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High hoop tunnels in Cleveland's food desert

Marc Lefkowitz  |  02/12/13 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Local food system

It was intended to signal a sea change. The city of Cleveland’s active role from 2007 to 2010 in ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland. The study asked and then sought answers to, what does a major city do with a serious glut of vacant land?

Garden Boyz<br />A ReImagine Cleveland pilot project. Image: Sharon GlaspieIndicator landscapes<br />Could vacant land yield clues about its toxicity through plants? An idea from ReImagine a More Sustainable Cleveland. Image: Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative

Could Cleveland “re-imagine” it; could it change the paradigm that land is in a perpetual state of development?

It seemed off-kilter, but Cleveland was facing decades of bleeding population. Since 1970, the metro area’s suburbs have sprawled on to 250 new acres of rapidly disappearing green space, wetlands and farms. Cleveland’s gambit would be about taking the inverse—land with little real estate promise and making it better suited as a production center for meeting its remaining residents’ daily needs of food, energy, and so forth.

Apart from many hours of staff time, Cleveland’s largest investment in ReImagine totaled $500,000. In 2010, the city invested HUD’s contribution to its Neighborhood Stabilization Fund for 56 hardy individuals to try their hand at yielding food from the bare ground where homes were once thick on residential streets.

Meanwhile, the study was making the circuit of urban conferences. The effort bore fruit with an infusion of cash from an unlikely ally in Washington. The U.S. Department of Agriculture appeared ready to make a big statement that it was interested in an urban issue: Food security. That same year, the agency made its single largest grant in recent memory to an urban area. Cleveland was awarded $1.6 million ($940,000 came from the state) for the Cleveland Urban Agriculture Incubator Pilot Project, to develop a farmer program on six-acres of contiguous land bank (city owned vacant) property at Kinsman at E. 83rd Street. OSU Agricultural Extension was hired by the city to convert long vacant land in to small business farms.

Food production on vacant land will get another boost from Washington. USDA announced this week that it is offering to pay for more high-tunnel hoop houses for urban farmers in food dessert areas, which translates to many areas of Cleveland.

According to the press release:

"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 last year so that more people can afford hoop houses. Last year NRCS funded 23 hoop houses through the initiative in the Greater Cleveland area. This year State Conservationist Terry Cosby put more money towards the hoop house initiative because it was so popular. NRCS will give higher priority to applicants in city targeted agricultural use areas, areas designated as food deserts by USDA, and applicants from one of the 20 HUD SNP target areas.

NRCS pays 90 percent of the cost of the hoop house up to $6,709. The applicant pays the remaining 10 percent. NRCS accepts the dollar value of in-kind services towards the 10 percent. NRCS will pay for hoop houses up to 30’x 72’ (2178 sq. ft.). If someone wants a larger or more expensive hoop house, NRCS will pay up to the maximum dollar amount and size, the resident pays for the difference.

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. 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.

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. Visit the NRCS website for more information on hoop houses and conservation programs."

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