Whole Systems Approach to Building a Sustainable Regional Food Economy

Final Report for LNC02-207

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2002: $99,596.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2004
Matching Federal Funds: $33,112.00
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $238,513.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Brad Masi
Ecological Design Innovation Center
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Project Information


The project encompassed a multi-disciplinary approach to regional food system development. Beginning with a partnership with Oberlin College, the project focused on developing a 70-acre college-owned farmstead as a center for sustainable agriculture enterprise development and applied education, increasing ties between local farmers and the college dining halls, and composting campus food-waste. The project expanded to involve other institutions and businesses in northeast Ohio in the development of a more sustainable regional food system for northeast Ohio, with emphasis on cultivating the next generation of urban/near-urban farmers, increasing farm-to-business connections, and increasing food access for low-income neighborhoods.


The seven-county Cleveland metropolitan area is experiencing considerable pressure from urban sprawl. According to current trends, by 2010 the Cleveland area will lose 3% of its population while using 30% more land for residential development. The American Farmland Trust identified the northern Ohio till plain of northeast Ohio as the seventh most threatened area in the country for prime farmland lost to sprawling urban development. Lorain County (the home of Oberlin College) lost 31% of its farms from 1977-1997. Yet, in a survey conducted in 1999, 94% of the respondents in Southern Lorain County support preserving the rural character of the area. While public support for farmland preservation remains strong, new models are needed if agriculture is to prosper on the outskirts of the Cleveland metropolitan area.

Located just 30 miles west of Cleveland, Oberlin College has exhibited leadership over the past 10 years in promoting sustainable food system development. The following projects highlight the active role the college played in leveraging its resources to help build a sustainable local food system:
• local food purchasing survey and proposal by Environmental Studies in 1988;
• initiation of local food purchasing in 1990 (local food purchases $50,000+ today);
• formation of Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP) in 1996 to operate a 5-acre organic farm, involving 250 college students and volunteers each year;
• establishment of a downtown farmers’ market involving six local farmers in 1996;
• development of elementary school garden project and curriculum in 1997;
• survey on local marketing to 18 vegetable growers in Lorain County in 1998;
• interview of 10 local farmers and publication of an essay in 1999 to determine attitudes about the economics of farming and issues around development and urban sprawl;
• site assessment and GIS analysis for farm plan for a 70-acre property in 1999;
• report on composting options for college generated food waste in 2000;
• conference in 2001 with 80 farmers, institutional managers, and students and faculty focusing on connecting farms and colleges in northeast Ohio;
• statistically-valid food waste audit for college in 2001; and
• development of farm infrastructure for 70-acre property.

To build on this legacy, members of the Environmental Studies Program (ESP) joined with the Trustees of the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP) to form the Ecological Design Innovation Center (EDIC) in 2000. A 501c(3) organization, EDIC was established to facilitate partnerships between the college and the wider community to promote sustainable food systems and community problem-solving. In 2002, EDIC secured a lease for the 70-acre property owned by the college. In 2003, EDIC organized the Northeast Ohio Foodshed Network as a regional initiative to connect farmers with urban and institutional markets.

The need for working models of alternative food systems is strong in northeast Ohio. Following the interviews of 10 local farmers in 1999, the following primary constraints confronting farmers in northeast Ohio were identified: low food prices, rising land values, lack of consumer support for local agriculture, lack of young people in farming, loss of wider support network of other farmers, and urban sprawl pressure. A more regionally-based food system can address these constraints by: improving farm prices by reducing middlemen and the overall distance that food travels, creating more direct farmer to consumer linkages, raising local awareness of agriculture (especially among youth), providing new market opportunities, and increasing the flow of dollars from concentrated urban or institutional populations to rural areas. While farmland preservation measures are critical to the long-term future of agriculture in Ohio, even more essential are working models for environmental sustainability and economic profitability. We have the opportunity now to build such a working model given a) Oberlin College’s contribution of a 70-acre site, b) the college’s commitment to purchasing locally grown food, c) increased demand amongst other institutions and Cleveland area restaurants for locally grown food, and d) an opportunity to convert food waste going to the landfill into a productive input for agricultural production.

Our work draws on research by prominent scholars who have developed a whole systems approach to understanding food systems. For example, Miguel Altieri with the University of California in Berekley combines ecology and agricultural science to see farms as whole ecosystems. As such, Altieri describes the need to understand the “interplay between endogenous biological and environmental features of the agricultural field, and exogenous social and economic factors." This interconnect between on-farm and off-farm factors is an important component of regional food systems development. David Pimentel of Cornell University has devoted important scholarship to understanding the true costs of our current food system, not just from the standpoint of energy inefficiency and nutrient loss on the farm, but also inefficiencies within the broader food system. In Ohio, Ben and Deb Stinner have contributed important research to understanding farms as whole systems, examining nutrient cycling, energy accounting, Amish agriculture, and the impacts of crop and livestock diversification. Before Ben’s unexpected death in November, 2004, he was involved in planning and development for the Jones Farm and for the wider foodshed network in northeast Ohio.

Several past projects funded by SARE relate to whole farm or reduced-input management. While these projects will help to inform the development of EDIC’s model farm, relatively few past SARE projects focused on a whole systems approach to sustainable food system development. The Nebraska Food Network by Paul Rohrbaugh established a network of local farmers, tested a model for local marketing, and built awareness of regional food systems. In addition, George Stevenson with the University of Wisconsin in Madison received a SARE grant in 1999 to determine the potential for institutional food purchasing in Wisconsin. Both of these projects provide useful models for EDIC’s proposed work. Through its work over the past two years, EDIC has added several unique features to this growing field of interest, including: identifying the role that liberal arts colleges can play in sustainable agriculture education, combining financial and intellectual resources of colleges and universities to support local food system development, forming collaborative networks for regional food system development, moving farm and food systems into regional economic development considerations, and identifying opportunities for waste streams to provide agricultural inputs.

