Farm-to-table movement seeks to grow a #RustBeltRevival

Greenhouse Tavern-50

Photo by Edsel L [Edsel Little] via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-SA 2.0)

There’s always been more to places like Cleveland and Pittsburgh than steel mills and factories. With their industrial heyday behind them, Julia Moskin writes about efforts to invigorate these cities by building on some other strengths of the region: its agriculture and foodways. As she details,

These cities of the Rust Belt, which edges around the Great Lakes from Buffalo to Detroit, are linked in many ways: by a shared history of industry, by a network of defunct canals and decaying railroads, and by thousands of acres of farmland.

Now, the region is linked by a group of educated, ambitious chefs who are building a new kind of network. Its scale is tiny compared with the steel and shipbuilding empires of the region’s past. But they are nonetheless convinced that an interdependent web of chefs, butchers, farmers, millers, bakers and brewers will help bring the local landscape back into balance.

To that end, they are cooking sustainably, supporting agriculture and raising families — all while making world-class food with a strong sense of place.

Featured in the piece is “proud Clevelander” Jonathon Sawyer of The Greenhouse Tavern. As Moskin describes,

At his restaurant, Mr. Sawyer acts as a career counselor and culinary educator as much as a chef; all the 60-plus staff members are listed by name on the menu, and he encourages them to pursue their own ventures.

Cooperation among chefs — not the competition that is the norm elsewhere — is central to a thriving food scene, he said. “These cities have to be places where people want to live and work after graduation, and one of the things they want is good food,” he said. “Otherwise, the brain drain to the coasts will just go on.”

Although nobody in this verdant region much likes the label “Rust Belt,” Mr. Sawyer has adopted “Rust Belt Revival” as shorthand for what he’s trying to do there. (It’s also a Twitter hashtag he uses often: #rustbeltrevival.)

He was nurturing that revival on a recent spring morning in the farmland south of Cleveland, tramping through fields, listening to experienced farmers and offering advice to new ones.

Take it from this former Ohioan (born and raised in Greater Cleveland): though it has a dash of East Coast condescension, the full article is really worth a read, so check it out here.

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