Linking Sustainable Agriculture Production with Low-income Consumer and Minorities

Final Report for FNC97-197

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 1997: $9,195.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1998
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information


The Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP) was established in January 1996 to promote sustainable agriculture and the local production of food through the creation of a farmer’s market, community supported farm, and other related projects. In addition, OSAP encourages and facilitates partnership between the Oberlin community, the College, and the surrounding townships. OSAP’s programs include:

- Community Supported Agriculture Farm: OSAP operates six acres, certified organic farm that on which we grow standard row crops, including: tomatoes, peppers, melons, squash, corn, lettuce, spinach, members of the cabbage family, cut flowers, and honey. The farm uses community supported agriculture model in which a group of urban customers provide funds at the beginning of the season in exchange for discounted produce throughout the growing season. OSAP also sells produce directly to campus dining systems and to the general public at its farm market
- Oberlin Farm Market: for three years, OSAP has operated an open air market in downtown Oberlin. The market provides space for local, small scale growers which improves direct access to consumers. Several vendors realized a 50% increase in produce sales at the market from 1997-98.
- Low Income Outreach: OSAP established a program to increase access to local organic food and the farm market for low income residents in Oberlin. With 26% of the Oberlin population falling below the poverty line, OSAP’s outreach efforts will increase low income involvement in 1999. OSAP also worked in cooperation with the South Lorain Community Development Corporation to develop a farm market in a largely Hispanic, low income neighborhood in South Lorain.
- Education/Research: in 1998, OSAP involved nine Oberlin College students in the farm operation, the farm market, and a research project comparing organic methods of production. OSAP plans to expand this program in 1999 to include greater public school, community and college participation.

OSAP received its organic certification from the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) in 1997. OSAP was established to serve as a model for organic farm production that conserves soil and minimizes the introduction of toxic chemicals to the environment. The purpose of this grant was less to promote sustainable agricultural practices and more to increase the linkages between organic produce and low income and minority communities, who often tend to be excluded from markets for organic and local produce.

For three years, the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP) has operated an organic community supported farm and a farm market in downtown Oberlin. The farm market provides a distribution point for our 65 share holders to pick up their organic produce. Additionally, we provide booth space for seven additional small scale producers from the county. While the farm market itself is located in the low income section of town, there is little participation in the market amongst low income people of color in the community. Oberlin itself has a 26% poverty rate (which is the highest in Lorain County); additionally, close to 40% of our population is African American. Through funding from SARE, we have hired a part time intern to meet with community groups and churches in low income communities and to develop several programs to attract more low income residents to the market. The intern has researched a range of programs that can serve to link OSAP with the low income community of Oberlin:

- Establishment of a partnership with the Oberlin Community Service Center (which handles all food aid distribution) to donate all left over farm market produce to food relief programs
- The distribution of special coupons to low income residents that will enable them to get 25% off of produce purchased at the farm market
- A “subsidized share” program whereby low income families or individuals on food assistance can receive half price shares to obtain up to $90 worth of organic produce from OSAP’s organic farm. Individuals can by shares at $10 per month (for $20 worth of organic produce). The subsidy comes from the Second Harvest Food Bank, where OSAP members have made $450 in tax deductible donations. The Second Harvest Food Bank bought $450 worth of shares. This money will be used to subsidize the program and enable low income residents to participate as shareholders in OSAP.
- OSAP is in the process of becoming authorized to accept food stamps at the farm market
- A “roving market” will be researched in which OSAP’s truck will be used to distribute food directly to the elderly or disabled who are unable to access the farm market normally and
- The incorporation of several questions related to farm market accessibility and general food needs into a needs survey being distributed to low income residents by the Zion Community Development Corporation.

The establishment of a model program in South Lorain:
The South Lorain Community (which is the Southern part of the City of Lorain) includes the poorest census tract wards in Lorain County, with 40% of the population living in poverty. The populations consists of 39% Hispanic and 15% African American residents. In 1995, the South Lorain community lost its primary grocery store outlet to big chain consolidation. The loss of the grocery store to this community is devastating; several of the residents are unable to afford either the time or the expense involved with traveling to the nearest grocery store, which is several miles away.

