CLEVELAND, Feb. 11, 2013 – Imagine the delicious taste of baby spinach freshly harvested from your own garden – in Cleveland - in December. Impossible, right? Not anymore. Hoop houses, also called high tunnels, make growing vegetables possible long after the first frost.
A hoop house sits over top of the garden. Arch shaped aluminum poles support removable heavy plastic sheets that trap heat from the sun, warming the air. Most have a peak height that allows an adult to stand easily with room to spare. They look similar to greenhouses except plants grow in the ground instead of in pots on racks.
Hoop houses 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 that more people can grow fresh vegetables longer while managing water and pests effectively. Last year NRCS funded 23 hoop houses through the initiative in the Greater Cleveland area. This year 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).
If a hoop house application is approved NRCS pays for part of the cost of building the hoop house using the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), a Federal conservation program. A 2178 sq. ft. hoop house is the largest NRCS allows in this initiative per garden or farm. The EQIP rules require that the land proposed for the hoop house has a history of at least one year of agricultural production, such as growing vegetables.
Urban conservationist Alfonso Norwood manages the EQIP contracts and helps successful applicants work through the contract process. The Federal Government considers the hoop house payment as part of the contract holder’s annual household income. Non-profit organizations can also apply for hoop houses if they grow food.
The City of Cleveland allows hoop houses in areas zoned residential and non-residential. The person or organization building the hoop house 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 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 Division of Water website for more information.
Anyone interested in seeing a hoop house 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 hoop house 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 with Urban Conservationist Al Norwood call 740-396-2519 (cell) or 216-524-6580 (office). The Natural Resources Conservation Service office is located in the USDA Service Center at 6100 West Canal Road, Valley View, Ohio, 44125.