Project Objectives:

Our overall goal is to leverage the buying power and knowledge resources of a prominent liberal arts college in collaboration with a diverse range of community partners to stimulate a stronger regional food economy in Northeast Ohio. Over the next two years, our short-term outcomes include:
a) establishment of an economically-viable model for whole systems agriculture on a 70-acre farmstead owned by Oberlin College;
b) formation of a local growers consortium to increase direct sales to Oberlin College and other institutional markets; and
c) utilizing in-vessel composting technology to divert institutional food waste from the landfill to the 70-acre farm.

The long-term impact of this project will be the establishment of several models to support a stronger regional food economy. First, it will provide opportunities for applied research and interdisciplinary collaboration for college students and faculty. Second, it will provide the basis for a broader curriculum on sustainable food systems to be developed for local schools. Third, it will provide educational activities and opportunities for collaboration amongst local growers. Finally, it will serve as a model for utilizing college or university resources for stimulating a sustainable local food economy.


Materials and methods:

As a multi-disciplinary project, the primary emphasis for the project was developing collaborative community partnerships between colleges and universities, food-related businesses, other non-profit organizations, government agencies, farmers, teachers, and youth. Through this collaborative network, we initiated several projects, including:

George Jones Memorial Farm: operational farm enterprise; construction of strawbale farm office; development of K-5 school curriculum; college-level applied research programs in wetlands restoration and soil quality; organization of training workshops for beginning farmers, builders and contractors, and teachers; involvement of youth; and indicators project.

Local Food Economy: increased sales of local food to Oberlin College; food system assessment at Cleveland State University; urban agriculture feasibility study at Case Western Reserve University; organized consortium of universities to buy local; surveyed local farmers; researched feasibility of buyer-based cooperative/market cluster; organized farmer focus groups; expanded network of buyers interested in local food purchasing; coordinated regional food Congress in 2003; organized regional food council; developed collaborative partnership to increase food access to low-income urban residents; and published handbook on regional food system development.

Waste and the Food Economy: conducted campus food waste assessment; assisted with development of bio-diesel conversion of dining hall grease; initiated composting program for campus dining halls; and developed business plan for campus compost system.

The methods used for these projects included the following:
a) Collaborative Partnership: organized small networks of multi-sector community partners appropriate for the implementation of teach project.
b) Applied Research: worked with students at Oberlin College and graduate students at Cleveland State University, Case Western University, and Ohio State University to develop applied studies, case studies, and feasibility studies.
c) Enterprise-Based Solutions: developed projects as “viable business enterprises”, mostly operated by young farmers/recent college graduates, including organic farm.
d) Integrated Planning: integrated multiple projects in Jones Farm development, including the integration of wetland and meadow habitat with agricultural production as well as the use of local farm products (strawbales, earth plasters, recycled barn lumber) for construction of farm office and other buildings and facilities. Connected lumber-harvesting for timber-frame building with forest restoration plan.
e) Surveys and Focus Groups: utilized surveys and focus-group designs to collect input from end-users, with emphasis on farmers and restaurants.
f) Workshops: conducted workshops appropriate to capacity building and topical interests, including alternative construction techniques, community food assessments, farmers’ market development, local food marketing, food and land-use school curriculum development, and beginning farmer workshop.
g) Participatory Planning: involved key end-users in planning processes, including the development of a farm curriculum designed by public school teachers and college-faculty designing activities utilizing the farm.
h) Local Market Network Development: organized networks of farmers and businesses and institutions interested in local food buying to improve connections and transactions between the two.
i) Community Action Research: Developed model college course that combines conceptual knowledge of sustainable agriculture techniques with hands-on learning projects at the farm and in the local food system.
j) Statistical Surveys: utilized statistical research to develop soil sampling protocols, wetland monitoring systems, and an extensive food-waste audit carried out at Oberlin College.
k) Volunteerism: We cultivated volunteer opportunities to maximize community involvement in the projects, including farm tasks, restoration activities, strawbale construction activities, and education/outreach.
l) Communications: developed annual newsletter, completed written publications and programmed web-site (www.neofoodshed.org).

Research results and discussion:


OVERVIEW: The George Jones Memorial Farm is a 70-acre farmstead owned by Oberlin College. Oberlin College agreed to a 10 year lease for the property with EDIC in 2002. The farm property featured a 22-acre wooded preserve and about 50 acres of cultivated land. All cropped areas were enrolled in commodity support programs and had a history of high-input chemical agriculture over the past two decades. EDIC assumed management responsibilities in 2001 and has since transitioned the farm to a small-scale, diversified farm that provides food to the college and other local markets. Since 2002, a 4-acre wetland on the property was established as a permanent preserve. EDIC also enrolled 18.2 acres into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program and has restored wetland and meadow habitat. Overall, the farm combines an integrated sustainable farm enterprise with educational programs that target local schools, Oberlin College faculty and students, local residents, farmers, and contractors. SARE funding provided staff support for the farm manager in addition to resources for developing education and research programs.

Farm Infrastructure: Over the course of the past two years, EDIC established the infrastructure to support a working farm. Farm projects completed include: installation of a water line, construction of three greenhouses for season extension and seedling starts, installation of electrical lines and utilities, an equipment storage barn, a small tool storage barn, a composting toilet, three chicken tractors, renovation of an old storage barn to house livestock, a turkey house, a produce packing and preparation area, a strawbale farm office and workshop space, drainage improvements, and a walk-in cooler for produce storage. To the maximum extent possible, all construction projects utilized materials that were salvaged (recycled barn lumber, slab wood from a local Amish mill, washing sinks and a cooler from a local restaurant, salvaged lumber) or sustainably harvested (strawbales from a local farm, wood milled from the Jones Farm wooded preserve, and clay for earth plasters). In addition, the City of Oberlin donated several hundred tons of composted leaf mulch to condition soils. We also work with two local farmers to secure composted horse and sheep manure. Aside from some drainage improvements and the construction of a roadside stand, the infrastructure to support on-going farming and education activities is complete.

