Hooper Farm: The Fruits of Good Teaching

by Rich Weiss

How did Erich Hooper get into urban farming in the first place?  According to Hooper, his interest in horticulture was piqued by a teacher of his at Lincoln West, Claude Watson.  “He was a black male, and he knew all the Browns,” said Hooper.  Claude Watson died a couple of years ago, but he was the engaging horticulture teacher at Lincoln West who inspired Hooper, and influenced him in ways that continue to this day.  Including farming.

Hooper with Year Book_web

Erich Hooper is accustomed to touring people through Hooper Farm on W. 11th Street in Tremont, but here he led a tour through his greatest influences, found in the pages of his Lincoln West year book.

Hooper flipped through his Lincoln West yearbook for a picture of Watson, and said,  “At the time, in Tremont, and on the west side of Cleveland, being one of only five or six black families in the area, here’s a man who went through the racial segregation of America, and the hard times minorities faced and he climbed through it all and achieved goals, personal, as well as having lasting effects on the community and the black children that were going to this school.” Hooper continued, “I mean, when stuff went down we had to go to Mr. Watson for protection and guidance – he was a huge man, he was like 6’10” and 250 to 260 pounds.”  Watson had a successful tryout for the Cleveland Browns, but a military injury kept him from putting on the uniform.

Hooper found the yearbook page he was looking for: “The Lincoln West Horticulture Class…here’s another shot of him…this was 1975…”  The yearbook images seemed to send Hooper back to the days of his first inspiration, “It was his mentorship, and saying, ‘You know, you can grow food, yourself;’ and so we just started growing little-bitty lettuces and stuff, and then we’d have a salad for lunch, and it got us on that healthy food kick.”  Healthful food fit in with a series of themed lessons from Watson: ‘You know, as an athlete, you should take care of your body, and part of the process is this.’

“As a child, I lived in Hough,” recalled Hooper.  “After the riots, we left Hough and moved to the west side.  In Hough, before the riots, we had black doctors and lawyers and dentists, everything was within our own infrastructure.  During the riots all that was destroyed and we scattered around the city,” explained Hooper, “and our family came to Tremont in 1966.  That’s where Claude and other teachers came into my life and affected me, saying that you have to build this infrastructure within your community, and through that you can be self-sustaining.”

Horticulture was not the only area of interest in which Watson pushed Hooper to excel.  “I was a member of the Cleveland Touchdown Club, and that’s the best athletes in the City of Cleveland – one from the east side, one from the west side, and I was the west side representative,” Hooper stated with pride.  “What Mr. Watson taught us was – through his agriculture, through his military background, discipline, and love of the country, his love of sports – all these things tie in to what we become as a human being, and as a citizen of the United States.  So, here’s a man who went through some of the most turbulent times in America, fought in a war, and could not get a job back in the United States.

So, then he pursued his education, which then opened doors through his love of athletics, his love of gardening, his love of people…this is a gentle giant of a man.”

Hooper looks back fondly on a number of his teachers from Lincoln West, as well:  “These are teachers that make impacts on people’s lives, and these are people who aren’t getting paid the big bucks, but they understood, just like that pebble you drop in the water, the ripple effect can go on for years.  And I’m a product of that.”

Hooper Farm overlooks Clark Field and the steel mills.

Hooper Farm overlooks Clark Field and the steel mills.





  1. Pingback: Feb 13, 2015 * Hearts United for One Billion Rising: A Heart-Bombing! | HOÜSE TREMONT

  2. Eric, I had you in school at Tremont Elementary. We live in Cuyahoga Falls. Would like to reconnect.

    Bob Marik

  3. Great story.
    I hope you experienced Ralph Bowles, Lou Sauchak, Ron Corrin, and Wild Bill Olmstead. They were great teachers and leaders within the school.

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