New Harvest Café
How Kwodwo Ababio has transformed a food desert in Linden into a beacon of hope
Kwodwo Ababio refers to New Harvest Café as a beacon. “There’s not a lot of traffic. It’s not a Short North, let’s put it that way,” says Kwodwo.
The café and community arts center in the heart of Linden stands in the center of a food desert, where the issue for Linden’s residents isn’t getting local, organic food—it’s getting any food that’s not fast food.
“We want to go from the field to the table. So, our vision is to grow enough food so that we don’t have to go to the grocery store to purchase produce. At the same time, we also have a farmers market every Saturday. So our thing is: teach folks how to eat healthy, because we live in a very poor, unhealthy community. Food security is terrible,” says Kwodwo.
Yet the café secures meals whether people have a moment or not. The café offers a $10 plate for a buffet lunch Tuesdays through Saturdays and on-the-go buffet lunches for $7.50 per pound.
The menu day in and day out remains the same: turkey lasagna, macaroni, meatloaf, rice pilaf, collard greens and cabbage, potatoes, green beans, and a vegetable medley consisting of broccoli, carrots, and yellow squash.
Then there’s the daily chicken fix: smothered chicken in gravy, chicken on the grill, and fried chicken. Kwodwo cooks it all himself.
Much of the produce, such as cabbage, yellow squash, zucchini, green peppers, and New Harvest’s staple, collard greens, is planted right on New Harvest’s property.
Collard greens are frozen so they last year round, and when New Harvest runs out of the produce supply in its own backyard it counts on other community gardens, like Four Seasons City Farm, to supply fruits and vegetables. Other supplies are bought from wholesale food stores.
For Kwodwo, changing how those in the Linden are eating isn’t all about physical health.
“Agriculture and the arts are some of the tools we use to get people more engaged in some of the other things we do,” says Kwodwo. “But at the same time, using agriculture to change people’s mindsets and do something for themselves.”
In Memory Of
For all the giving Kwodwo has initiated since 2005 when New Harvest Café first opened as a gallery only, he is no stranger to loss. Born and raised in Chicago, Kwodwo was preparing to go to college when one of his closest brothers unexpectedly died while playing basketball.
“At that time, I just felt like I really didn’t want to be in Chicago. So, I went to the Navy. I took off to the military,” says Kwodwo.
In 1988, Kwodwo lost another brother. This time, the death was more preventable. Kwodwo’s brother relied on drugs and was shot by the police. It was by no means a fair death, according to Kwodwo. After the deaths, came new life. Kwodwo had a son, but his son was soon taken away from him, as his Ohio-native mother brought him to Columbus to live.
Kwodwo took charge of a loss he could undo and moved to Columbus to take back what was given—his son. He also worked hard to bring his brothers back to life in some shape or form. “My thing is, as an artist—and I have a background in psychology, which is an art—is to paint my set of people in communities that were filled with crime and drugs and despair.”
So, in 2005, the city of Columbus gave Kwodwo, along with several other artists, $50,000 to collectively buy property on Cleveland Avenue for gallery space. Under the condition that the space would be an empowerment zone, the gallery was expected to bring in jobs for those in the Linden community.
“Our vision now is to open up the front building so we won’t have to depend on grants,” says Kwodwo.
The front building on New Harvest’s property has been abandoned since the gallery opened, but it is, in fact, the larger of the two buildings, with the capacity to hold 300 people. Larger space means more people to feed collard greens—one of New Harvest’s most popular dishes—and more giving to others as well as bringing back the lives that Kwodwo’s brothers should have had.
Stefanie Moss can attest to Kwodwo’s artistry and compassion. An artist herself, Stefanie is a playwright and actress who has volunteered at New Harvest. “What he does is for the community and very low cost because the people that live around the area… they’re on fixed income or can’t afford it,” says Stefanie. “Even his dinners that he cooks—I’ve seen Kwodwo just give food away because they can’t afford it, or he’ll just ask for a donation, so he’s very giving.”
Most of all, Stefanie is struck with how Kwodwo has changed the lives of younger people in the area—being a superhero—”the beacon.”
“There’s this young person who went to Linden (High School), I remember, and he would come after school [to New Harvest] and put this comic book together about this superhero in the inner city and he was just using his imagination,” says Stefanie. “I just thought that was so cool that you have this young man that could be doing other stuff, but he was coming here after school putting the comic book together and wanted it to get published, and Kwodwo would help him do that.”
“I’m a different artist,” says Kwodwo. “You know, the community’s my canvas. So what I try to do is create beautiful things in the community by building beautiful spaces.”
New Harvest Café; 1675 Arlington Ave., Columbus, Ohio; 614-447-8810