A Vineyard In Hough by Mansfield Frazier
My wife, Brenda, and I built our home in the Hough community back in 2000. We married in 1999 while she was living in Dayton, and she made a new home part of the deal to move to Cleveland. We were fortunate in that we could have selected any community in the county to construct our new home, but decided on the inner-city neighborhood of Hough.
Why? My wife holds a masters degree in social work and I write about the problems of the underclass; neither of us wanted to be “arm’s length liberals,” folks who live in posh suburban enclaves while proclaiming to be dedicated to assisting those in need — but from a safe, comfortable distance. Additionally, we both knew we would hold little real political power or influence in exurbia; and besides, we hate commuting. So moving into Hough and attempting to recreate a vibrant middle class neighborhood was a natural fit for us. We were right, and now we have created a vineyard. Yes, a vineyard.
The revitalization of Hough had actually started back in 1987 when a black police captain, Billy Tell, built an upscale house on 87th and Chester, only to be ridiculed by some in the media for being foolish. However, the idea caught on because three years later, in 1990, Renaissance Place, an entire couple of blocks of 20 upscale homes (built and occupied primarily by members of then-mayor Mike White’s administration) were dedicated. The homes run between Hough and Lexington Avenues, from 73rd to 77th Streets.
Hough is perfectly situated midpoint between downtown and University Circle, about a mile from the front door of Cleveland Clinic. While urban planners at nearby universities scratched their heads in wonderment while predicting such housing would not work, the blacks behind the project knew it would.
By the time the houses were built, many blacks had by then come to the logical conclusion that housing integration was a chimera; except in a few isolated incidents, whenever blacks moved into a neighborhood whites gradually moved out. While integration is in itself worthwhile and noble, it still takes two races to integrate, and as long as one race is unwilling to do so, it simply won’t happen. These middleclass blacks simply refused to debase themselves by chasing after something that was not achievable. The feeling is, if integration is to work, the door has to swing both ways. Whites who believe in it should be just as willing to move next door to blacks, who would love to have them as neighbors. Why should blacks do all the chasing?
The housing model worked so well that over the next couple of decades (until the crash) hundreds of new homes were built in Hough, and one key indicator of the strength of the market is that on the few occasions one of the homes has gone on the market it is sold in relatively short order. Nonetheless, the housing crash nationwide hit Hough just as hard as any other community. The question for us became one of, “What do we do with all this vacant land?
Fast forward to 2010, when we established The Vineyards of Château Hough on the northwest corner of E. 66th and Hough Avenue in 2010 with support from Reimagining Cleveland, a citywide effort to take vacant lots in neighborhoods and transform them into wide varieties of sustainable green projects. The cachet and positive attention the vineyard has brought to the community has been literally astounding. Neighbors getting to know each other by working together on an uplifting project makes for a much stronger social fabric.
Our non-profit organization, Neighborhood Solutions, Inc., brought together a variety of folks: community stakeholders; at-risk youth; volunteers from area universities; and most importantly residents of a nearby halfway house — to turn the three-quarter acre weed-filled lot into a vineyard capable of producing a total of 3,000 bottles of wine — half Traminette (white) and half Frontenac (red) — annually when the vines are fully matured in seven years. Our efforts have been generously funded by Neighborhood Connections, PNC Bank, the Charles and Helen Brown Memorial Foundation, and attorney Steven Schultz.
Bronx, N.Y. environmental activist Majora Carter is famous for saying: “You shouldn’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood,” and we believe her. Our overarching goal is to make the community we live in better by utilizing a variety of methods.
Indeed, the mission statement of our non-profit reads:
“To use innovative educational and entrepreneurial strategies to encourage, prepare and assist those returning — or who have returned — to neighborhoods after incarceration in creating greener, healthier and wealthier places to live, work, and raise families.”
We feel we can combine our mission of wealth creation via job development with land repurposing and the national sustainability movement to utilize strategies that have proven to work in other locales, most notably Will Allen’s Growing Power in Milwaukee.
One of the goals of urban farming is to grow as much food as possible within five miles of where it’s to be consumed. By utilizing vacant inner-city lots, and unemployed formerly incarcerated individuals (along with at-risk youth), we feel wealth can be created for residents by locally growing crops and mastering aquaponics.
We selected vineyards as our initial project because they are perhaps the highest (and most complicated) form of farming, but also one of the most rewarding. Not only does the project draw attention, it raises everyone’s vision in regards to what’s possible on inner-city acreage.
We selected the name The Vineyards Château Hough to make a statement. If someone were to say Château Westlake or Château Hunting Valley no one would raise an eyebrow, but Château Hough rates a double-take. But it shouldn’t, since the land we occupy in Hough is just as valuable to us as the land in other communities is to those who reside there.
Indeed, even if the wine turns out terrible, we’ve already won since neighborhood pride has increased, more of us know each other from working together in the vineyard, and the land value of the immediate area has increased, even if ever so slightly.
Our goal is to build on our success by controlling and developing more of the adjacent properties surrounding the vineyard. We’ve acquired an abandoned house immediately north of the vineyard and plan to turn it into a biocellar for crop propagation, while another nearby building is to eventually be used for fish farming. Both of these projects can be replicated in other neighborhoods.
As with any small non-profit, funding is always an issue and a struggle, but with the support and assistance of those who believe in what we are attempting to accomplish we’re confident we’ll be able to successfully carry out our mission and make Hough an even better community in which to live, work and raise families in.
Rust Belt regions cannot survive and thrive if urban cores are allowed to decay. Our decision to build our home in Hough stems from our desire to become urban pioneers and thus demonstrate in a palpable manner our belief that inner-cities can and will make a comeback in America.