Erich Hooper grew up with gardening as a part of daily life. “We had fruit trees in the back yard,” he recalls about his childhood home on Cleveland’s west side. “We had the horticulture program at my school. I learned it as a kid on up.” From elementary school, through technical training in high school, ‘Hoop’ and his classmates learned how to start seeds, tend plants, and sell food. Though the horticulture program is no longer a district-wide effort, Erich’s two children didn’t miss out. “I would send them down the hill with a wagon of oranges and say ‘Don’t come back until it’s empty,” he laughs. “That was their pocket money, they learned quick!”
Hooper Farm, just over an acre of residential land bordering Cleveland and Tremont, is Erich’s headquarters for his educational outreach and healthy food catering company. When a local community funding organization denied Erich a $5,000 request to build an urban greenhouse, he built a smaller version and began using it for teaching rather than production like he originally planned. “I knew that if I taught kids how to grow, and the importance of a seed, that would help create a system over time.”
Today, Hoop’s operation provides healthy, local, sustainable options at events such as Hessler Street Fair and Case Western’s Food Justice Conference. He also cooks for City of Cleveland events and professional athletes and musicians.