Farm Enterprise: An organic farming enterprise was established on the farm to operate and manage all aspects of sustainable food production. The organic farm was managed by the Oberlin Sustainable Agriculture Project (OSAP), a non-profit 501c(5) horticultural organization. Board members for OSAP included a diverse cross-section of local farmers, faculty, and community members. OSAP hired a grower who was provided with equipment and the infrastructure for the farm and paid on a commission basis for any produce grown and sold off of the farm. OSAP also partnered with EDIC for educational activities, including school groups, intern activities, and volunteers. Farm activities managed by OSAP in 2004 included: 4 acres of vegetable crop production (sold through farmers’ markets, campus dining halls, and local restaurants), 150 free-range broilers, 100 egg birds, 20 ducks, 20 turkeys, and 2 pigs. Looking ahead, OSAP will continue to operate a vegetable CSA for the farm. We are looking to open-up additional land on the farm to future enterprises, including 4-H products, a student-based farming cooperative, and an area designated for producing food for distribution to food centers in inner-city Cleveland. In 2004, the farm grossed $35,000 in total sales, a three-fold increase over 2003. The farm is managed by recent Oberlin College graduates, with two women sharing management responsibilities in 2004. Continuity remains a problem, as growers have only worked for one year and then moved on to other operations. While skills acquired are useful, EDIC is considering alternative arrangements to insure greater continuity in the future. A three-year investment from Heifer International for 2005-07 will provide skill training and livestock to strengthen future programs.

Special Projects: Several experimental enterprises were added to the farm over the past two years, resulting from special projects by Oberlin College students or local residents. In 2003, a student spent the semester doing an independent study on mushroom cultivation. EDIC provided start-up funds to inoculate 150 oak logs with shitake and oyster mushrooms. Youth enrolled in a 4-H program at local schools teamed with several college volunteers to inoculate the logs. The logs came from 25 pin oak trees that were harvested from the woods to construct the strawbale farm office. The tops were cut into four foot sections for mushroom production. The mushrooms were harvested and sold throughout 2004. A perennial herb garden was also planned by a permaculture practicum at Oberlin College. The ten students enrolled in the class designed the herb garden and installed it in the spring of 2004. Finally, a resident in Oberlin completed a training in basic beekeeping and set-up four bee boxes at the farm for pollination services and honey. He also uses the bee hives to instruct elementary school kids for a school lesson on pollination and bees.

Natural Construction: An 18’ x 34’ timber-frame, strawbale farm office was designed by 25 Oberlin College students enrolled in an upper-level seminar in Environmental Studies during the spring of 2003. The students developed the basic design and researched an integrated package of green building components, including: passive solar design, solar photovoltaics and wind, heating, composting toilet systems, and a permaculture landscape. Work for construction began in the fall of 2003 with the establishment of a foundation. 25 pin oak trees were selectively cut from the 22 acre wooded preserve on the farm. The trees were carefully selected on the basis of diseases, clustering, or recently fallen. Follow-up plantings will help to diversify the forest while filling in the forest canopy. The lumber from the trees was milled on site and then cut in a timber-framer’s workshop. The mortise and tenon frame was constructed during a day long workshop during June of 2004. The workshop included over 60 participants who helped to assemble the bents, hoist beams into place, install rafters, and nail roofing boards into place. Participants included Oberlin College faculty and students, local contractors, parents with teenage children, and local residents. The roof system featured a series of trusses with an 18” cavity. The cavity was stuffed with loose straw coated with a clay slip to serve as a fire retardant. The loose straw provides additional insulation. A strawbale wall system was installed during a five-day workshop on strawbale construction during August of 2004 that included 20 local builders and contractors. Four-hundred strawbales were used for the building and were purchased from a local farm two miles from the site. Earth plasters and finish work were completed through the work of 70 volunteers, mostly college students, during September and October. Two student interns also apprenticed with the building contractor to construct the structure. A wood burning stove, donated by a local resident, will provide heat for the building. Electrical work, an earth floor, trimming, and furnishings for the building will be completed during the spring and summer of 2005. The building will provide office space in the second story loft as well as a first-story space for classes, workshops, and communal activities related to the farm.

Restoration Ecology: In addition to the 22-acre wooded preserve, for which an initial sustainable forest plan has been developed, the farm features a four-acre wetland which formed when some drainage tiles collapsed. During the summer of 2003, an 18 acre section of open field was enrolled in the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). The CREP program is an incentive program for farmers in the Lake Erie basin which provides a $500/acre signing bonus, a 75% restoration subsidy, and a 20 year contract with annual payments. The CREP reserve includes 10 acres of restored wildflower and native grass meadows. In addition, eight acres of wetlands were restored. Included in this area are six ½ acre wetland cells which provide an opportunity to compare different methods for accelerating wetland restoration on degraded agricultural land.

On-Farm Research: The six wetland cells were developed as an experimental system through a partnership between Ohio EPA, Ohio State University, Oberlin College, and the NRCS. The experimental design features a control group and two treatments with one replication. The control cells have no interventions (other than hydrology and the removal of one invasive plant species). The first treatment features an initial seeding and re-planting with 25 native wetland plants with no further management. The second treatment features an initial seeding and re-planting with follow-up management and replanting and reseeding as necessary. Fifty volunteers, including Oberlin faculty and students, local residents, and school teachers, gathered over three weekends in October and November of 2003 to collect seeds, stem cuttings, and splits from wetlands in proximity to the farm. They also transplanted several thousand wetland seedlings ordered from a professional nursery in addition to broadcasting seeds for five varieties of sedges. In 2004, about 80 college students visited the wetlands during field trips for courses in Environemntal Studies and Biology. The students conducted plant community surveys, macroinvertabrate and insect counts, amphibian surveys, and bird surveys. Students also collected soil samples and water samples to determine the effects of the treatments on the biogeomorphology of the systems. Their data will be collected and entered into a date base annually, so that the effects of the wetland treatments can be studied over time. A group of six students from a course on Applied Systems Ecology also conducted soil samples on the farm to determine the effects of different farm management systems on soil organic matter and fertility. This data will be entered into a GIS database to track changes in soil quality over time. Future research will focus on the development of experimental beds on the farm that can support research aimed at comparing different methods of soil restoration.

