Kidron Shavers, an employee at Stanard Farm, stands in a crop-filled high tunnel in the middle of winter.
Kidron Shavers, an employee at Stanard Farm, stands in a crop-filled high tunnel in the middle of winter.

Seeing locally grown produce in the middle of winter in Cleveland may sound like deceptive advertising.

Through a program that combines the use of season-extending high and low tunnels with providing jobs for developmentally disabled individuals, nearly year-round local produce has become a reality for this Ohio town, according to a news release.

Cuyahoga County Board of Developmental Disabilities established Cleveland Crops in 2010 to provide jobs to a part of the population that typically lacks them.

From the 1.1-acre Stanard Farm site, the program has expanded to include several other locations throughout Cleveland.

One of the program’s goals was to provide off-season employment opportunities to people with developmental disabilities.

With technical advice from Ohio State University horticultural and agricultural engineering experts, farm manager Gerry Gross looked at season-extending techniques, such as high tunnels.

High tunnels, also called hoop houses, are hoops or metal-framed structures covered with plastic. They’re tall enough to accommodate equipment and people.

In addition, Gross used fabric row covers to protect crops from hard freezes.

Gross also is experimenting with low tunnels—3-foot-high plastic structures that cover raised beds.

They can be built in the farm’s shop and cost about 1/10th as much as a high tunnel. Cleveland Crops' main customers are area upscale restaurants that like to use local produce and that like to experiment with unique crops.

"Their produce is better than anything I can get in the entire city, without spending a lot of money. I can get great vegetables, great quality and great diversity," Jack Ahern, chef de cuisine at L'Albatros Brasserie and Bar in Cleveland, said in the release.

Next for Cleveland Crops is the construction of a greenhouse to boost year-round production of fruits and vegetables, and to add high-value crops such as flowers.