MANSFIELD -- Senator Sherrod Brown made a brief stop in Mansfield on Tuesday to visit the North End Community Improvement Collaborative’s (NECIC) Urban Farm.
“It was an honor to have (Brown) here and interested in the project at that level," said Matt Stanfield, president of Richland Gro-Op. "It kind of shows that we're doing something innovative and that’s attention-worthy.
“Having farming in the city has really kind of opened people's eyes to new possibilities."
The NECIC urban farm took root two years ago and is part of Richland Gro-Op, a cooperative of local micro farmers working to provide a sustainable living and address food deserts in Richland County.
According to a press release, Brown is the first Ohioan to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 50 years.
Brown said he’d like to see more urban farms like NECIC’s in the future.
“There's too much consolidation in agriculture, surely, and we need to fight that better than we've done, but the work that we've seen is encouraging,” Brown said. “There's been more and more interest in (the Senate Agriculture Committee) on urban agriculture.
“What they have done with urban agriculture here is such a big deal. I was amazed as we walked through there that we have three growing seasons and this is Mansfield. I worked on our family farm growing up and we had one growing season.”
Richland Gro-Op is able to produce crops almost year-round. This produce is then sold to local restaurants and at grocery stores and farmers markets.
Brown also asked NECIC executive director Deanna West-Torrence and Richland Area Chamber of Commerce CEO Jodie Perry how federal COVID-19 relief funds have impacted Richland County.
“The PPP (Payroll Protection Program) in Mansfield overall kept a lot of businesses afloat?” Brown asked.
“Oh absolutely,” Perry said. “We just did a survey last month with our small businesses and 74 percent tapped into round one, another about 40 percent tapped into round two.”
Brown acknowledged it's been a difficult year for everyone.
“We know that small businesses have been among the hardest-hit," Brown said. "I was proud to fight for and secure the PPP funding necessary to help organizations like the NECIC stay afloat and maintain their workforces."
Perry also said the PPP was the most utilized COVID aid program in the area. The NECIC and the Chamber of Commerce both received PPP funds. Richland Gro-Op was unable to secure funding because it is so new, Stanfield said.
Fortunately, Richland Gro-Op farmers were able to continue working through the pandemic.
“We are honored to host Senator Sherrod Brown at the NECIC urban farm to meet with our on-site micro farmers and community partners,” West-Torrence said. “As things begin to return to some semblance of normal, we are grateful for the federal support we received during the pandemic and are pleased to say that unlike other areas of our work, the farms were able to continue operating at or near full capacity.”