Youth Involvement: Youth have been involved on the farm primarily through school field trips to the farm, 4-H after-school programs, and applied curriculum projects with a local elementary school. Over the past two years, three-hundred youth have visited the farm, including three elementary schools, two middle schools, and two high schools. The school field trips involve a hike across the farm with stops at several stations featuring inter-active activities. Stations include: a station on chickens and poultry, greenhouses, natural construction, wetlands, bees, and the woods. About 30 youth have been involved with 4-H projects on the farm, including a 4-H project working with livestock and the mushroom project. During the summer of 2003, 30 at-risk middle-school kids spent two days in the summer working on the farm. They helped with planting, built two strawbale benches in the greenhouse, and learned about the effects of land-use on water quality. In 2004, a team of six public school teachers met for eight hours to develop the framework for a curriculum for the Jones Farm. They identified 20 potential interactive stations on the farm around which curriculum materials could be developed. They also reviewed the Ohio Standard Achievement standards to synchronize farm activities with school curricula. Two elementary school teachers were hired as educational consultants to develop K-5 units for the farm. The units include in-classroom instruction on farm-related topics follow-up with actual school visits to the farm. Thirty students participated in a pilot of the curriculum during the fall of 2004 and two more groups will be piloting other sections of the curriculum during the spring of 2005. Once finalized, the curriculum will be placed on the EDIC web-site and accessible to other schools throughout the county.

Applied Learning: Ten Oberlin College faculty have developed lesson plans or field activities that utilize the Jones Farm. Courses involving students include: ecological art and sculpture, modern dance, expository writing, comparative systems ecology, colloquium on sustainable agriculture, soil science, groundwater hydrology, field botany, ecological design seminar, and environment and society. Some examples of class projects include: researching and designing the strawbale farm office, establishing soil pits to understand soil morphology, soil sampling, vegetative sampling, community ecology (utilizing the wetlands), macroinvertabrate sampling, studies on sub-surface geology and groundwater, installation of natural sculptures, painting, and dance. The farm is commonly used as well for student presentations. Most of the activities are built into courses that are offered each year, providing an opportunity for the farm to support applied interdisciplinary learning. Proximity to a liberal arts college provides unique opportunities for studying the farm as a whole system and collecting data sets that can enable future generations of students to learn from and interpret the results of data collected in previous years. In addition, a special course was developed for the college’s Environmental Studies Program: a colloquium on Sustainable Agriculture. With an enrollment of 25 students, this course combines readings and discussion about key agrarian writers with hands-on projects and required service on the farm. This course provides a model for “service learning” on campus in which academic study is combined with community involvement. Students also conducted several independent studies for the farm, including an energy comparison between lettuce grown on the farm with lettuce shipped in from California, use of enzyme assays to measure soil microbial activity, and use of the farm as a “carbon sink” to off-set carbon emissions by Oberlin College.

Teacher Training: Three teacher-trainings took place on the farm over the past two and a half years. During August of 2002, fifteen public school teachers participated in a week-long training focusing on land-use issues in Northeast Ohio. The training featured several lessons that utilized the Jones Farm. Teachers were taught to use a Global Positioning System and aerial photographs to map out different sections of the farm. They also learned about organic growing techniques, composting, and soils. Two of the teachers brought their students to the farm for field trips after the training. Also, in August of 2002, the farm hosted 30 public school teachers from inner-city Cleveland schools. This training included background on organic farming techniques in combination with discussions of local food systems and nutrition.

Farmer Involvement: Thirty farmers have visited the Jones Farm. During the summer of 2003, the Jones Farm worked with Innovative Farmers of Ohio and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association to organize a farmer field day. Twenty farmers from across Ohio attended the morning tour which featured a tour, a description of innovative farm projects (such as the chicken tractors being used to improve topsoil quality), and efforts to integrate habitat into the whole system of the farm. In August of 2004, a day-long beginning farmer workshop was held at the Jones Farm. The workshop involved 10 young or beginning farmers and included a tour of the farm and demonstrations led by the organic farm manager. The tour also provided background information on other projects, including habitat restoration and natural building design. The tour culminated with a tour of the small livestock operation and the use of a chicken tractor for pastured poultry.


OVERVIEW: The Northeast Ohio Foodshed Network (NOFN) was an outgrowth of Oberlin College’s local food purchasing program. Initiated in 2002, NOFN provides a network for linking farmers with institutional and urban markets. With a ten year history of commitment to local food purchasing, Oberlin College went from purchasing $10,000 of local food in 1991 to $230,000 in 2003. Early-on in the project, it became apparent that the college had reached a ceiling for what it could purchase from local farmers. The college devoted three work-study students to helping to coordinate the different ordering and delivery schedules of 15 suppliers. NOFN was established to look at regional food system development, identifying mechanisms to make it easier for farmers to reach these markets as well as making it more possible for buyers to purchase from local farmers. In order for Oberlin to purchase more food from local farmers, a better organized “infrastructure” for local food processing and distribution was needed, thus becoming an economic development challenge for the local food system. Through the work of NOFN, we have involved other colleges and universities in northeast Ohio in an effort to improve the infrastructure for local food production and distribution. Funding from the SARE program provided core staff support for developing the network as well as support for farmer outreach.

