Evergreen Cooperatives Sows Sustainable Jobs with New Greenhouse

If my food shopping habits can in any way predict the success of the latest Evergreen Cooperatives initiative than they're in luck.

Every year I eagerly await Farmers' Market season where from around May to October (in my home state of New Jersey at least) communities open their streets to local farms and artisans selling the literal fruits of their labor or freshly baked goods.

Produce tastes brighter when it's sourced locally, both in tastes and from knowing it wasn't transported across the country by an 18-wheeler truck.

It's in this spirit of locavorism that Evergreen Cooperatives, a Cleveland-based network of worker-owned cooperatives, launched its most recent initiative. Green City Growers Cooperative opened its doors on Feb. 25, showing off the 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse and breaking bread with Ohio officials from its first crop of living lettuce. The facility is one of the largest urban greenhouses in the country.

It features 15,000 square feet of packinghouse and office space and grows Bibb lettuce, green leaf lettuce, gourmet lettuces and basil. Employees of the company will soon become its owners.

Following the model of the other Evergreen Cooperatives, which were designed to serve locally rooted institutional customers, officials from Green City told Ohio-based newspaper The Plain Dealer that the greenhouse has garnered interest from buyers at The Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, and Case Western Reserve University, as well as Heinen's supermarkets and distributors. 

Evergreen Energy Solutions and Evergreen Cooperative Laundry preceded Green City, as discussed in the 2010 Shelterforce article “Green Jobs with Roots“ by Miriam Axel-Lute.

The idea is that the jobs created by these companies are sustainable both in terms of job retention and for the planet. As Axel-Lute wrote, “Worker-owners are unlikely to vote to offshore their own jobs.” All Evergreen Cooperatives are committed to local hiring from targeted disadvantaged neighborhoods.

With Green City, Evergreen is trying to harness the increasing interest in local food to address an unfortunately growing unemployment rate.The most recent statistics released by the U.S. Department of Labor put the national unemployment rate at 7.7 percent, and it can be several times higher in poor urban neighborhoods.

How does 'local' factor into your food shopping choices? Do you go out of your way to support community businesses?

(Photo of construction of Green City Growers' greenhouse by Beverly Moseley, USDA, CC-BY.)

Jodi Weinberger served as assistant editor of Shelterforce from 2013 to 2014.


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