The seeds of Rid-All sprung from Forshe. In the early 2000s, as part of a healthy homes prevention initiative from Environmental Health Watch, Forshe worked with the organization to begin thinking of natural ways to exterminate pests in residential housing units. Instead of spraying chemicals and poisons, Forshe, who owned Rid-All Exterminating, used peppermint oil and cayenne pepper to chase away mice and rodents.
“He truly began to think about greener approaches to solve big world problems and environmentally focused solutions,” says McShepard.
While Forshe continued to apply natural solutions on his own, McShepard wrote and published a 2009 research report on the decline of urban neighborhoods in Cleveland for PolicyBridge, a public policy think tank he co-founded. Data suggested nearly 10,000 homes would be demolished in the city and turned into vacant lots. McShepard consulted with his childhood friends, Forshe and Durden, who saw it as an opportunity to build a farm.
“One of the suggestions I wrote in the report was to assemble all the vacant land and use it as areas to add value and purpose in urban core communities,” McShepard says. “Damien and Keymah initially saw it as a blueprint and vision for something we could do in this city.”
In December 2009, McShepard, Forshe and Durden traveled to Milwaukee to meet and study with Will Allen, an urban agricultural expert and founder of nonprofit, Growing Power. Over the course of a five-month commercial agriculture training program, the three friends gained insight into the urban agriculture industry.
“He told us in order to build a farm, we needed continuous amounts of vacant land,” says Durden, chief administrator of Rid-All Green Partnership.
They established Rid-All as a nonprofit and sat down with Cleveland’s planning director, requesting maps to scout for available properties. One of those properties was the 28-acre abandoned area in the lower Kinsman and Central neighborhoods, an area known as the Forgotten Triangle. While it wasn’t ideal, the co-founders knew it was crucial for their plan because of its abundant greenspace.
“We had been looking far and wide across the city and this was the area they pointed us to,” McShepard says.
In the early 20th century, the Kinsman and Central neighborhoods were a gateway for newly arrived Eastern European immigrants and African Americans escaping the violence and economic ruin of the Jim Crow South. With the community located only a few miles from downtown, a hub for railroad, industrial and factory work, it was a prime location for migrant enclaves to settle and transition into a new life. Between 1910-1920, African Americans uprooted from states like Alabama and settled in Cleveland, increasing its Black population from 8,448 to 34,451, with the majority settling in the Central neighborhood.
With the onset of the Great Depression and development of the New Deal Public Works Administration, Kinsman and Central became one of the first locations for Cleveland’s largest concentration of public housing. Sociologists and urban developers marked the neighborhood as impoverished, and city planners drew up maps for the development of segregated public housing and settlement camps. At the same time, real estate agencies, mortgage brokers and banks drew redlines on residential maps in this area, providing no loans or support for businesses, housing and infrastructure. For decades, with the culmination of disinvestment, white flight, depopulation and unemployment, the Kinsman and Central neighborhoods fell into disrepair and were subjected to cycles of economic decline, violence and abandonment.
“Our farm is nestled right in Garden Valley, where a good majority of the homicides, shootings or crime that takes place in the city or negative things you hear about Cleveland in the news echoes around that three- or four-mile radius,” Durden says. “We ultimately saw the area as a blank canvas, as an opportunity for change.”
In 2007, the 28-acre area had been named as the Urban Agricultural Innovation Zone by Burten, Bell, Carr Development, Buckeye, Kinsman and Central’s community development corporation.
“It didn’t make sense to build more houses as the population in Cleveland had changed, as well as the real estate market at the time with the foreclosure crisis,” says Joy Johnson, executive director of Burten, Bell, Carr Development. “The community had already expressed interest in doing something like urban farming or agriculture with the vacant lands.”
With the help of Burten, Bell, Carr Development, the Rid-All Green Partnership began acquiring land within the 28-acre area, buying up properties owned by the Cuyahoga Land Bank and the City of Cleveland Land Bank. In February 2011, Rid-All built its first greenhouse, using it to develop compost soil and experiment with plants to see how well they’d grow. For the first three years, Rid-All continued to clean up the properties it secured, adding hoop houses for growing fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers. The trio eventually uncovered a road, Fort Avenue, in 2014 that had been covered by brush and debris for 30 years. In order to develop the property further, they used the road as the location for a composting facility.
“Carving out a place dedicated to making compost really solidified what we could do in the future, not just with growing food, but with the land,” McShepard says.
The partnership added new value to the property by building wooden gates and planting gardens, flowers, trees and orchards. Rid-All cleared more land and added a greenhouse to supply its fish farm. In 2020, the group added a community kitchen for demonstrations, with the potential of opening a restaurant in the future.
“We began to see young ladies walking their dogs, basketball pickup games, families celebrating birthday parties and having cookouts at the park again,” McShepard says.
Rid-All brings in roughly 3,000-5,000 tourists from around the world each year and has been monumental in helping Burten, Bell, Carr Development revitalize the community and increase resident participation.
“They are always adding something new every year,” Johnson says. “Rid-All now stands as this national model for urban agriculture.”
Over the years, Rid-All’s founders observed that centralizing the farm in the Kinsman and Central neighborhoods allowed them to transform the community through urban agriculture and sustainability, impacting how residents viewed their own neighborhood.
“Hope is an invaluable commodity,” Durden says. “From the personal conversations and testimonies we get, people now have a solace they can call home.”