ODA director tours area


MANSFIELD – The last day of May was sunny and warm for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s (ODA) visit to Richland County. Richland Soil and Water Conservation District (Richland SWCD) Director Erica Thomas met new ODA Director Brian Baldridge at the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation District Partner meeting during the winter and afterward extended an invitation to visit Richland County to see examples of conservation practices at work and get a feel of projects Richland SWCD is involved in throughout the county.

The first stop on the tour after a welcome from Commissioner Cliff Mears and Thomas was at Kingwood Center Gardens to meet Executive Director Josh Steffen, who explained how the Garden Gateway project enhances the guest experience through artful and efficient stormwater management. The tour began in the parking lot in front of the Garden Gateway building. Steffen shared how bioswales were added to collect stormwater runoff from the building, parking lot and other hard surfaces to help filter and slow the water going into the Nature Pond.

The Story Book trail has been enhanced with porous pavement which allows water to infiltrate the soil at a slow rate and prevent erosion. Throughout the tour, guests were treated to breathtaking blooming flowers and trees. Guests also got a sneak peak of Sean Kenney’s Nature Connects made from LEGO bricks. Guests were shown how water is filtered and recirculated into the duckpond and Director Baldridge and guests got a behind-the-scenes look at the pumping station. Water is channeled off the Carriage house into a rain garden (planted with native plants to slow down water) and rainwater from rain barrels (used to water carnivorous plants).

To see how an urban farm operates, the tour continued to the NECIC Urban Farm in downtown Mansfield. Walt Bonham shared how the farm is utilizing a former brownfield site located in a food desert area and using the site to produce food. The site formerly housed the Gorman-Rupp Company. High tunnels, greenhouses, raised beds, and some irrigation systems assist the collaborative efforts of individual farmers. Walt explained in addition to selling at the farm and the weekly farmers market (in season), they supply restaurants and grocery stores with produce. Dan Neef went on to say, “We’ve been getting anywhere between 60 to 130 pounds of lettuce per week out of our beds.”

Baldridge asked about supply versus demand and was impressed that the cooperative is not able to supply the demand. Walt stated, “I try to over-demand us. If I recruit a farmer, I need to make sure I can sell everything they are growing.”

Gov. Mike DeWine initiated the H2Ohio program to combat phosphorous runoff. Richland SWCD administers the program in Richland County and were pleased to have Baldridge meet one of the participants, Justin Ringler. This gave Baldridge an opportunity to hear how H2Ohio is working and get feedback on the program. Ringler and his family inter-seed a cover crop of wheat with the assistance of aerial seeding. Cover crops are planted to keep the winter soil covered to help prevent erosion. The director asked Ringler what he sees for the future. He answered, “We no-till for pragmatic reasons.” He went on to suggest that H2Ohio be more representative of the landscapes and farming practices of a particular area, instead of a blanket of practices for everyone to adopt.

The last stop on the tour was an example of a log jam on the Black Fork River. The city of Shelby along with a group of citizens proposed a ditch petition request to remove log jams and debris along an 18-mile stretch of the Black Fork that starts at Mickey Road and ends at state Route 13. The ditch petition request is under consideration. Additionally, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) approved a grant of $99,000 to Richland SWCD to clean up five logjams downstream of the ditch petition request, from SR 13 to Charles Mill Lake. Baldridge was able to view one of the logjams that is funded by MWCD for cleanup as Richland SWCD explained both projects, and the logjam removal will begin this summer.

The tour ended at the Richland SWCD office after a full day of Baldridge, staff, and guests learning about stormwater management, urban farming, H2Ohio practices, and ditch petitions in Richland County.

Submitted by the Richland Soil and Water Conservation District.

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