CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - The Republican National Convention is just twelve days away. It starts on June 18, exactly 50 years to the date that the Hough riots began in Cleveland.
The violence was racially motivated. Four people were killed, 30 were injured and hundreds were arrested over a 60-day period. It tarnished the Hough neighborhood for years. But in the past decade, there has been an effort to transform the area.
The Vineyards and BioCellar at Chateau Hough is one project in particular. It's the brain child of 73-year-old Mansfield Frazier. Right now Frazier is preparing for the 1st-ever fundraising event at Chateau Hough. Grapes and other high value crops now grow where an eyesore of an abandoned apartment building once stood at 66th and Hough. The employees there are all at-risk youth or former inmates.
"It's like an apple, you can't have a rotten core and a healthy apple. We have to save the urban core."
But instead of apples, Frazier is using grapes for his urban farm transformation.
"There are vacant lots all over Cleveland, dilapidated homes all over Cleveland. I challenge people, you tell me what to do with them? I'm saying farm them with high value crops," says Frazier.
High value, that's exactly why Frazier first picked grapes to harvest into wine six years ago. He says they have one of the highest dollar yields per acre. Frazier also experiments in a BioCellar. It's a combination root cellar and greenhouse, the one at Chateau Hough is actually the first in the world. Frazier is learning how to grow crops in this climate that turn the most profit.
"Because shallots are so expensive, I wanted to see how they do," and so far, they're doing well says Frazier.
What's also unique about the operation: the employees. All 50 who've passed through since 2010, have been at-risk youth or former inmates. A former prison inmate himself, Frazier knows rebuilding a community means rehabilitating its people too.
"There's a saying, going to prison isn't nearly as scary as coming home. We disabuse them of that notion by giving them a job as soon as they get out of the halfway house. It's part time, transitional," says Frazier.
Frazier does not currently have a permit to sell his wine. But he does tours, tastings and accepts donations. Funding is the hardest part. But Frazier says he won't fail.
"Our next goal is to turn the building behind you, to turn that into a winery, then we can get a license to sell. Our goal is to bring as many people to Hough as possible to buy our wines on site. It's about changing the story, changing the perception of Hough."
The fundraising event is August 9, from 5-8pm. Tickets are $100. Frazier says members of the Cleveland Orchestra will play music, representatives from the Cleveland Art Museum will conduct painting demonstrations, and there will be vineyard tours and wine tastings as well. There is also a chance, with a hefty donation, to sponsor a vine of grapes or an entire row of them. The donor will get a plaque with his or her name placed below the crop.
Mansfield Frazier is trying to shine new light on his neighborhood, in the heart of the inner city, where more is known about the bad seeds than the good ones.
"You have to stabilize people in those neighborhoods and the way to stabilize them is with employment."
Employment specifically for those trying to straighten up their lives. Since 2010, 50 former jail inmates and at-risk youth have helped build, seed and prune the fields at Chateau Hough. It's tough work, Marvin Foster will tell you, as the hot sun blares down while he clips the grape vines. Foster has been working here for six years. He makes $12.50 an hour.
Foster's life had been moving down a bumpy path, in and out of jail for stealing and vandalizing.
"I was careless. I really didn't think about consequences. Now I'm in a big position. I'm a foreman. I didn't expect myself to be a foreman," says Foster.
Not all have succeeded like Marvin, but many have found the transitional help they needed to go on to be truck drivers, restaurant or construction workers.
"45-46% success rate which is pretty good," says Frazier. He adds that his proudest moment has been seeing Marvin's transformation.
"He molded me into a better person basically," says Foster.
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