YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — After turning three abandoned and garbage-filled inner-city parcels into gardens offering free fruits and vegetables, Mason Carratt is embarking on another way to feed the hungry: a vineyard in which the grapes will be used to make jellies and jams.
Carratt received a donation of 100 Concord grapevines and 700 linear feet of wooden posts and metal wire for trellising from Kosicek Vineyards in Geneva, with the work being done by volunteers in two weeks.
The Steel Valley Vineyard is at Ravenwood and Idlewood avenues on the city’s South Side. It’s only a few feet from Carratt’s Idlewood house.
“The whole purpose is to give food to those in need,” he said. “I enjoy knowing that people who are hungry can come here.”
Carratt started growing fruits and vegetables to reduce his expenses after a serious injury to his left foot seven years ago. The back of his property abuts 3406 Hillman St., which was an overgrown, debris-filled parcel for years. For much of 2012, Carratt filled a couple of bags with trash from that Hillman parcel and threw it out with his garbage.
In 2013, Carratt started a major cleanup of that property, eventually removing tons of trash, including tires, concrete, bricks, roofing materials and lumber. He mowed the parcel and planted fruits and vegetables. Later that year, he created the Youngstown Inner City Garden, allowing anyone— though his focus is on seniors and the disabled —access to fresh produce.
“I was homeless and an alcoholic for so many years,” Carratt said. “I’m trying to be a productive member of society to give back because I took so much.”
Various organizations that feed the hungry pick up bags of fresh fruits and vegetables from Carratt’s garden and distribute them.
In 2014, with the help of others, Carratt created the Youngstown Food Forest on two vacant parcels across the street from the garden on Hillman Street.
“It was a dump yard with several hundred tires and a lot of roofing materials,” he said.
It currently has about 200 berry bushes and 70 fruit trees.
“Anyone can come and eat what’s grown,” he said.
That includes raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, apples, pears, plumbs and peaches.
Among those who visit the garden and food forest are Philip and Mary Leyman, residents of the nearby Grovewood Manor, a housing complex on Hillman Street for seniors and the disabled.
“It’s good for the neighborhood,” Mary said. “It’s helped improve the neighborhood, and everyone always feels welcomed.”
“What’s been done is really improving the community, and the food is very good,” her husband added.
The food grown at the garden and forest fed about 13,000 people last year, Carratt said.
As for the vineyard, about a dozen kids will learn how to grow grapes and turn them into jelly and jam, he said.
“It’s an awesome project,” said Tony Kosicek, owner of Kosicek Vineyards. “I’m kind of amazed at all the stuff that’s going on here. It’s very impressive.”
Carratt said: “I’m very thankful and grateful to all of the organizations and volunteers who’ve been so helpful. It was just me and a wheelbarrow to start. It went from a few tomato plants to all of this. We’ve cleaned up abandoned, trash-filled lots and have made the properties productive.”
Information from: The Vindicator, http://www.vindy.com