From Riots To Vineyard — A Story of Urban Revival

From Riots To Vineyard — A Story of Urban Revival

Amid the urban blight of a poor rust belt city, an unlikely vineyard emerges as a symbol that farming can take root anywhere.

Five years ago, the area at E. 66th Street and Hough Avenue in Cleveland, OH, was abandoned and in disrepair. On that lot today is Chateau Hough, a vineyard and first-of-its-kind-in-the-U.S. BioCellar — which is akin to a greenhouse located in the cellar of an abandoned house. But, the story of Chateau Hough is as much about grapevines as it is about the community and the man whose idea it was to take on the project.

The Hough neighborhood was established in the late 1700s and in recent decades has been synonymous with the degradation of some of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. Hough is most widely known for race riots that occurred in 1966. But this land is getting a new lease on life — nearly 50 years after making national headlines — as interest in urban agriculture grows.

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By the time Mansfield Frazier set about transforming the Hough neighborhood into an urban farm, it was well on its way back from the riots, with the construction of hundreds of upscale homes. In fact, he lives across the street from the Chateau Hough lot. Frazier had the city tear down the house on that lot and thought a vineyard would help raise the value of his home and the neighborhood.

In 2010, when Frazier acquired the land and a grant from an urban renewal program, Re-Imagining Cleveland, there were 58 “green infrastructure” projects also receiving funds. Today, half of those farms are gone.

“If you don’t monetize these projects, they are going to fail,” Frazier says.

He chose grapes specifically for his farm because, quite simply, grapes are profitable.

“Most urban farms fail,” he says, because they do not generate the income necessary to support the farm’s infrastructure.

chateau hough urban vineyard Cleveland Ohio

“I want to change the story of Hough from riots to vineyard,” Mansfield Frazier says. (Photo credit: Margaret Puskas)

Thoughtful Planting
Although the vineyard is only three-fourths of an acre, Frazier did his homework on what to plant, where, and how. Frazier was a complete novice, so he immersed himself in learning.

He’s consulted with Greg Johns, manager of Ohio State University’s Ashtabula Agricultural Research Station, and David Popp of Bacchus Vineyard & Winery Services LLC, who serves as his viticulturist.

There are 14 rows, 21 vines per row, half Frontenac and half Traminette, chosen specifically for their cold-hardiness.

Popp has Frazier employing such necessary cultural practices as setting traps for spotted wing drosophila during times of high insect pressure.

Frazier also is experimenting with trellising and pruning; for example, he vigorously pruned the Frontenac but decided to leave more on the vines of his Traminette. He’s hoping that this renewal pruning will help bolster the vines’ health.

From Home To Green Space
Adjacent to the vineyard is a BioCellar. Using the basement of an abandoned, torn-down house, the cellar portion goes 9 feet below the ground and provides an even 55°F year-round. Frazier says strawberries, tomatoes, herbs, and mushrooms are the initial crops to be planted in the BioCellar.

The concept was developed by Jean Loria of Upstream Permaculture and the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative at Kent State University.

The cellar’s plastic sloping roof spans 20 feet above the foundation at its highest point and has rain gutters, which divert water into a cistern to then reuse on the crops growing inside. Vents inside the cellar are used to control temperature. Solar panels provide electricity to the cellar.

This concept of a BioCellar is to produce a sustainable solution and model for urban agriculture, using existing abandoned homes as the foundations for these cellars.