Food Purchases at Oberlin College: Oberlin College features two separate dining systems that provide meals for its 2,800 students. The Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA) is a student-owned and operated dining cooperative organization. OSCA leases eight small dining halls from the college and serves 650 students each year. The students cook meals, clean, handle all ordering, and participate in the governance of the organization. The students organized a “local foods program” which features two at-large coordinators, eight additional coordinators (each representing one dining cooperative), and a crew of about 10 “foragers.” The two coordinators make contacts with individual farmers and communicate food availability to the eight dining coop representatives who then make food orders for their individual coops. The foragers harvest food from the George Jones Farm and also travel to other farms in the area to help harvest and pick-up produce. The coops collectively purchased $130,000 of local food in 2003-04. They also purchased a truck that is devoted to picking up food from area farms and distributing it to the eight coops. As a student-run operation, it also provides the participating students with hands-on learning opportunities and direct interactions with farmers. The remaining 2,200 students either eat off-campus or in one of four dining halls managed Campus Dining Services (CDS). Bon Appetite is the service-provider for the college dining halls and through their farm-to-fork program, have made local food purchasing a major priority. Without the luxury of 22 student volunteers, all ordering within CDS is centralized by the chef for each dining hall. Farmers make deliveries directly to the dining halls. CDS purchased about $100,000 of local food in 2003-04. By comparison, no local food purchases were logged for the year 2000. EDIC worked with the college to help to identify potential suppliers as well as to facilitate purchases of food grown at the George Jones Farm. EDIC also worked with the college to develop a local food tracking system in 2002-03. Local food purchases for 2004-05 are still being tracked and won’t be available until the summer of 2005.

Web-Site: A web page was written and programmed by an Oberlin College student. The web-page featured tips and advice for students working on local food projects, farmers interested in marketing their food to the college, and to administrators and dining system managers interested in purchasing. The web-page also featured photographs and background information covering related projects for local food purchasing as well as links to other web-sites.

Market Cluster: Through a partnership with the Ohio Cooperative Development Center (OCDC), EDIC developed a feasibility study to determine the potential for the development of an “Oberlin Market Cluster”. Modeled after the Sanchoku Cooperative system in Japan. Two students conducted a case-study of the Sanchoku cooperative system as well as other models in Japan in which commercial and institutional buyers organize a “buying cooperative” to facilitate local food distribution while providing fair prices to farmers. The United States features several strong examples of farmers forming “marketing cooperatives” to facilitate distribution and marketing. But there are few examples of institutions or buyers within a geographic area forming a buying cooperative. For Oberlin, the buying cooperative could include Oberlin College, the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association, two local restaurants, a retirement community, and the local school system. Three advantages to a buying cooperative such as this were determined. First, it consolidates demand to create a larger market for local farmers. Second, it improves distribution efficiency by consolidating market demand within a limited geographic area (in this case all delivery stops are within a 1/2 mile of each other). Third, it reduces the cost to farmers for having to develop their own distribution and marketing set-ups. Farmers often lack the time or even skills necessary to distribute their own produce. Through this model, the buyers consolidate the resources necessary to acquire a truck, hire a driver, and travel to the farms to pick-up produce. This is an additional advantage since several of the farmers who sell to the college are Amish and lack the capacity for long-distance transport. The buying cooperative was modeled on the distribution system established by the Oberlin Student Cooperative Association (OSCA). OSCA operates eight small dining halls and purchased a truck that travels to three Amish farms to pick-up produce and deliver and distribute the produce back to the eight coops. Broadened to the scale of the city, OSCA’s model could provide the basis for a buyer-based cooperative distribution and delivery system. EDIC has initiated discussions with the Economic Development office for the City of Oberlin to utilize vacant facilities in their industrial park to serve as produce storage, processing and distribution for the cluster. During the Spring of 2005, institutions and restaurants in Oberlin will be surveyed to determine markets for local crops and options for consolidating orders. Surveys were sent to 300 farmers in Northeast Ohio to determine their interest in this program.

Food System Assessment for Northeast Ohio: During the summer and fall of 2002, a food system assessment of northeast Ohio was conducted at the Levin College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. The study investigated economic and agricultural census data to determine aggregate demand and supply for Cuyahoga County (home of Cleveland) and the surrounding six counties. The study determined that $6.2 to $6.9 billion is spent each year in the region on food. Only a fraction of these expenditures support farmers in northeast Ohio, where only $254 million was reported for agricultural sales. Since 90% of the agricultural land-area in northeast Ohio is devoted to commodity grain production (mostly shipped out of state), the study encouraged further development in programs to encourage farmers to transition to diversified operations to supply local markets. The study also included a GIS-based distribution of organic farms in northeast Ohio, surveys of restaurant owners and chefs to determine attitudes and interest in local buying, and case-studies of innovative local food distribution models, including ACENet in Athens, Ohio, the Tuscarora Farmers Cooperative in Maryland, and produce auctions in Holmes County, Ohio.

Food Congress: As a follow-up to the northeast Ohio food system assessment, Cleveland State University hosted a regional food Congress in the spring of 2003. The Food Congress included a day-long workshop on Community-Based Food System development organized by the Appalachian Central Economic Network (ACENet). The workshop brought together 30 farmers, restaurants, and institutional managers to consider strategies for improving the capacity in the region to produce, process, and distribute local foods. ACENet developed a community kitchen-incubator which provides facilities for processing and marketing local foods as value-added products. Following the Community Food workshop, the Food Congress brought together eighty food system stakeholders, including restaurant owners, institutional managers, farmers, distributors, and university faculty to develop a vision and strategies for building a sustainable regional food system in Northeast Ohio. Through a day-long participatory planning process, four strategic directions were developed including: a) building collaborative networks between food system stakeholders, b) improving the supply of local food through farm and small business development, c) building market demand for local foods through public education, and d) improving the regional infrastructure to process and distribute locally-grown foods. A regional food council was formed as a follow-up to the food congress. The regional food council included key stakeholders from the food congress who have followed-up with several projects, including formation of buyer and producers networks, organization of a program to increase food-access to low-income populations in inner-city Cleveland, and development of training and education programs for farmers.

