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Tim Smith of Community Greenhouse Partners

Meet Tim Smith, founder of Community Greenhouse Partners, a nonprofit sustainable urban farm.
What is Community Greenhouse Partners?
Community Greenhouse Partners is a non-profit sustainable urban farm that applies ecological design principles and engages community participation to grow wholesome food year-round, improving personal health while generating training, mentoring, and employment opportunities for our neighbors. Our mission is "to improve the quality of life around us by growing vegetables year round and selling them at low cost to urban families, employing local residents and teaching sustainability and earth science to young people."
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?

I came up with the idea of creating CGP while watching the film Fresh in 2008, but at that point I was no stranger to the local food movement. In fact, CGP is part of a life-long endeavor to form a business that positively impacts the community around me. My passion for healthy, local food was born at an early age when I began raising vegetables with my family in a small plot in our back yard. My parents were founding members of the Cleveland Food Co-op, which taught me the value of using fresh product and cooking from scratch.

I spent nearly 20 years in the food service industry, cooking and managing at a number of high-end and chain restaurants, where I learned the importance of using the freshest ingredients possible. In addition, as a life-long diabetic, I understand the devastating effects that obesity and poor diet can have on one’s body, particularly for children. Subsequently, my experience as a volunteer coordinator, special events manager, journalist, graphic design business owner and political activist has given me the knowledge, experience base and proven passion that is needed to see this venture through to fruition. 

What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
I think the biggest surprise was how many people I knew who filled in pieces of the overall puzzle. Friends I had met through very different circumstances who just-so-happened to have relevant skills and also had the availability to help move the project forward.
Where have you turned to find capital to grow your company and which institutions have provided it?
We've always been determined to be sustainable, so we said right from the beginning that we had no desire to keep coming back to foundations for help year-after-year. That being said, we have turned to a number of private foundations, including the Generation Foundation, Mt. Sinai Healthcare Foundation, the PNC Foundation, the Ostara Foundation, the Pink Family Foundation, the Cyrus Eaton Foundation, Neighborhood Connections, the Jones Charitable Trust of the Cleveland Foundation, the Funny Times Peace Fund and others for help in acquiring the necessary infrastructure and capital needs to get us going and growing. We've also been blessed to have a number of generous individual donors who have chipped in to make things happen.
Who was your first customer and where did you find them?
Our first "customer" was really our first market. The Coit Road Farmers' Market is the oldest continuously run Farmers' market in Cleveland. Located in East Cleveland, The Coit Market is the most urban of Cleveland's markets, as a majority of the customers there are on some sort of public assistance. This meets our mission to sell to urban families, and also helps support a market that's so rich in history.
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Cleveland?
Available Lands: There are 3,000 acres of vacant land in Greater Cleveland right now -- land that's ripe for use in not only agricultural applications, but also for entrepreneurial uses and green space for residents.
Available Hands: With Cleveland's unemployment rates in the double digits, it's easy to find willing help in any neighborhood. Folks are eager to work, and companies can find hundreds of experienced, knowledgeable caring people to hire.

What advice would you give to someone starting a company here?
Don't listen to the nay-sayers. Cleveland has this terrible attitude about itself, and we tend to tear down good things before they're even started. I can't tell you the number of times I've heard people say that our idea was crazy, that it'll never work, that I should give up. And yet, four years later, we're still going, expanding, reaching out to new markets and building more infrastructure.
What companies or founders do you admire and why?
I'm really impressed by the work that Growing Power Inc. and their founder Will Allen is doing in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His story in the film Fresh led me to what we are doing now. Locally, I am eternally grateful to Dar Caldwell and his partner Todd Goldstein at Shaker LaunchHouse, who gave us invaluable advice at our start, and I am in awe of the entrepreneurial spirit embodied by Dameon Guess at JakPrints, Matt Fish from Melt Restaurant and Carlton Jackson at Tunnel Vision Hoops. All three are creating very successful businesses, and all three have made sure that their business models are socially, environmentally and  economically responsible. They put people over profit, and continually give back to the community.

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