The Best Kept Secret at the Cincinnati Zoo: Bowyer Farm

Posted June 5, 2024 by Jada Rushing

With the weather getting warmer and the sun starting to shine, now is a great time to get to know the best-kept secret at the Cincinnati Zoo,  Bowyer Farm.

Bowyer Farm, the Zoo’s offsite property, is comprised of 600+ acres in Warren County, OH, and was willed to the Zoo in 1995 by Dallas and Helen Bowyer with the guideline that it could never be developed unless it is to further the mission of the Zoo.

The Zoo has restored over 100 acres of vital wetland and prairie systems, with an additional 12+ acres of wetland designated for upcoming restoration, funded by the USDA Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).  Bowyer Farm is a haven for native and migrating wildlife, with documented sightings of 208 bird species and 39 species of reptiles and amphibians (including the tiger salamander!).  

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s horticulture teams have grown & sold over 8,000 native plants, planted 13,000 browse trees, and grown hay for Zoo animals at Bowyer.  

Continue reading for more information on solar, pollinators, wetlands and conservation plans!

Family Community Service group removing invasive species at Bowyer Farm

Solar Array

The Cincinnati Zoo is leasing 140 acres at Bowyer to Harrison Street, a power producer for one of the largest solar arrays (30 MW) in SW Ohio, coming online late Summer ’24.

The renewable energy produced will be bought by companies in the region to help them reach sustainability goals and will provide 150k to the county per year for Lebanon schools.

 The Cincinnati Zoo is also working with Ohio Solar Grazers (OSG) to utilize 250-300 grazing sheep and pollinator habitat for vegetation management; we will work up to 800 sheep once vegetation is established. This keeps farmland in farm production, restores soil health, eliminates mowing emissions, and provides a local, organic meat source.

Brian Jorg, Horticulture Manager, + Bower Farm staff have created a holistic conservation plan:

  • rehabilitation of a natural vernal pool within the solar field
  • installation of bird boxes (kestrels, blue birds and owls)
  • establishment of 5+ acres of pollinator habitat, adjacent to the solar site
mark fisher zoo employee in front of solar panals

Why is Agrivoltaics Important?

Agrivoltaics is the co- location of agricultural production like crop or livestock production or pollinator habitats underneath or next to solar panels

Agrivoltaics, allows for farmlands to stay farms, while reducing our carbon footprint
There have been roadblocks in bringing solar to Ohio, due to concerns in rural communities over the conversion of land traditionally used for agriculture (and the spreading of misinformation).

Rread about the struggle to bring solar to Ohio

Pollinator Field: Management Plans

The Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden will facilitate the planting of a 5+ acre pollinator habitat to act as a haven for native pollinators. The zoo has been collaborating with the Bee and Butterfly Fund on a pollinator seed mix for the habitat. 

Before clean till of pollinator habitat adjacent to the solar array

Novel Solar Research at Bowyer: Ecosystem Health

With solar farms popping up everywhere in our transition to clean energy, local researchers are interested in how solar farms affect our native fauna, and are coming to us for their data!

Project 1: Insect ecology, University of Dayton PhD research

  • Multi-year study, data collected across three micro-habitats on and adjacent to the solar farm

Project 2: Mammal response to solar farms in Western Ohio, University of Dayton Master’s research

  • Focus on species richness and occupancy, non-invasive methods
PhD student and AmeriCorps member collecting pollinator data