Urban Agriculture: EDIC worked with the Weatherhead School of Business and Management at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland to develop a feasibility study for re-vitalizing greenhouse production within the City of Cleveland. Since 2003, the Cuyahoga County Planning Commission has been working on the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative, an effort to revitalize business and restore contaminated land along the Cuyahoga River corridor. A graduate-level class at the Weatherhead school conducted a feasibility study for developing greenhouse production as a component of the Cuyahoga Valley Initiative. The team of five students interviewed 40 individuals (including several former greenhouse farmers) and organized a planning event for 80 stakeholders to determine opportunities to grow food in the city through greenhouse production. Until the late 1970’s, Cleveland supported the highest per capita production under glass in the United States. Due to a rise in fuel costs, increased environmental regulations, and floods of cheap food imports, the greenhouse industry in Cleveland declined. The student team worked with the stakeholders to determine technological innovations available to improve production, local market opportunities for food grown in the greenhouses, and training and education programs. EDIC is currently working with the Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation to identify potential land that could be used for greenhouse production. In addition, EDIC began work in the fall of 2004 with a “Leadership Cleveland” team which includes eight corporate executives completing a training and education program to assist local non-profit organizations in the Cleveland area.

College/University Consortium: EDIC worked most closely with Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University to direct knowledge resources to local food system issues. EDIC also met with the President of Baldwin Wallace College in the spring of 2004 to present options for local food purchasing as well as community-based research on local food systems for the college. EDIC also presented to a class and worked with the Community Service staff at John Carroll University in Cleveland to determine options for local food purchasing there. EDIC met with faculty at Wooster College to discuss local food purchasing programs. During the Fall of 2004, EDIC met with three Amish managers of a local produce auction to determine possible arrangements for utilizing the auction to purchase higher-volumes of food to supply university and college markets. EDIC staff also met with an Amish farmer who represents 30 Amish farm families interested in marketing organic diary products (milk and cheese) to institutional markets in northeast Ohio.

Farmer Network: During the summer of 2004, EDIC distributed 300 surveys to farmers in northeast Ohio. With a 12% response rate, EDIC gathered important data detailing farmer demographics, profiles of their operations, marketing strategies, attitudes about marketing to institutional or urban markets, reactions to alternative distribution and marketing systems, primary issues and challenges, and a product and seasonal availability list. The following observations were gleaned from the responses:
a) Working Cooperatively with other Growers: (good interest)40% of farmers surveyed reacted favorably to coordinating activities with other growers and forming a marketing association
b) Regional Label: (strong interest) 50% of farmers responded favorably to a regional label or trademark that identifies products grown in Northeast Ohio
c) Direct Marketing: (very strong interest) 65% of farmers responded favorably to opportunities to directly market to the public through farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or CSA’s
d) Institutional/Wholesale Marketing: (little interest) 50% of farmers did not respond favorably to increased wholesale marketing
e) Marketing Cooperative: (little interest) 48% of respondents showed little interest in forming a marketing cooperative with other farmers
f) Buyer-Based Cooperative: (strong interest) 50% of farmers responded favorably to working with a buyer-based cooperative to consolidate orders and pick-up
g) Shared Use Kitchen (strong interest) 50% of farmers showed a strong interest in having access to value-added processing facilities
h) Canning Cooperative: (little interest) 40% of farmers did not respond favorably to a canning cooperative that would buy products for processing
i) Wholesale distribution company (little interest) 53% of farmers did not respond favorably to selling to a wholesale distribution company
j) Selling Directly to Businesses: (Neutral) farmers were neutral about selling directly to businesses and handling delivery themselves
k) Farmer Directory: (very strong interest) 65% of farmers responded favorably to being listed in a printed directory or web-site that could be accessed by potential buyers
l) Revolving Loan Fund (neutral) farmers were netural about forming a revolving loan-fund to capitalize farm improvements
m) Ethnic Marketing: (strong interest) 57% of farmers reacted favorably to growing crops for specialty or ethnic markets
n) Public Education (strong interest) 61% of farmers reacted favorably to working with a non-profit organization to educate the public about the importance of eating local
o) Issues of Greatest Concern: farmers stated the following issues as the greatest concern to the sustainability of their operation: public ignorance about farming (57%), lack of capital for expansion/improvement (54%), poor profit margins (50%), lack of labor (46%), competition from cheap imports (43%), lack of processing facilities (32%), market volatility (32%), lack of year round income (29%), prices too low (29%).

These responses have enabled EDIC to best gauge the development of programs of most benefit to farmers. A key limitation to institutional purchasing remains price. Farmers by and large favor opportunities to sell direct to the public, with the majority of their farm products being marketed through farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and u-pick operations. All three marketing options provide a retail price. Institutional wholesaling seemed to be of less interest to farmers, mainly because of the lower prices. In terms of options, farmers responded favorably to a commercial, buyer-based cooperative in which a group of businesses form a buying cooperative or consortium and travel to the farm to pick-up food. This option is being pursued further in Oberlin in the form of a buyer-cooperative to include college dining services, a retirement community, local schools, and local restaurants.

Collaborative Network: Regional food system work is inherently multi-disciplinary. Over the past two years, EDIC has helped to facilitate a collaborative network across northeast Ohio and the State of Ohio of groups, agencies, and individuals committed to building a sustainable regional food system. EDIC’s network includes about 120 farmers, 200 buyers (restaurants, grocers, farmers’ markets, and institutions), and about 30 community partners including: government agencies (Cleveland Department of Public Health, City of Oberlin Economic Development Office, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources), non-profit organizations (Innovative Farmers of Ohio, Ohio Farmers Union, Slow Food, Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation, Entrepreneurs for Sustainability, Cleveland Green Building Coalition, Northeast Ohio Office of Farmland Preservation, Cuyahoga Valley Countryside Conservancy), businesses (Great Lakes Brewing Company, Mustard Seed Market, Crooked River Coffee Company), and universities (Oberlin College, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland State University, Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center).