In 1997, OSAP met with members of the South Lorain Community Development Corporation (SLCDC) to assist in the establishment of a sister farm market in South Lorain. In 1997, about 50% of the produce available in the farm market originated from local producers. About 200-400 residents attended the market weekly to purchase food. In 1998, with funding from SARE, a full time intern was hired to implement programs to support the farm market, the development of food cooperative, and the eventual development of small enterprises such as a local cannery. The following projects are either in the process or will be developed as a result of SARE funding:

- A comprehensive needs assessment survey was conducted amongst a random sampling of residents in South Lorain to determine general support for a local farm market and food store as well as general needs amongst the community.
- An $8000 market feasibility grant was submitted and successfully funded by the Campaign for Human Development. This study will be conducted to determine options for securing a permanent food outlet in the South Lorain Community. Amongst the options to be considered are: the farm market, a food cooperative, and a community canning facility.
- A town meeting was organized and attended by Bill Taylor, a cooperative development specialist with the USDA. At this meeting residents provided feedback to the CDC to determine support for a food cooperative.
- The SLCDC is working cooperatively with OSAP to identify local producers who would be willing to sell to the SLCDC market: OSAP will also distribute organic produce to the CDC (although volumes will be greatly limited as the result of a devastating hail storm)
- Compilation of a guide of food related small business development for low income communities
- Three high school students have been hired to operate the farmers market in South Lorain
- An outreach and marketing effort has been initiated to increase the visibility of and community support for the South Lorain farm market.

General education and outreach for the county:
Through the programs identified above for the Oberlin and South Lorain communities, we are establishing significant models for the county for efforts to link urban communities and rural agricultural producers. We plan on conducting a general education effort in the county to share the results of these and other sustainable agriculture programs. Through funding from the Nord Family Foundation (a local Lorain County foundation) we have established an initiative to develop educational programs for the general public and fro schools throughout the county. This provides a convenient mechanism to share information about the SARE supported programs as well as efforts to establish community gardens and backyard gardens in low income communities.

SARE funding will be specifically used to support the following general educational and outreach activites:
- travel costs and consulting associated with a visit to ACE-NET near Athens Ohio where a program has been established to support a community cannery and small business incubator that supports a network of local producers while providing entrepreneurial opportunities for low income residents
- travel costs associated with a visit to the Crown Point Ecology Center where they have a 2 acre Community Supported Organic Farm that includes 20 shareholders and distributes fresh organic produce to the needy through the local food bank
- Production and publication of a guide to local farmers around Lorain County and the products that they sell.

Program development:
The SARE program has provided essential start up funding to begin to investigate potential links between urban, primarily low income consumers and local producers. During June of 1998, a proposal was submitted to the USDA for three years of support for a program to link urban communities and local producers through four programs: a community garden program, a marketing consortium to facilitate the distribution of produce to local urban markets, support for the further development of the South Lorain community food market, and a more comprehensive organic matter utilization program to distribute food waste from restaurants and farm markets to municipal composting sites (with a model program being established in Oberlin). Presently, the South Lorain Community Development Corporation has participated in a community planning charrette to begin to identify options for the development of a community food market and small scale enterprise development program. Additionally, the Trustees of the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Program are presently looking into possible options for building food distribution to low income residents into its long range strategic plan.

The following individuals and agencies have been crucial to the success of OSAP’s program:
- Don Nickerson and Jim Kastro, Second Harvest Food Bank
- Jim Skeeles, Ohio State University Cooperative Extension Office
- Ann Fuller, Oberlin Community Service Council
- Anne Helm, Oberlin Interagency Council
- Roberta Garcia, Mount Zion Community Development Corporation
- Rebecca Jones, South Lorain Community Development Corporation
- Sharren Kleppel, Catholic Action Commission
- Ohio Department of Health
- Crown Point Ecology Center
- Appalachian Center for Economic Networks ( ACEnet)
- Rural Action Coalition
- North Market of Columbus

Results of project:
Following are the results of the SARE funded project to increase linkages between local producers and low income consumers:

