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Mansfield micro-farm part of larger vision to impact local food system


COLUMBUS, Ohio — Visitors of Ohio State University at the Mansfield/North Central State College campus are watching something new crop up this fall.

A micro-farm is being built in a parking lot on the west side of campus and will feature two high tunnels and 20 additional raised beds. Using roughly one-third of an acre to start, the growing site will produce fresh fruits and vegetables for the campus cafeteria and at a reduced cost for north-end Mansfield residents.

“With these tunnels, we can potentially grow year-round,” said Kip Curtis, assistant professor of history at OSU Mansfield.

Curtis, along with OSU graduate Tyler Arter and 30 students from the Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability program at OSU, began construction of the micro-farm on August 19. They are now monitoring 42 raised beds. Twenty-two of the beds are placed under two high tunnels that will help lengthen the period of production.

“We hope to begin to model the cutting edge of urban agriculture and demonstrate its promise for an evolving food system,” Curtis said.

He hopes to add more micro-farms on campus next to the one that’s under construction. The micro-farm is made possible through a $100,000 grant from the OSU’s President and Provost’s Council on Sustainability.

“This is their first investment in a regional campus and they are very excited about what they see here, because it helps them meet the campus university sustainability goals even faster,” Curtis said.

Already in the works is the design of a RUSS (Reaching Urban Students with Sustainability) garden, which will include a 30-by-72-foot high tunnel. He said it will be available for use by the college and local schools to give students an interactive educational experience.

“We want to design it as a classroom,” Curtis said. “We see a potential for cross-curricular learning, and a real potential for reaching the hard-to-reach learners.”

Expansion is in the forecast, too. Curtis said additional RUSS gardens will be built in the city of Mansfield. “Next year, we’ll go after a second pilot implementation grant and we’ll put one or two RUSS gardens in the city and see how that works and test the outcomes. We want to show positive learning outcomes.”

Planting began in early September.

“This fall is kind of an experiment,” Curtis said. “We have some folks who will buy, if we can produce … That will give us a sense of our rhythm and we can get started again in the late winter and do it all over again for a full season.”

Through collaboration with the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, a portion of the produce will be donated to Mansfield residents to address their food insecurity. “We already have ‘friendly buyers’ who will purchase what is grown on the micro-farm, including the campus cafeteria and Mansfield City Schools,” he said.

The micro-farm will be maintained by an urban farmer with the help of student volunteers and a few paid interns.

“If we’re successful, by next summer, we will have a three-year, couple million-dollar grant to do a pilot, and that pilot will consist of beginning to build some of these micro-farms on land bank properties, training some urban farmers and getting that aggregation system up and running,” Curtis said.

The pilot project will be studied over a three-year period. “At the end of three years, we hope to be able to say, ‘Now let’s scale up to the whole city,” he said.