By: Lori Lenhart
Urban agriculture is taking root in cities across the country, providing access to healthy produce, creating local jobs and strengthening communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked to increase urban agriculture opportunities through the High Tunnel System Initiative, a program that provides financial and technical assistance to urban producers to grow food year-round. In Cincinnati, the agency partnered with local organizations including the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, and others to create the Cincinnati Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative.
Through their efforts, the first high tunnel in Cincinnati was installed in Avondale on December 16, 2020. Members of the community joined together to erect the structure and finished the project in a single day. Small business owner April Pandora, who is managing the high tunnel, is excited for the new capabilities that the structure will bring to her business, Eden Urban Gardens, LLC. Through her business, Pandora delivers food directly to customers in surrounding neighborhoods through CSA food shares and farmers’ markets.
"The Cincinnati High Tunnel Initiative has helped us expand our urban farm production,” she said, “With the high tunnel, we will not only be able to increase the availability of fresh food in the winter, but also provide a more diverse selection of higher quality vegetables to nearby communities.”
In recent years, the city has revised regulations to allow for more urban agriculture opportunities. Former Ohio Statehouse representatives Dale Mallory and Jim Buchy spearheaded efforts to establish the Cincinnati High Tunnel Initiative to address fresh food shortages and alleviate food access challenges like transportation and grocery store proximity.
The initiative is now in its second year of providing funding and is gaining momentum. In 2020, the CHTI funded four high tunnels in the city. In 2021, NRCS received eight applications for high tunnels from a variety of candidates including a farming cooperative, nonprofits, female- and minority-owned small businesses and others.
“It is refreshing to learn about the existing farming operations in the city that have diverse missions,” NRCS Urban Conservationist Lori Lenhart said. “Urban agriculture provides countless benefits, from a health, educational and economic standpoint. We’re looking forward to working with these organizations to strengthen food security within the city.”
Contact Lori Lenhart at 614-653-3460, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Cincinnati’s high tunnel program, including eligibility and funding opportunities. Though the funding deadline has passed for 2021 applications, NRCS accepts applications year-round for the next funding cycle.