EcoOhioFarmBrianHike_GOW2014_FiaCThe Cincinnati Zoo has been dedicated to sustainability not only on-grounds within its Avondale location, but at its off-grounds property as well. In 1995, a 529 acre farm called Bowyer Farm was willed to the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo. Since then, the property has grown to 600+ acres, and is connecting with the Zoo’s mission of Adventure, Conservation, Education and Community in various ways.

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 Local Food – In 2012, 50 acres of the Bowyer Farm was leased to Green BEAN Delivery, a company that delivers organic produce and natural groceries to Midwest homes and workplaces. With this new space in Ohio, Green BEAN Delivery can grow and harvest fresh, local foods that they will distribute as a part of their business, just as they do in Indiana with their Feel Good Farm. The EcOhio Farm LLC was born, and in the spring of 2012 was planted with a variety of commodities including cabbage, squash, broccoli and pumpkins that was used primarily for purchase by Green BEAN Delivery customers. The company has already begun working on its agricultural strategies for year two, and will have the land certified organic by the USDA in the spring of 2014.

While the majority of the crops, such as cabbage, squash, broccoli and pumpkins, will be available for purchase by Green BEAN Delivery customers, some of it will be harvested and donated to local charities, including the Marketplace at Gabriel’s Place in Avondale, sold to local retail outlets and ultimately used to feed Zoo animals and guests. As the partnership grows, there is hope to use this farm as an education resource for local youth so they can learn and experience agriculture firsthand.

This partnership is another way to not only decrease its ecological footprint, but build a sustainable local food system for the community, making its green efforts more tangible for everyone involved. This new, sustainable ecosystem will possess multiple facets of agriculture and serve as an educational platform for community members to enjoy for many generations to come.  

Wetland Reclamation – Across the street from the 50-acres of land that Green BEAN Delivery is leasing, is 24-acres of land that has been determined to have been a natural wetland at one time. Overtime, this portion of land has been used as farmland producing soybeans and corn. Through support and funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Zoo is now able to take that 24 acres and reclaim it as its original state of a wet sedge meadow, or wetland, eventually returning the floral and faunal diversity that once was there.

To get started, we conducted a tile search as well as completed dike work and excavation during the summer of 2012. A “bioblitz” was conducted to establish a baseline for current species residing in the area, and determine what species could be attracted to return. Since then, we have constructed vernal pools, planted trees and established a prairie buffer. A variety of nest boxes and houses for native wildlife, such as barn owls, martins and bats, have also been erected.

Long term, the possibilities for EcOhio are endless. The main goal is to return the area to its original wildlife, with a rich array of plant and animal species that historically are naturally occurring to Warren County. Some of these species include, but are not limited to, upland passerines, bobwhite quail, tree swallows, bluebirds, prothonotory warblers, American kestrels, purple martins, screech owls, saw whet owls, various waterfowl, snakes, salamanders and butterflies such as Zebra swallowtail, spicebush and monarchs. Eventually, as the wetlands become established, walking trails and a small education center may be implemented, along with special events that offer educational programs and demonstrations, give aways, opportunities to explore the wetland, and much more. Ideally, EcOhio will become a green oasis in a sea of suburbia.

Anyone wishing to volunteer for the EcOhio Wetland project, please contact Brian Jorg at [email protected]. Please include any special abilities, such as planting/gardening, birding, carpentry (able to construct bird boxes), etc.