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Worker-Owned Green City Growers is On the Path to Profits While Giving Refugees and Ex-Cons Gainful Employment | Cleveland Scene Magazine

Cleveland Scene Magazine
By: Douglas Trattner | March 15, 2017

It’s a brisk late-winter morning in Cleveland, but inside the greenhouses of Green City Growers it feels more like Tampa. The temps are hovering around the 80-degree mark and the air is agreeably thick with humidity. But it’s the lushness that really wins a guy over, with kelly green vegetation as far as the eye can see.

At 3.25 acres, this site is one of the largest urban greenhouses in the country, and it happens to sit in the heart of the economically depressed Central neighborhood. Inside the state-of-the-art hydroponic greenhouse, some 300,000 plants at various stages of growth float in shallow pools of nutrient-rich water. There are leafy heads of butter lettuce, colorful mixed-green blends, peppery upland cress and fragrant Italian basil.

Opened in 2012, Green City Growers has had a promising, albeit challenging, run. Part of the ambitious Evergreen Cooperatives, which includes Evergreen Cooperative Laundry and Ohio Cooperative Solar, the greenhouse was the only one of the three employee-owned companies to not be profitable. That should change this year, says Jeremy Lisy, VP of sales.

“When I came here we had 15 people working and the greenhouse was 60-percent empty,” he explains. “They didn’t know what to grow and who to sell it to. Some of the products they were growing weren’t right for chefs.”

As a chef and former owner of the specialty produce company KJ Greens, Lisy reached out to his former colleagues to see what types of products they were interested in. He added different lettuces and blends and beefed up sales. This year, the company is expected to hit $3 million in sales, doubling what it was just two years prior. That is money that would have gone to lettuce growers in California and Arizona.

“Now we’re at 80-percent capacity and have 38 full-time employees, and sales are heading in the right direction. Hopefully, this is the year we break even. Once we get to that point, it’s a life-changing opportunity for a lot of people, because they are 90-percent owners of this.”

Green City Growers provides 38 people with living-wage jobs and a path to ownership. Working with programs like Refugee Response and Towards Employment, the greenhouse employs many people who might otherwise find it hard to secure gainful employment. On the current roster are people with nonviolent criminal records and immigrants from Bhutan, Guatemala and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Read the full article here.

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Evergreen Cooperatives