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Ohio national park sets a new farming initiative
Ohio Correspondent

PENINSULA, Ohio — In America, there’s little farming that goes on in national parks. That’s what makes the Cuyahoga Valley National Park (CVNP) Farming Initiative program unique.

Its goal is to prevent the decline of farming in the Cuyahoga Valley, the area between Cleveland and Akron.

According to Darwin Kelsey, executive director of the Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy (CVC) program (the Farming Initiative is one of CVC’s programs), about 3.5 million people visit the park each year and 7-8 million travel through it, providing an excellent opportunity for retail markets.

About 20 farms within the park are being rehabilitated and publicly offered for long-term leasing to be managed for modern sustainable farming, Kelsey said. Two farms are offered for lease each year.

That program has given both Cindy and Terry Smith, and Alan and Susan Halko with their children, Sarah and Seth, an opportunity to get into farming which they might not have had otherwise.

Myotonic Goats
“We saw the CVNP’s request for proposals (to lease the land), read about it and thought it was a good idea,” Cindy Smith said.

“We proposed a multi-species operation with the goats,” said Smith, who with her husband moved into an 1876 farmhouse on 37 acres of land last May. “We’re going to add bronze turkeys next year, and then in a couple years we’d like to add a few cows, we’re looking at Dexter cattle.”

The Smiths are self-taught farmers.

“We got the equipment (all used) and after talking to a couple of farmers we just went out and did it.”

They chose the Myotonic breed of goat, also called the Tennessee Fainter, because they don’t climb and the females are good mothers.

“We’ve really never had a complication with birthing. They’re also a rare species,” Smith said. “The commercialism of food has caused a lot of breeds to dwindle because people don’t eat them anymore. We like the fact that they’re a rare breed, and we’re being part of bringing them back.”

Eventually the Smiths want to build a small retail store to sell frozen goat meat on the farm, Smith said.

Now people can buy the whole goat and take it live or Smiths will drop it off at the processor and the customer can pick it up. Both Smiths have full-time jobs and look on the farm as an opportunity for semi-retirement.

Vegetables, flowers & chickens
In three years Alan Halko plans on retiring after 27 years as a public employee. The family raises laying chickens, vegetables and cut flowers on park land they leased through the CVNC Farming Initiative.

“We came out to create a farm,” Halko said. “It’s something I always wanted to do. When we saw this opportunity with the national park ... “We had looked at some places to buy on our own but the prices weren’t anything we could afford,” Halko said. We needed to stay in this area because of my current job so this looked like a nice idea. We came, looked around, wrote a proposal and the next thing you know we were here."

Before moving to the farm, the family raised chickens and vegetables and sold them at the Shaker Heights Farmers Market.

“We wanted to expand,” Halko said. “I work a full-time job so every year we’re trying to get a little bit done. We got the greenhouse built, we got the fence built. I don’t have somebody come in and do the work. It’s just something I want to do.”

The Halkos start their crops from seed in the greenhouse “with a pair of tweezers for every seed in every flat,” Halko said.

Susan grows perennial and annual cut flowers. Alan has a half-acre of vegetables and some sweet corn.

Although not certified organic, all of the Halko’s crops are grown without chemicals.

“I like taking our products to market and dealing with people,” he said. “Selling them good food that’s grown locally. A lot of people that come to market, that’s what they’re looking for.”

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This farm news was published in the July 19, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.