Ward: The greening of ToledoWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | email@example.com
One centerpiece of the Thanksgiving holiday is food. While our local growing season has for the most part ended, Center for Innovative Food Technology (CIFT) may have played a role in some of the edible items on your holiday table.
CIFT is involved in a number of areas including research in turning algae into aviation fuel, producing food and helping small food-product businesses get off the ground. They are also one of 10 groups in the U.S. who have partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Research Service.
Jim Konecny, manager of marketing and communications for CIFT, spoke with Toledo Free Press on Nov. 19, after the release of its annual report that spans its accomplishments from September 2009 to September 2010.
There are several different facets to CIFT’s “Our City in a Garden” project. Konecny said CIFT’s goal in that project, “Is to bring the garden and gardening into the city of Toledo — into urban areas. What we found, amazingly only 2 percent of the food eaten in Ohio is grown in Ohio. We established a need to create this Our City in a Garden concept, to bring it to the Toledo area.”
The concept uses vertical hydroponic gardens and hoop houses with research being done to extend the growing season. Konecny said one example of where produce is being grown outside of the traditional season in our area is Bittersweet Farms in Whitehouse.
“I was trudging through snow last year to get to the greenhouse and it was just blooming everywhere. They have really maxed it out, it started out as a nice simple project for some of the residents to get involved in but it turned into a money maker. Imagine fresh tomatoes and other produce grown locally in January,” Konecny said.
Vertical hydroponic gardening is in place more than 10 locations that include Clay High School during the traditional growing season. The “Grow a Row” portion of Our City in a Garden provides excess local produce to area food banks.
One of the concerns raised during Toledo City Council’s discussion on the proposed urban gardening project at the former Doehler Jarvis site, was Lucas County Improvement Corporation’s (LCIC) lack of experience with this type of a project. Konecny said that CIFT has worked with LCIC in the past and CIFT would likely lend resources to that project.
While CIFT has been in existence since 1995, Konecny said some of their projects have gotten media attention, however, there is a great deal of what it does that the public is not aware of.
Using woven biodegradable knit socks filled with organic compost and soil, several local restaurants, such as Mancy’s Steak House, tested growing fresh produce like cherry tomatoes and lettuce. Grow Soxx provides the ability to grow fresh produce in places where a traditional garden isn’t possible.
CIFT’s Small Business Program provides a number of resources, from how to start up a food-based business, to cryogenic freezing, to providing commercial kitchen space. They also sponsor an annual food product development contest.
Northwest Ohio Cooperative Kitchen (NOCK) is one of two sites in Ohio, the other is in Athens.
“These are products that were born and created in Ohio and beyond,” Konecny said. “The space is rented out for a very nominal fee.”
Bullfrog BBQ, Pomona Chocolates, and Green Fields Pesto are three of the more than 20 small businesses that currently use NOCK.
The change in the political landscape in Ohio and in Washington, D.C. does not concern Konecny. He said CIFT has worked with members of both parties, “We feel confident in what we do and the services we provide, the jobs that we bring, we feel with the relationships we’ve established for 15 years plus, that they will recognize our value.
CIFT and the staff of about 17 is funded mainly from membership fees and grants.
We often discuss Toledo’s potential as a “green city” when it comes to alternative energy. This is a whole different way for our area to become more “green” — let’s hope it continues to grow.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog GlassCityJungle.com.