- Completion of a needs assessment survey in January of 1998 in the South Lorain community to determine interest levels in supporting a farm market, a year round food cooperative, and other activities geared toward increasing access of local produce in this low income community.
- Preparation and successful funding of an $8000 grant form the Campaign for Human Development to conduct a more complete needs assessment and set of recommendations for the South Lorain Community Development Corporation
- Completion of a report on researching food related small business development targeted for job creation in low income communities.
- Completion of a $250,000 grant to the USDA for three year funding of the South Lorain project, the creation of a marketing consortium, and a garden distribution program for low income families. The grant was not successfully funded.
- Operation of a farm market in South Lorain to provide direct access amongst low income consumers to local produce
- Completion of a survey of local producers in Lorain County to determine interests in and opportunities for local food marketing.
- Implementation and testing of several programs to increase the participation of low income communities in the Oberlin Farm Market operated by the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP). Programs included: accepting food stamps for produce at the market, distributing discount coupons to low income residents, creating a low income share with a 50% subsidy for OSAP’s organic Community Supported Agriculture farm, donation of surplus farm market produce to the Oberlin hot meals program, and a farm market nutrition program.
- Development of recommendations and an action plan to more fully implement a low income outreach initiative for OSAP in 1999. The OSAP Board of Trustees has reviewed the recommendations and will work in 1999 to more fully implement several of the programs recommended.
- Visitation and full profile of several model programs in Ohio which link local farmers and low income communities, including: the Rural Action Network, the North Market in Columbus, the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, and the Crown Point Ecology Center low income CSA farm. All programs were reviewed and recommendations were prepared as to how these programs would relate to OSAP’s efforts.
- Collection of video footage of local farmers and the South Lorain and Oberlin Farm Markets to be included in a video on sustainable development in Lorain County.

Discussion of project:
Both OSAP and the South Lorain Community Development Corporation benefited from this project. However, both organizations realized several limitations that prevented the program from reaching its full fruition in one year. The South Lorain Community Development Corporation has a limited staff and a large agenda that includes: employment and job training for South Lorain, meeting housing needs, and providing access for the community to direct sources of food. OSAP is fledgling organization with only one part time intern that was devoted to this project. Despite these limitations, we have gained significant ground for understanding how to implement programs to increase connections between low income consumers and local producers.

For the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project, through a highly successful year of production and the successful funding of several grant proposals, we will posses the staff and resources to more fully implement a program in 1999. SARE funding provided critical resources to fully research and lay the ground work for a low income outreach program in 1999. Amongst the programs that OSAP will implement are:

- Selling subsidized low income shares to low income residents: these subsidized shares will come from cash donations to the Second Harvest Food Bank. These donations will cover 50% of the cost of a special low income share. Qualified recipients will be selected by the Oberlin Community Service Center which handles all food relief for the community.
- Accepting food stamps at the farm market: in 1999, OSAP will be qualified to accept food stamps at its farm market. OSAP will posses a machine that will enable low income residents to exchange their food stamps for produce at the farm market.
- Distributing surplus food to the Oberlin Hot Meals program: in 1998, all surplus food from OSAP’s farm market was donated to the Oberlin Community Service Center. The produce was popular amongst their clients. This program will be expanded in 1999 to include surplus produce from all vendors at the farm market.
- WIC Program/Farmer’s Market Nutrition: this program, run by the Ohio Department of Health, will enable OSAP to receive funding next year to provide food to low income residents from all vendors participating at Oberlin’s farm market.
- Other programs: contingent on funds and staff time available, OSAP will look into creating a bus project to increase access to handicapped and elderly residents in town. OSAP will also work with the Oberlin Community Service Center to support garden programs to increase food self sufficiency amongst low income residents. Finally OSAP plans on involving at risk youth in the farm operation through a special high school internship program.

For the South Lorain Community Development Corporation, the recommendations contained in the report provide several models for how to create employment and economic development opportunities that utilize local produce and increase access to fresh food. These models have been discussed and incorporated in several community charrettes in the South Lorain community. As the South Lorain CDC begins to more fully develop its programs in 1999, OSAP will share the results of its efforts and provide assistance with members of the CDC to implement similar programs there.

As a final note, we found the site visits and case studies to several successful projects around Ohio to provide useful information and inspiration to our efforts. A notebook of these materials has been assembled and will be referred to as we develop these programs in 1999.

Outreach for the project was conducted as follows:
- Articles were included in OSAP’s newsletter to alert the membership about programs involving our low income outreach efforts
- The low income outreach program was described at public events promoting OSAP
- OSAP worked closely with the Oberlin Community Service Council to distribute coupons, flyers, and advertisements about Oberlin’s farm market to low income residents served by the council
- A video will be produced which will include footage of the Oberlin and South Lorain farm markets and interviews and profiles of local farmers. This video will be focusing on development issues in Lorain County and will be shown at public meetings and in public schools.
- In South Lorain, outreach was primarily conducted through door to door distribution of advertisements for the farm market.
- A complete description of both programs, as well as profiles of other programs in other parts of Ohio, will be included in a report that examines sustainable development opportunities in Lorain County.


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  • Kenneth Sloane


Participation Summary
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.