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On that farm there was a....

As many of you may know (or may have read on the blog), we've submitted a competitive proposal to farm 12 acres of land in Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio (near Cleveland). The Request For Proposals went out this summer for two farms--our choice has a barn, more acreage, and is more secluded--and are due mid-September of 2015. The initial review process will take 30-60 days after that with possible interviews, a lease negotiation, and several formal steps before the winners can occupy the property.

For those not familiar, Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a 20,000 acre national park (the only one in Ohio), located between Cleveland and Akron, and established by the National Park Service to preserve and reclaim the rural landscape near the Cuyahoga River. This includes the Ohio and Erie Canal, prehistoric and Native American artifacts, waterfalls, biking/hiking trails, marshland, historical buildings, and mills. Over 900 plant species are found in the park, as well as 194 species of birds, 91 aquatic macroinvertebrates, 43 fish, 32 mammals, 22 amphibians, and 20 species of reptiles. 2.5 million visitors come to CVNP every year. 

Part of the problem for the NPS in maintaining the rural landscape is the number of old farms within park boundaries falling into disrepair. This is where the Countryside Conservancy steps in. Currently, there are 9 farms...soon to be 11...within the national park and they all offer products grown using sustainable practices and sold directly to consumers. Farms are not required to be organic, but there are incentives in the lease for gaining organic certification. 

The farm we've written our proposal for includes a 4-bedroom, 2.5 bath farmhouse, garage, barn, pond, and is mostly open weeds-to-scrub at the moment. (I believe my research has turned up that it used to be an experimental grazing farm to study meat goats for ethnic markets.) The farm is surrounded by forest, a bike trail, an under-construction mountain bike trail, and has power lines crossing it. It essentially sits on a plateau among some wooded hills. (The other property in this RFP is directly across from the river/canal and has a housing subdivision next to the main field.)

Our plan for the property includes (primarily) pasture-grazed sheep for wool and meat--possibly heritage breed--with a few heritage chickens, beehives, and possibly some single-origin coffee roasting thrown in for good measure. If we get it, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about our new operation and transitioning to farm life so I'll save specifics for then. But our flock would be mostly grass-fed using electrified paddocks for rotational grazing, movable chicken tractors for the egg layers, and you'd see us a lot at the local farmers market as well as on the internet for our lamb, yarn, honey, and more. Education is another component of winning the lease--they want to see interaction with park guests--so we'd be available for seasonal farm tours and both of us would offer classes at various times...spinning and dyeing, coffee cupping/tasting/roasting, and maybe even bicycle repair. We wear many hats! 

Honestly, we think we've come up with a business plan that fits pretty well and works. But even if we're not selected, the RFP has gotten us to think carefully about some of the details. Especially with regard to processing, logistics, budget, and whether or not we want to certify...whether that be "humane," "organic," or anything else. The lease is for up to 60 years--with an option to transfer the lease to the kids should they wish--but is also flexible enough to easily get out of it so we're not doomed down a one-way street of agriculture. The Mama would still have to keep her full-time job and would now have a home office even. (Also guest room for visitors, hint, hint to some of you.)

In the end, it's up to the judges (from the National Park Service) to decide whether we're the best, most-sustainable idea for the land. I'm a little biased but think our cute family under a tent at the farmers market selling honey and hand-dyed fiber is just the image people expect of family farming. Yes, we'll be a bit disappointed if it's not us. Though this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity has to be viewed as just that--an unlikely and must-try attempt at a very rare experience only a handful of people will ever get.

From my perspective as the one who has been casually looking at farms and contacting owners for the past couple of years, the NPS is a dream landlord. All the information, photos, and expectations down to the model lease have been available on their website. And the government red tape of getting our procedures or major repairs approved sounds unappealing at first until you realize they're the government and have to come fix the roof if it's leaking. No hiding from tenants for them!

I'm sure you'll hear more about this topic either way...either our frantic good news if we win the right to negotiate or my analysis and more-than-casual interest in who does get the farm if we do not. Stay tuned.

Cross-posted to our farm search blog.