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Seasonal High Tunnel Brings Fresh Fruits, Veggies to Cleveland

By Beverly Moseley, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Avon Standard shows the produce grown in his season high tunnel in Cleveland.
Avon Standard shows the produce grown in his season high tunnel in Cleveland.

For years, Avon Standard has tilled the soil, planted the seeds and harvested the produce from his community garden with one purpose in mind—to feed the people.

“My passion is to give and grow,” says Standard of the fruits and vegetables that he provides free to family, friends and the surrounding community.

He recently took it one step further. Standard is the first urban farmer in Cleveland, which lies in Cuyahoga County, to build a high tunnel as part of the Cleveland Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Project administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

High tunnels are designed to extend the growing season into the cold months, helping to increase productivity, keep plants at a steady temperature and even conserve water and energy.

The Cleveland Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Project is part of the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food national initiative. This initiative works to strengthen local and regional food systems and promote locally grown foods, while expanding access to affordable, fresh foods.

Through the pilot project, urban farmers receive financial assistance to install high tunnels. They also work with NRCS staff to incorporate conservation planning and practices that protect the area’s natural resources into their operations, receiving on-site technical assistance.

A polyethylene cover will be added to this high tunnel to provide a warmer climate for plants.
A polyethylene cover will be added to this frame to allow a seasonal high tunnel to do its job – provide a warmer climate for plants.

To Standard, participating in the project offered a way for him to feed more people. The community garden where he grows his fruits and vegetables is located alongside Regency Park in an older, inner city neighborhood of Cleveland—the type of neighborhood where residents sometimes have limited access to affordable, healthy foods.

The City of Cleveland, working with U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, of Ohio, has rezoned inner city areas, such as vacant city lots, for agricultural use and is working with partners like NRCS to increase the availability of affordable, healthy foods sourced locally.

The success of these efforts was the focus of a news conference held recently in front of Standard’s high tunnel. Despite the morning rains, a large crowd gathered under tents and umbrellas. Standard and other farmers from the community garden were also in attendance and neighbors could be seen on their front porches watching from afar.

NRCS Chief Dave White traveled to Cleveland to attend the press conference, tour the garden and talk to attendees about NRCS’s role in the pilot project.

Chief Dave White recently visited Avon Standard’s high tunnel in Cleveland.
Chief Dave White recently visited Avon Standard’s high tunnel in Cleveland to see how Standard is producing food for his local community. U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, of Ohio, (right of podium) has long been an advocate of improving the quality of life of people in her district, which includes improving access to food, along with promoting better nutrition and healthy living.

“The interest and participation from the Greater Cleveland area’s community members, urban farmers and partners in the Cleveland Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Project have been tremendous. This project exemplifies NRCS’s commitment to increasing the availability of locally grown produce in urban areas in a conservation-friendly manner, while stimulating economic opportunities for urban farmers,” White said.

Standard, who is retired, spends the majority of his time in the garden, tending to his vegetables. He said he’s already planning how he’ll utilize the high tunnel this fall: growing collard and turnip greens. He’s looking forward to an extended growing season and seeing vegetables in the high tunnel even after the first frost.

And the neighboring community will once again benefit from the fruits of his labors, as the days shorten and grow colder—and Standard still has vegetables to give away.

Interested in extending your growing season with a high tunnel? Applications are accepted on a continuous basis for seasonal high tunnels. Contact your nearest NRCS field office or read more about seasonal high tunnels here.