Top | Deborah Madison — Blog

More Good Things About Ohio: A National Park with Farms

(post, Deborah Madison)

I don’t usually make this a habit, but I went back to Cleveland last week (Feb. 12), this time to give a talk in the Cuyahoga National Park. What seduced me into making a second winter trip was that this national park has a farmers market, and that alone was pretty compelling. But it got better when I found out that this urban park also has a number of farms in it, (twelve, to date, and plans to add more), and a national park that includes small farms is definitely something to take a look at, even in winter.
Of course, with everything covered in deep drifts of snow, there wasn’t much to see beyond fields lying fallow and some barns and farmhouses. But Beth Knorr, of the Countryside Conservancy, a non-profit that partners with the park to help with such things as negotiating farm leases, kindly drove me around the park and pointed out the old farmhouses, barns and outbuildings that are now being used by farmers. Beth explained that it probably worked out better for the park to have farmers use the land and take care of the properties, then have that be the responsibility of the park, and that is what has happened.
Given that the Cuyahoga National Park is pretty much an urban park, one that is close to Cleveland, maintaining a landscape that includes the human imprint expressed through small, sustainable farms (and the Erie Canal) says a lot about the importance of farming itself and their place in the landscape. The farms are real. The farmers produce all kinds of food and sell it in a number of places, including the park’s farmers’ market. 
Among the farming endeavors are Sarah’s Vineyard, which produces wine, Spring Hill Farm & Market featuring vegetables, flowers, eggs, and chickens, and Goatfeather’s Point Farm, a producer of livestock, including goats for ethnic markets and heritage turkeys. There is a u-pick berry farm, farms that feature herbs, lamb, different fruits, and more diversified farms that also feature vegetables. The farmhouses, which were already in the park, have been renovated for these young farmers and their families to use, (for which they pay rent), and there are still more farms available to be leased. All in all, I think this is a tremendously exciting approach to both urban parklands and farming, one that other places might consider. 
In addition to seeing the park, I had another opportunity to experience some high quality, very good food, this time at a little restaurant in Hudson called Downtown 140. At the Inn at Brandywine Falls, where I stayed, the morning’s breakfast included omelets made from eggs from the owner’s chickens and homemade bread and jam. Beth gave me a parting gift of some exceptional good goat cheeses from Lake Erie Creamery, which I fiercely defended when going through security, as well as some crumbly, short lavender shortbread cookies from a Hudson bakery. 

What is it with Ohio? It seemed sort of stodgy and conservative when I was researching Local Flavors, but ten years later it looks like a down-to-earth food mecca.  I can’t wait to go back in August and see everything in the sunshine and shop at the farmers’ market in the park.