OVERVIEW: Another advantage of connecting urban and institutional populations with local food is the productive re-utilization of waste. Institutional kitchens generate significant volumes of organic waste, both from kitchen scraps as well as scraping from plates. These food waste scraps, if mixed with leaf or wood mulch, can be composted and used to condition soils and build organic matter and fertility. Other dining wastes can also be utilized, such as grease which can be processed into bio-diesel and used as a fuel-source for heating and powering tractors and other equipment. Urban areas also generate large amounts of organic wastes and a combined program to compost food wastes from grocery stores, restaurants, and institutions in an urban area can provide a source of material that can improve the productivity of farms that can then market produce back to these same locations. The biggest challenge to composting in an institutional or urban setting remains transport and space. The two issues are inter-related. There is a high-cost to transporting raw food wastes to a remote or rural site. To compost in an urban setting requires an efficient use of space as well as management protocol to insure that odors and rodents do not offend neighboring residents. At Oberlin College, we originally planned to install an in-vessel composting system on the campus. Unfortunately, the college underwent a severe financial crisis in 2002-03 which resulted in 40 staff lay-offs and budget cuts. SARE funding was used to manage student research teams who conducted food waste audits and comparative studies of different food processing systems; to initiate a composting pilot project at the farm; to organize a collection system with college dining staff; and to work closely with students on a grease-waste conversion project.

Food Waste Audit: EDIC worked closely with a student who was hired by Oberlin College to organize a campus composting project and a team of students doing applied research to support the project. The student research team worked with a statistics professor to conduct a statistically valid food waste audit of the college dining halls as well as smaller dining halls operating by a cooperative dining organization. Their estimates revealed that students in the coop system produced 0.696 pounds of food waste per person per day and students in the dining service produced 0.466 pounds per day, leading to an average daily generation of 1,379 pounds of organic food waste. The coops reported higher waste levels due to the preparation of more fresh vegetables and fewer pre-processed items. The survey covered three separate weeks during the fall semester. Each week, students went to the dining halls being studied and made sure that all kitchen scraps and dining room scraps were collected in bins which were then weighed at the end of the day. The days samples were taken included: Sunday, Monday, and Thursday. This provided a good representation, given lower dining hall meals on Sundays. The three weeks were chosen before fall break (peak harvest time for local food handling), during fall break (low use period), and after fall break (less local food and thus less preparation of raw foods). As a result of their study, the students reported a 95% confidence that the total amount of compost produced was between 872 pounds and 1,886 pounds per day. With 29 weeks of peak food activities on campus, the total annual generation was 103 to 206 tons per year with an average of 154 tons per year. This information will be used to size an appropriate composting system. Another audit also reveled that the college spends $39,656 per year on garbage disposal (including electricity, water, and sewage charges) with disposals being used to get rid of foodwaste about 72 hours/week per dining hall. This cost-saving represents a 100% reduction. Even a 50% reduction in garbage disposal use would result in annual cost savings of about $19,827. The annual cost savings were determined by estimating number of operating weeks, flow rate, and price of utilities.

Implementation Plan: We worked separately with the two dining system on campus to develop organic waste collection and delivery systems. The Oberlin Student Cooperation Association (OSCA) operates 8 dining halls serving 650 students (25% of the campus population). OSCA students are required to do 4-6 hours of work each week maintaining the cooperative (tasks include cooking, cleaning, ordering food, etc.). The coops each created a compost coordinator. These eight students are coordinated by an at-large compost coordinator. They collected food waste in 55 gallon garbage containers and used a coop-owned trike to haul the food waste to the farm. During high volume times or periods of inclement weather the coops utilize their truck. The campus dining service has to rely on paid staff and work-study students to implement programs. We developed a collection system with two separate streams of waste flow. The first includes collection of kitchen scraps in special blue containers for kitchen staff. The second would include blue waste collection buckets for plate scrapings from individual users. These buckets would be collected by work-study recycling coordinators and brought to the loading dock each day. The college could commit to collecting and bringing wastes to a dock. We ran into trouble with actual transportation of the collected food waste. Students would not be permitted to operate a truck to transport materials due to union policies and liability concerns. We investigated EDIC assuming composting transportation either to a facility on campus or a facility on the farm.

Composting Pilot Project: We worked with OSCA to develop a compost pilot program at the George Jones Farm. We designated a 50’ x 50’ plot for on-farm composting. Due to state regulations, our pile could not exceed 15 cubic yards or we would be required to apply for a Class II compost facility permit from the Ohio EPA. The pile turned out to be just large enough to accept food waste from about four of the college dining cooperatives. Some waste was also fed to pigs on the farm in 2004. A local landscaper delivers his leaves to the farm each fall. The leaves are mixed with food waste several times per week. Students receive work credits from their dining cooperative to haul the food waste and turn the piles regularly. During the summer, the piles are turned using the front-end loader on the farm’s tractor. The coops frequently use a trike (three-wheeled bicycle with a platform) to haul buckets of compost. The composting activity is billed as an opportunity to get physical exercise, including biking 1.5 miles to the farm and turning the piles. The program works very reliably. It was piloted in 2002 and has since continued in 2003 and 2004. In 2005, we are going to expand the program to include vermicomposting in one of the greenhouses.

Compost System Business Plan: After meeting with college officials in 2003, there was great interest in seeing composting happen on campus, but resistance to implementing the program given strained finances. To follow-up with the college’s interest, we developed a business plan to consider the possibility of having EDIC or another entity manage the compost system as a private enterprise. Revenue generating opportunities included sales of finished compost, charging tipping fees to entities to dispose of the food waste, and using compost to improve soil productivity on the farm. We estimated a total system throughput of 231 tons/year (154 tons of food waste, 77 tons of bulking agents such as wood or leaves). We estimated a total production of about 638 tons of finished compost per year with a charge of $15.95 per yard. This would generate about $25,266 per year. With an estimated annual operating cost of about $39,500 per year, it would be difficult to sustain the program without further subsidy. We discussed the possibility of outsourcing compost management to a local waste management company which estimated that their expenses could only be covered if the program included food waste from other sources in the city as well. We are organizing a consortium of local institutions (schools, retirement community, college, restaurants) to look into cooperative local food purchasing. We are also considering a similar program to coordinate food waste composting efforts. We interviewed the facilities planner for Allegheny College who reported the campus’s in-vessel composting system was operated by the college for about $40,000 per year, an internal cost covered by the institution in exchange for off-setting compost and fertilizer costs for campus landscaping. We were unable to identify an institutional system that could sustain itself entirely by sale of product.

