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Sowing Seeds of Partnerships to Feed a Community

By:  Beverly Moseley, Ohio Acting Public Affairs Specialist
 
High tunnel installation

High tunnel installation begins over
Avon Standard’s vegetable garden.

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

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 or hoop house as part of the Cleveland Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Project administered through the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

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

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 food systems and promote locally grown foods, while expanding an urban community’s access to affordable fresh foods.

To Standard, the large high tunnel structure offered a way to extend his growing season; in turn, likely making it possible to feed more people. The project also should help determine a high tunnel’s effectiveness in keeping vital nutrients in the soil and reducing pesticide use.

Sharing success

The community garden where Standard grows his fruits and vegetables is located alongside Regency Park in an older, inner city neighborhood of Cleveland. These inner city locations are sometimes referred to as “food deserts,” due to the community’s limited access and availability of affordable, healthy foods.

The City of Cleveland and individuals such as U.S. Congresswoman Marcia Fudge, Ohio's District 11, have taken steps to shrink these deserts. They have rezoned areas such as vacant city lots for agricultural use and are working with partners such as NRCS through the Cleveland Seasonal High Tunnel Pilot Project.

The success of these efforts was the focus of a recent news conference held in front of Standard’s high tunnel, surrounded by vegetable plants. 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.

“This really is reinventing a community.  It’s feeding people. They don’t sell food here -they give it to people. This is the Victory Garden of our time,” said Congresswoman Fudge during the news conference.

The Congresswoman 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.

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

“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,” Chief White said.

He shared that NRCS has provided more than $132,000 in Federal financial assistance to Cuyahoga County urban farmers for high tunnel installations. To date, 22 contracts for high tunnels have been approved by NRCS through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

Through the pilot project, urban farmers receive financial assistance for tunnel installation based off an established NRCS EQIP program rate.  Farmers will work with NRCS staff on conservation planning and practices that protect the area’s natural resources, such as soil and water. They will also receive on-site technical assistance from NRCS staff.

The spirit of giving

At the garden is where Standard, who is retired, spends the majority of his time tending to his vegetables. That’s where he was found the day after the news conference answering his phone.

He reported that the rains had stopped and the morning was sunny with a slight breeze blowing. Weather made for gardening with his friends who he considers family.

“Yesterday was great. It rained, but it was real nice yesterday,” Standard said about the news conference and the garden’s visitors.

He said he’s already planning on how he’ll utilize the high tunnel this fall. He’d like to grow collard greens and turnip greens. He said he’s looking forward to an extended growing season and seeing vegetables in the high tunnel after the first frost.

“I’ve seen them around. When it came to me about the hoop house, I was thinking that’s a great idea. I’ll do that. Once I get it, I’ll figure everything I’ll do with it. In the winter and spring time - I can start planting earlier,” Standard said.

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.

“I feel like I’m getting some blessings by giving - not receiving,” Standard said.

Since 1935, NRCS’s nationwide conservation delivery system works with private landowners to put conservation on the ground based on specific, local conservation needs, while accommodating State and national interests. To learn more about NRCS’s programs and how they can benefit you and your natural resources, visit us on the web at www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov.