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Countryside Initiative Invites Homesteaders to Work the Land at Cuyahoga Valley National Park

June 29, 2015 |

Photo courtesy of the Countryside Conservancy

Photo courtesy of the Countryside Conservancy

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) in Peninsula, Ohio, has nine homesteaders who reside on the Park’s land.

The CVNP has housed a non-profit farm conservancy since 1999, and recently, the conservancy opened up its program to new farmers once again.

The Initiative is inviting aspiring homesteaders and farmers from across the United States to apply to reside on the land’s two new vacant plots.

“The Countryside Initiative was first conceptualized by former CVNP superintendent, Jon Debo,” Tracy Emrick, partnership manager of the Countryside Conservancy, says.

“Debo then recruited Darwin Kelsey to create Countryside and to help him bring the rural landscape here in Cuyahoga Valley to life.”

After that, Darwin created the Countryside Conservancy, a 501c3 non-profit organization, and the creation of the Countryside Initiative farm-leasing program followed.

The Valley’s land was, and still is, used for the Initiative because the area has a long history of agricultural use. Also, the land is full of rural character. Both of those components are an important aspect of the park’s story. The farmers chosen to reside on the land express that character, Emrick explains.

The nine farms (Brunty Farms, Canal Corners Farm & Market, Goatfeathers Point Farm, Greenfield Berry Farm, Neitenbach Farm, Sarah’s Vineyard, Spice Acres, The Spicy Lamb Farm, and The Trapp Family Farm) that currently reside on the land are faring well and are successfully producing vegetables, fruits, eggs, meats, value-added items, and wine.

All of the farms use sustainable practices.

“There are many different ways farmers practice sustainability,” Emrick says about the program, “but examples are rotational grazing of livestock, cover cropping production fields, integrated pest and weed management planning, and natural resource conservation.”

The Initiative and farm conservancy draw more than 100,000 visitors each year. Because the Countryside Conservancy is such a popular destination for visitors, it provides an optimal place for education about sustainable farming practices, says Emrick.

Countryside’s mission states that its purpose “is to connect people, food, and land by increasing public awareness of how food and farming impact personal, community, and environmental health, and by inspiring personal commitment to building a resilient, sustainable food culture.”

The Initiative and Conservancy run smoothly thanks to its six core employees, says Emrick.

He goes on to explain that the farmers on the Park’s land are wonderful examples of land stewards.

“It [the program] models an opportunity for any landowner to become or to source land stewards who can understand that as much as the land can be plentiful for the farmer, the farmer can reciprocate to the land.,” he says.

The initiative also helps the park achieve its “Cultural Resource Management” goals, preserving the rural landscape.

Anyone interested in homesteading in the Park must  complete a Request for Proposals issued by the National Park Service.

“The farmer creates a proposal (business plan) for the farm, and that proposal is scored through a competitive process,” Emrick says. “The winning proposal is offered the leasing opportunity.”

According to Emrick, the potential farm sites were evaluated for rehabilitation to be part of the program. And while two are only available right now, more plots may be available in the years to come.

In the future, Emrick hopes for continued success.

“We hope that the Countryside Initiative continues to grow successful farmers and land stewards, and that the Countryside Conservancy will continue connecting people, food, and land throughout northeast Ohio,” Emrick says. “Our organization offers three vibrant farmers’ markets that had total sales that were over 1 million dollars last year, and hosted over 70 local small farms and small business. We hope to expand our education programming that currently offers a unique mix of culinary, agriculture, and community building courses for adults, and farm and market tours for area youth.”

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