aren’t the only places in Cincinnati to buy locally grown produce. Urban Greens LLC is a garden that gives its customers the opportunity to grow their own food in a community-owned plot.
Urban Greens was founded in 2010 by 15 families who wanted to grow their own produce, but didn’t necessarily have the space in their own backyards. Ryan Doan, founder of Urban Greens, was introduced to community gardening by a Mt. Washington resident who grew 90 percent of his family’s food on a plot in his backyard. Doan also took classes at the Civic Garden Center; he then found the plots in the East End by the Ohio River. The plots are owned by FEMA and can’t be bought or sold for development projects because they have been designated for agriculture purposes or parks.  
Customers have fresh produce about 26 weeks out of the year, and during the winter, their shelves and freezers are stocked with homemade goodies from the gardens.
In order to keep up with the plots, Urban Greens sells Community Supported Agriculture shares. Customers pay an upfront fee of $600 per year for three to 10 pounds of produce per week. There is also a work share program, where customers pay $450 and work 20 hours in the garden. The shares not only pay for seeds, fencing, cages and water, but for the garden manager’s and a few part-time employees’ salaries.
The community garden will have three plots in Cincinnati this year—two in the East End and one that’s new for 2013, plus one in Hamilton—for a total of two and a half acres of fresh produce. The Hamilton plot is on the grounds of one of the local high schools and is tended by a student.
Urban Greens will offer 35 CSA accounts in the East End, 20-25 in Hamilton and about 15 at the new garden. CSA customers pick up their pre-packaged produce once a week from the garden plots.
Besides selling produce to its CSA customers, Urban Greens is the sole provider of produce for a local company. They sell to the businesses’ employees on Tuesdays, and pick for CSA customers on Thursdays. During the summer, weekends are reserved for selling produce at local farmers markets.
“We set aside a certain amount of produce to sell to the general public at farmers markets,” Doan says. The rest of the produce is divided evenly among Urban Greens’ customers, so that nothing goes to waste.
This year, Urban Greens is also offering 30 Flexible Market Accounts to those who want to choose their own produce. Customers load $100 at a time onto a card, come down once a week and pick out the produce they need. FMA is like a grocery store that offers local produce, plus local cheeses, granola and handmade soap, says Doan.
“FMA allows people to get the tomatoes they need to make spaghetti sauce or salsa, rather than the bunches of kale they might grow themselves,” he says.
FMA also makes Urban Greens accessible to more people, as the CSA can be too expensive for some. “I don’t want Urban Greens to be for rich people buying organic vegetables, but for everyone,” says Doan.
Doan is also looking to develop a gardening program with a few local schools. He wants to have gardens on school grounds, and when school is in session, the produce will be incorporated into the students’ lunches. Urban Greens would also teach students how to harvest and seed the gardens, and they would be the ones farming the land, not school personnel.
“I’d like to continue the gardens at the schools during the summer and sell the produce at farmers markets,” Doan says. “But once school is back in session, the produce would be for the cafeteria.”
To reserve a CSA share or more for more information about FMA, email Urban Greens at [email protected].
By Caitlin Koenig
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