Support for Urban Agriculture – Blog from Cuyahoga SWCD

Support for Urban Agriculture

Thanks to receiving an NACD grant, Justin Husher was hired as Cuyahoga SWCD’s first-ever Horticulture Specialist.  His goal is to develop a tool to help urban growers to get better at growing and selling. Here are some of the things he has discovered so far.

He has observed that two character traits seem to translate to successful  urban growing:  Strong leadership, coupled with a can-do spirit and the charisma to bring others along for the ride;  and being deft at materials acquisition–whether it’s navigating the paperwork to get an EQIP hoop house, calling tree pruners for deliveries of woodchips, driving out to Amish country for the best deals in organic fertilizers, or knowing industrial surplus warehouses, the ability to get materials cheaply and quickly is a boon to urban growers.

Justin has also witnessed some bad practices, for example the inappropriate use of materials, such as landscape fabric, which stifles plant growth; and the use of landscape fabric and plastic under woodchips for rows and paths, which prevents weeds, but also inhibits worms from churning into and through that woodchip layer. In consideration of mostly compacted urban soils, the plastic prevents water percolation, leading to stormwater run-off.  And there is more!  Because of the lack of contact between woodchips and soil, the breakdown of the woodchips into humus-rich soil is greatly impeded.

New urban farmers are getting stuck between being an overly big-time gardener, but not quite a full-fledged farmer. These growers plant enough tomatoes for themselves, neighbors, friends, and family, but not quite enough to make it to market every week. Nobody likes a meager table at a farmer’s market.

Much needs to be done to assist urban agriculture to maturity. One potential source of assistance might be through Cleveland’s Community Development Corporations (CDCs). Gaining the acceptance and support of CDCs will be essential to local farmers in their service areas.  CDCs may be able to help farmers with things like marketing support, promotion or group buying.  As 2017 unfolds, Justin will be looking at urban agriculture in Cleveland in more detail.  By listening to farmers, providing demonstrations and technical assistance, urban agriculture will improve.  Please do not hesitate to share your stories or tips with Justin. His email is

Cuyahoga  SWCD