At least six more microfarms will be constructed in and around Mansfield over the summer, which is part of a broader effort to combat food deserts.

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Sidney Bonham tends to his plot of microgreens at the Mansfield campus of The Ohio State University. The project has been described as a "microfarm bootcamp" to teach the basics of urban gardening. (Photo: Monroe Trombly/News Journal)



MANSFIELD - Around a dozen farmers, or rather, producers, harvested over a hundred pounds of produce Monday at the microfarm on the Mansfield campus of The Ohio State University.

The bounty of microgreens and radishes will be given to YellowBird Foodshed, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) share program. The organization aggregates locally grown produce from farmers around the state and then sells it to customers along the I-71 corridor. 

Monday's harvest signified an important step in the expansion of a microfarm project that began in 2017 in an unused parking lot of the joint college campus.

Where North Central State College once held its rib cook-off fundraiser, now stands two plastic high tunnel hoop houses and an array of outdoor raised beds built to mimic an industrial site or an urban community. The microfarm has been used as an educational demonstration space for both OSU students and the community.

The roughly dozen growers, who are part of cooperative called Richland Gro-Op, have completed the first phase of their microfarm training, said Dr. Kent “Kip” Curtis, an associate professor of environmental history, who is coordinating the program.

They've been introduced to marketable crops, learned how to grow them in a high-tunnel, urban environment setting, and learned how to sell the produce on the market.

Mona Kneuss trims the top of microgreens on Lot 7 on the Mansfield campus of The Ohio State University on Monday. The microfarm is being used as an educational demonstration space for both OSU students and the community. (Photo: Monroe Trombly/News Journal)

"Our primary goal for the microfarms is to create urban farming. The secondary result would be, there will be additional food in a food desert. But first we've got to get money in producer's pockets. So we're training them.... This is the first phase, we're going to have three phases this year."

Thanks in part to a $2 million matching grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, Curtis said at least six microfarms will be placed in and around Mansfield this summer and fall.

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Four microfarms will be installed at a site near the Gorman-Rupp building at Bowman Street and West Sixth Street, one will be located somewhere else in Mansfield, and one will be in the city's suburbs. 

Food produced by the farms could be sold to neighborhood residents, helping to address areas that are considered food deserts — areas that lack access to healthy and affordable food. The microfarms could also provide jobs in underemployed urban neighborhoods.

Lace

“This pilot effort of microfarms will establish a food system in the city of Mansfield that can collectively generate the volume and quality of specialty crops to compete for commercial markets,” Curtis said in a May 2 news release from OSU-Mansfield. “It will keep local dollars circulating within the community, rather than exporting them out, while promoting healthier lifestyles by providing residents with access to fresh, local produce right there in the neighborhood.”

Sidney Bonham, a local business owner, got involved in the project through the North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC).

As he trimmed the tops of microgreens Monday, Bonham said he wants to educate people on the importance of eating healthy. 

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