MANSFIELD -- Tyler Arter is a local guy who now holds the first new job created by a promising food production experiment at the Ohio State University Mansfield campus.
The extensive experiment is a micro-farm built last year in a campus parking lot. Arter, 23, manages 10 interns who care for and harvest a variety of vegetables produced there.
If the experiment is successful, it could become a model for similar micro-farms located in urban areas of Mansfield. These operations could provide food, jobs and a contribution to a new food system for the city.
Arter is a 2013 graduate of Crestview High School. He has a psychology degree from Ohio State and plans to seek a master’s degree in social work. The direction of his education suggests helping people may have more to do with his interest in the micro-farm than his enjoyment from sticking his fingers in the dirt.
“Some people from Mansfield say this idea is out of reach,’’ Arter said with some disappointment in his voice. “They are seeing it through the wrong lens.
"This project is cool and perfect for Mansfield and the issues it has faced.’’
The micro-farm consists of two plastic, high tunnel hoop houses and an array of outdoor raised beds. It is the brainchild of Kip Curtis, an OSU-Mansfield assistant professor of environmental history. The lot containing the environmental experiment is where North Central State College once held its rib cook-off fundraiser.
Curtis said micro-farms can be located on plots as small as one-third of an acre.
The vegetable-producing operation has been funded to this point by a $160,000 grant from OSU. There are additional grants pending totaling from $1.5 to $2 million. Most of the vegetables produced so far have been used by food service at the campus.
But success will hinge on selling to retail or wholesale customers.
Curtis said the plan is for the micro-farm to pay for itself in five to seven years. The long-range plan for locating micro-farms in urban neighborhoods of Mansfield is already gaining traction in some corners.
A number of planning discussions have taken place with the North End Community Improvement Collaborative (NECIC) and the Richland County Land Bank, Curtis said
NECIC was a vital partner in starting the micro-farm and will be critical to identifying urban locations.
Vegetables produced by the urban farms could be sold to neighborhood residents, helping to address areas that have become food deserts. The micro-farms could also provide jobs in under-employed urban neighborhoods.
The OSU farm is located on a paved lot to simulate possible urban conditions.
Curtis said current plans call for the construction of a similar micro-farm in a parking lot at Mansfield Senior High School in the spring of 2019. This would provide learning experiences for students and vegetables for the school cafeteria. Excess vegetables could be sold to downtown restaurants, he added.
Arter, who took an environmental class taught by Curtis, said the work at the micro-farm requires more than one brain. He explained there is an almost constant need to collect temperature and moisture data to understand what is going on and how to make it better.
He said the double-thickness plastic covering the high tunnels can add 15 to 20 degrees to the internal temperature compared to the outside reading.
The farm includes 20 outdoor raised beds and 36 beds inside the two high tunnels. There is also classroom space inside one of the tunnels. The first indoor crop produced last fall included varieties of lettuce, spinach, arugula, kale and radishes. The summer crop will feature tomatoes, peppers, onions, broccoli and other vegetables commonly found in stores.
Curtis said business decisions are made based on market research on demand and pricing.
During winter months, Arter works 15 to 20 hours weekly, but that total will go up to full-time during heavier production months. His agricultural experience as a youth included working on a dairy farm and helping with the family garden. He said he did not enjoy gardening then, but now realizes how important growing vegetables is to the big picture.
“It is cool that you can start with a seed and end up with healthy food that can feed a lot of people," Arter concluded.
Tom Brennan is the retired editor of the News Journal and a member of the Mansfield in Bloom steering committee. Mansfield in Bloom is active in encouraging beautification and environmental health in Mansfield. If you are participating in a creative food production or environmental project, contact Roberta Perry at 419-755-7234 or email@example.com.