Visar Duane, owner of Purple Skies Farm in North Royalton, Ohio, views her operation as another way to practice what she preaches: health and wellness. An occupational therapist, she has long endorsed the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables into daily diet for overall health. With help from USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), she has expanded her reach as a local source of quality produce, supporting an on-site farm market, CSA program and nearby restaurant and catering business.
“I feel that I’m able to provide a connection between people and their food,” she said. “When we have guests at our bed and breakfast or farm market, they are able to see where the produce comes from and how much effort and care goes into creating a quality product.”
Duane’s secret to providing a variety of healthy and unique produce items, such as raspberries, microgreens, lettuce, carrots and more, lies in her farm’s soil health and the high tunnels that NRCS
She worked with NRCS staff to build her first high tunnel in 2012 and was able to build a second in 2020. The two high tunnels allow Duane to extend her growing season, protecting plants from severe weather and allowing for more sustainable application of water and plant nutrients.
Duane is also enrolled in the NRCS Conservation Stewardship Program, which provides her with financial and technical assistance to build on her conservation efforts and effectively steward her land. She worked with NRCS District Conservationist Lynette Harmon to find the best conservation practices to compliment her land management strategy.
“Mrs. Duane is a great candidate for USDA programs, as she works to protect the soil, water, air, plants and animals on her land,” Harmon said. “She’s been working with NRCS for almost 10 years. In addition to planting cover crops and pollinator strips, which are key in supporting species like monarch butterflies and bees, she is tackling other resource concerns on her farm, such as nutrient management.”
Ultimately, Duane sees the farm, and the care that she puts into managing it, as a symbol of hope that parallels her own story. A refugee from Cambodia, Duane immigrated to the United States in 1981, escaping the Khmer Rouge organization led by dictator Pol Pot.
“My experience as a refugee has taught me that all things are possible,” she said. “Even in the darkest situations, when you think that there is no escape, there is always hope.”
She has channeled that optimism into mentoring others through the New Farmer Academy in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which, according to the program’s website, offers career pathways for interns through classroom-style education in the principles of sustainable agricultur
e, technical training, business and financial planning, and supportive working relationships with beginning/mentor farmers.
Intern Maddie Baker hopes to use the knowledge that she has learned from Duane to help those in urban settings grow their own food, either through community gardens or container gardening.
“I’ve learned through this internship that creating access to quality produce is important,” Baker said. “Giving people the tools and education that they need to grow nutritious foods and
provide for themselves ultimately creates stronger, healthier communities.”
And Visar Duane is working to achieve that in her own community, taking pride in the quality and sustainability of her operations at Purple Skies Farm.