Countryside has partnered with Cuyahoga Valley National Park for over 22 years. We are one of three cooperative partners located inside the park, alongside the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad and the Conservancy for CVNP, all three organizations work to provide specific support for Ohio’s only National Park.
One of Countryside’s roles is to support the cultural resources here in CVNP that make up the “rural character.” These are the farms and farmland that dot the valley and give us that serene, pastoral landscape that is smack in the middle of Cleveland and Akron’s urban center!
In 1999, the Park & Countryside co-created the Countryside Initiative, a farm leasing program that makes small farms, with excellent production and market potential, very accessible and affordable for beginning farmers. It explicitly encourages the pursuit of personal financial profit that provides the financial basis for supporting quality-of-life goals, such as being able to work close to home on their farms, while contributing to the natural beauty and environmental health of one’s locale (in this case, CVNP). The Countryside Initiative seeks farm lessees who see themselves as simultaneously cultivating profit, community, and ecological health (from the Countryside Initiative 2015 RFP).
Today, there are 10 farms in this program. You can learn about them here. They offer a diversity of locally and sustainably produced foods, while all finding unique ways to engage with park visitors like farm stands, u-pick operations, a winery, and more.
Why would a National Park engage in agricultural partnerships? Isn’t agriculture bad for the environment? Decades of research shows us that regenerative agricultural practices like those practiced by our ancestors coexisted with the ecosystem, and new emerging technologies and methods are compatible with our natural resources when they focus on regenerative practices too. Farms here in CVNP commit to practicing sustainability.
The National Park Service is charged with preserving America’s most revered natural and cultural resources. Much of American history and cultural heritage is rooted in agriculture; from our earliest indigenous ancestors before their removal, black slaves forced to farm plantations, and later the commonplace farms and ranchlands that once blanketed our country before development and industrialized food production. Farming has its roots in every part of human history. Though our farming technologies have changed, our history cannot be undone, and the stories, methods, and traditions must never be forgotten.
But it isn’t just the heritage and history of farming that matters, it is also the conservation of the land and the place we all depend on to grow our food today. Farmland and farmers are disappearing, and we hope that by sharing some models that might work, we can help slow the loss and make a difference. Farming in a National Park gives us a platform to share ideas, experiences, and healthy food with park visitors. The farms in the park share their stories and their bounty, and we share the models, connect people, and build possibilities.
In addition to our role here in the park, our work spans Northeast Ohio. We link and grow farmers, operate farmers’ markets, and help bring healthy, local food to thousands of families in-need. Food sustains us all, understanding where it comes from, valuing the land and the farmers that bring it to us, and knowing that healthy soils grow healthy food and healthy communities, are the messages that we work to communicate every day.
Countryside’s mission is to build a thriving local food community by connecting people, food, and land in and beyond Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We work to preserve land, cultivate new farmers and food businesses, and expand local food.
– Tracy Emrick, Countryside CEO