Cleveland High Tunnel Initiative
The Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to extend the growing season for high value crops in an environmentally safe manner through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a Federal conservation program. High tunnels, sometimes called hoop houses, are steel-framed with removable heavy plastic sheets covering structures that extend the growing season. High tunnel benefits include better plant and soil quality, fewer nutrients and pesticides in the environment, and better air quality because the crops are usually sold locally, decreasing fuel use for transportation.
High Tunnels usually cost a few thousand dollars, making them unaffordable for most people who don’t grow food for profit. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) created the Cleveland High Tunnel Initiative in 2011, so more people can grow fresh vegetables longer while managing water and pests effectively. In 2012, NRCS funded 23 hoop houses through the initiative in the Greater Cleveland area. In 2013, NRCS will accept applications from the Greater Cleveland area and give higher priority to applicants located in city-targeted agricultural use areas, areas designated as food deserts by USDA, and applicants from one of the 20 HUD SNP target areas (see maps below).
If a high tunnel application is approved, NRCS pays for part of the cost of building the high tunnel using EQIP. A 2,178 sq. ft. high tunnel is the largest NRCS allows in this initiative per garden or farm. The EQIP rules require that the land proposed for the high tunnel has a history of at least one year of agricultural production, such as growing vegetables.
The NRCS Urban Conservationist in the Cleveland area manages the EQIP contracts and helps successful applicants work through the contract process. The Federal Government considers the high tunnel payment as part of the contract holder’s annual household income. Non-profit organizations can also apply for high tunnels if they grow food.
The City of Cleveland allows high tunnel in areas zoned residential and non-residential. The person or organization building the high tunnel must have a building permit from the City of Cleveland and follow the set-back distances and other requirements of the zoning ordinance. Information on building permits is on the City of Cleveland Building and Housing website at http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us. The City of Cleveland's Division of Water established reduced hydrant permit fees for certain areas of the city and areas approved for urban agriculture projects. Refer to the City of Cleveland's Division of Water website for more information.
Anyone interested in seeing a high tunnel funded through the Cleveland High Tunnel Initiative can visit the two-acre garden alongside Regency Park at 3379 East 70th Street, Cleveland, 44127. Mr. Avon Standard built the first high tunnel in Cleveland at his garden through the initiative last year. Learn more about Mr. Standard and his garden at http://www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov/news/Cleve_High_Tunnel.html
To schedule an appointment, contact the Natural Resources Conservation Service office located in the USDA Service Center at 6100 West Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio, 44125, or call 216-524-6580.
Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative Requirements
The practice will extend the growing season early and late in the growing year.
Total high tunnel area is limited to 2,178 sq. ft. This may be single or multiple structures that cover a maximum of 2,178 sq. ft.
The high tunnel must be put on existing cropland that has an active crop production history.
Crops must be grown in the soil under the high tunnel, not in pots, growing racks or hydroponics systems.
The payment rate for high tunnels used an estimate that assumes the structure will be removed at the end of the growing season to prevent snow damage. A producer may use stronger hoops and heavier plastic that can be kept in place year-round without risking snow damage but the additional cost of those materials will not be covered through EQIP.