Pigs, chickens, bees take up residence at Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - An urban farm in the heart of downtown Cleveland is living proof of the Huntington Convention Center and the Global Center for Health Innovation's commitment to protecting the environment.

"Reduce, reuse, recycle" is a practice built into the facilities mission.

Last year, more than 685,000 pounds of trash was generated. About 55 percent of it was recycled in some fashion.

The farm plays a vital role in the effort.

"We're talking about some spoiled animals- the best of the best," said Matt Del Regno, executive chef of Levy Restaurants. Levy is the exclusive caterer for both centers.

Noises from chickens, pigs and passing trains can be heard on the farm which sits in the shadows of First Energy Stadium.

"It's a great way for us to communicate to the conventioneers and to the city all of the great things we can do on the plate," Del Regno said. "We're really passionate about cooking food. We love working with sustainable farms. This allows it to be even closer for our team"

Chickens produce dozens of eggs daily and account for about a quarter of all the shelled-eggs used during the year in the kitchen.

Raised gardens provide fresh herbs and vegetables like tomatoes and okra.

The chickens aren't the only tenants.

"We're pushing over a million bees at this point," Del Regno said.

Fourteen hives produce 2,000 pounds of honey annually.

"We also work with a bunch of local bee keepers, where if we have a swarm or a split we'll place some of those extra bees," Del Regno said.

Andy Mondello is studying business management at the Ohio State University in Wooster. This summer he's interning at the convention center.

"It's awesome to be able to come down here every day (and) work with animals," Mondello said. "I love it. It's amazing. I wouldn't want any other job."

He and others are conducting research into bee pollen collection utilizing two pollen traps. They're studying bees in urban environments and what type of pollen the bees are collecting in and around downtown Cleveland. The pollen can also be used to create pollen balls, which are useful in prescribing to people suffering from allergies.

But the most talked about farm animals are the Mangalica pigs.

"They call them the Kobe beef of pork, but our two ladies and gentlemen they're not here to be slaughtered," Del Regno said.

The pigs and chickens take care of a lot of the centers food waste.

"Rather than send that food to a landfill, we send that to our natural compost program the three pigs," Del Regno said. "They eat a vegetarian diet- the bottoms of lettuce, the peelings from other vegetables and different things like that."

Last year, there was about 38,000 pounds of food waste. About 26 percent of leftovers are donated to charity, and 70 percent went to the animals.

"We do all of these things to advocate sustainability," Del Regno said.

There's even the possibility of the pigs becoming part of a breeding program. Mangalica's nearly went extinct but are making a comeback.

"We're always open to a litter of piglets that we might send off to be raised by another farmer, but it hasn't happened yet," Del Regno said.

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