By Mansfield Frazier
As some of my loyal and faithful readers no doubt know, the non-profit organization my wife and I started back in 2004 — Neighborhood Solutions, Inc. — has attracted a great group of dedicated partners and supporters that have allowed us to embark on some interesting, innovative and potentially neighborhood-altering projects.
In 2010 we established the Vineyards of Château Hough across from our home and will finally (at last!) sample the first fruits of our labors in about two months. Putting in a vineyard certainly teaches one patience.
We left just enough grapes on the vines last year to produce a couple of gallons of wine so that we can sample the quality, and, according to our master winemaker, Manny Calta, it’s coming along quite nicely. This year, however, we’ll harvest enough grapes to make about 2,500 bottles of wine that will be ready to enjoy in 2014.
Additionally, our plans to construct a BioCellar next door — to the north of the vineyard — on the site of a vacant, abandoned house are moving steadily forward as well. Once completed, we’ll grow a variety of crops (specializing in shiitake mushrooms) in the basement of the structure once the structure is torn down and a glass-like roof is built over it to capture energy. Go to BioCellar Phase II to view a detailed report.
Rob Donaldson, our gifted and dedicated architect from Arkinetics is designing a unique, functional and eye-catching facility that we are hopeful of breaking ground on this coming spring. It will be the first facility of its kind anywhere in the world — at least that we are aware of.
Immediately to the west of the vineyard sits a dilapidated 50 ft x 150 ft commercial building (it was at one time a library) that we had planned to turn into another BioCellar for aquaponics … raising either tilapia, freshwater mussels or shrimp. However, our team recently had a collective epiphany: After the building is torn down we’re now going to turn that underground basement space into our winery, and we might even have enough space left over to put in a small craft cheese making operation. We’ll find another building in the neighborhood in which to do our fish farming at a later date.
What happened was that Manny located a mobile bottling truck operation. Allow me to explain: The most expensive part of establishing a winery is the bottling operation; that takes quite a bit of expensive equipment, not to mention the space requirements. Out in Napa Valley (and in the San Francisco/Oakland area where there are a number of urban wineries) they have bottling trucks that back right up to the door of a winery and handle the bottling operation for the vintners. The wine goes into the machinery on the truck via a hose hookup, and labeled bottles of wine come out the other end.
When I first saw it in operation I thought it was way cool, and found myself wishing there was one in Northeast Ohio. Now there is one, and Manny knows the folks who operate it … which means one huge problem has been solved. Now the building adjacent to the vineyard will have enough space for us to make and store our wine since we’ll be able to contract out the bottling operation.
This past Saturday my other partner (and BioCellar co-inventor), biologist Jean Loria of Upstream Permaculture, and I set up an informational table at the Annual Sustainability Symposium hosted by the Cleveland Botanical Garden. This year the focus was on the impact of climate change and the keynote address was delivered by Scott Sheridan, a climatologist at Kent State University, who drew a large crowd.
The event was attended by a number of pretty high-powered folks in the sustainability/local foods movement, and we were pleasantly surprised by how much people know about our projects, and the amount of serious interest in them. Virtually everyone wanted to know when the first wine would be ready.
Thanks to the media attention we’ve been able to garner — in Cool Cleveland, Oprah’s O Magazine, and other regional and national outlets, we’ll be able to sell all of the wine we can bottle — and then some — guaranteed. There’s truly something to be said for shameless self-promoting (but actually, it’s all about creating jobs).
We also had a number of potential funders approach us at the symposium, which, for a small non-profit like ours, is always very exciting. Jean and I will be lunching with some of these folks in the coming weeks.
The trick for us down the line is to be able to blend a model that allows for a workers’ cooperative to own the facilities, in conjunction with potential angel investors. We plan to base the operation on the highly successful “Mondragon Model” of ownership that was developed in the Basque region of Spain back in 1956. Local ownership and community control of resources are both very important to us.
To that end, we’re going to be reaching out to investors that are focused on “doing good while doing well” since part of our operations will most likely work best as a for-profit entity. We’ll be hosting a small wine tasting for them in a few months, and this article should be considered an invitation to all interested parties to contact us to take a look at our prospectus.
We can’t begin taking orders for our first pressing just yet, as we are in the initial stages of obtaining the necessary permits and licenses to do so, but it won’t be very long before we’ll be able to start selling wine. And our goal is to sell a lot of it.
We already have an excellent trope; we know our projects are going to become destination venues as more and more people will be interested in what we are doing. Indeed, the folks on the Lolly the Trolley bus tour already constantly wave at us while we’re out working in the vineyard. Next year, they’ll have reason to stop — and shop.
Really, all we have to do to insure success is to make some very good wines, grow some tasty mushrooms, and perhaps make some great cheeses … and Manny, Jean and the rest of our team seriously knows how to do just that. Foods that are crafted with loving care (and yes, in Europe wine is considered “food” not merely alcohol) taste better and are better for our bodies … that’s central to the locovore movement.
Our overarching mission is threefold: to create wealth in inner-city communities by providing opportunities for resident/workers/owners; to promote healthy eating via the locovore movement; and to repurpose older buildings and give them a new lease on life. By precisely executing our business plan we’ll be able to achieve all of our goals, and then some. Communities will begin to be repaired, healed, and allowed to blossom.
Over the years I’ve been involved in a fairly wide variety of enterprises — some more successful than others — so I kinda know a winner when I smell one, and this time I think we’ve captured lighting in a bottle. This is going to be big fun for everyone involved.
From Cool Cleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available again in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author by visiting http://www.neighborhoodsolutionsinc.com.