Bio-Diesel Processing: EDIC worked closely with Sam Merrett, an Oberlin College student who developed an independent study project on bio-diesel conversion. The student constructed a portable bio-diesel processor using spare bike parts which can be used to produce batches of 50 gallons of bio-diesel from campus dining halls. We worked with Sam to develop a schematic design for a bio-diesel processing structure at the George Jones Farm which could be used as an educational demonstration and a source of fuel for tractors and greenhouse heating on the farm. We are presently negotiating with city and township officials to find an appropriate location for the facility. Township officials considered the bio-diesel processor as “light manufacturing” because it was utilizing and processing by-products from off-site. We are presently working with the township to apply for a variance or, alternately, to develop a portable bio-diesel processor which can be set-up temporarily. EDIC is also considering the cost of maintaining this system and insuring that users are adequately educated.

Research conclusions:

Overall participation in the program included a diverse range of community partners, individuals, students, teachers, farmers, and faculty. Estimated participation levels for each group include:
Farmers: 163 (including farmer network, survey respondents, selling to college)
College students: 634 (including interns, volunteers, field trips, research projects)
College Faculty: 17 (including applied research, planning committees, classes)
Universities/Colleges: 5 (including potential local food purchasing programs)
Professionals: 19 (including builders doing strawbale building workshop)
Youth: 375 (including 4-H activities, school tours, special programs)
Community Volunteers: (including church groups, parents, general volunteers)
Teachers: 65 (including tours groups, teacher training, curriculum development)
# Community Stakeholders: 97 (including food congress, food council)

Overall outcomes of the 2 ½ year project duration (July 2002-December 2004) can be summarized according to the following areas of measured change:
1) Improved Conditions
• Established working infrastructure for farm, including $85,850 of fixed assets (water lines, gravel driveway, greenhouses, electrical system, parking areas, farm office, storage barn, toolshed, and produce storage) (2002-04)
• Restored 10-acre wildflower prairie to improve habitat/wildlife on farm (2003)
• Restored 8 acres of wetlands in old farm field for habitat/wildlife (2003)
• Established infrastructure for comparative wetland restoration studies (2003)

2) Environmental Indicators
• Improved land conditions for organic food production, including 150% increase in organic matter (2.6% to 6.6%) in leaf mulch/chicken grazing, 75% increase in organic matter (2.3% to 4.0% leaf mulch, cover crops), 195% increase in organic matter (food waste compost, leaf mulch, chicken grazing), and 0% increase in organic matter for control group (fallow field with unmanaged cover crops). Fertility for same areas shows improvement of 40% in P and K for areas including chicken grazing. (2002-04)
• Developed Geographic Information Systems (GIS) data base to monitor site change over time (soils, vegetative surveys, wetland habitat) (2002-04)

3) Economic Performance
• Developed Community Supported Farm managed by young farmers which grossed $6,500 total sales in 2002, $12,000 in 2003, and $35,000 sales in 2004 (2002-04)
• Increase in institutional food purchasing from $105,000 in 2000 to $225,000 in 2003-04. (2002-04)
• Conducted comprehensive food system assessment for Northeast Ohio with faculty at Cleveland State University (2002)

4) Increased Knowledge/Awareness
• Developed small mushroom enterprise which involved 3 Oberlin College students, and 15 4-H youth (2003)
• Involved upper-level seminar of 30 students in development of strawbale farm-office for farm (2003)
• Involved 60 volunteers in assembly of timber frame for farm office from wood harvested from the farm site (2004)
• Involved 80 volunteers in construction of strawbale farm office for hands-on learning experience (2004)
• Involved 40 volunteers in seed/plant collection and plantings for wetland restoration (2003)
• Involved 40 students in monitoring/data collection for on-farm wetlands (2003-04)
• Involved 300 public school students from 7 schools in farm tours and learning activities (2003-04)
• Involved 15 4-H youth in farm activities (2003)
• Involved 30 at-risk youth in 2 day farm program (2003)
• Involved 20 farmers in tour of the farm (2003)
• Developed web-page with information about farm, local food buying tips (2004)
• Conducted feasibility study for buyer-based cooperative development (2004)
• Assisted with feasibility study for 5 Case Western Reserve University graduate students investigating greenhouse re-development in the City of Cleveland (2004)
• Worked with team of 8 business and corporate executives to develop market studies for local food system through Leadership Cleveland Program (2004)
• Met with 3 Amish managers of produce auction to determine opportunities for connecting institutions with Amish producers (2004)
• Met with manager representing 30 Amish farm families to investigate opportunities for institutional sales (2003)
• Presented short-workshops to 5 other area colleges/universities promoting development of local food purchasing system (2003-04)
• Distributed 300 surveys to local farmers to gauge interest in local food marketing (2004)
• Worked with honors student to conduct business plan study to determine cost-effectiveness of institutional composting and potential to recover operational costs through sale of product (2003)

5) Increased Skills
• Hired 4 beginning farmers in 3 years to manage CSA as their own enterprise (2002-04)
• Hired 18 interns who assisted farm managers (including full-time summer, part-time work-study during semesters)(2002-04)
• Hosted strawbale building workshop for 19 area contractors which improved ability to use local straw for building construction (2004)
• Involved 15 public school teachers in intensive land-use/agriculture training program (2002)
• Involved 30 Cleveland public school teachers in program on nutrition and sustainable agriculture that utilized the farm (2003)
• Developed day long workshop for 10 beginning farmers interested in starting farms (2004)
• Involved five students in statistics class in effort to coordinate statistically significant assessment of food waste in campus dining systems (2003)

6) Increased Network Participation
• Involved 24 students in local food harvesting and pick-up from farm and other local farmers (2002-04)
• Organized Food Congress at Cleveland State University for 80 food system stakeholders to develop vision and strategic plan for regional food system development (2003)
• Facilitated development of network of 120 farmers, 200 buyer and consumers, and 30 community partners to facilitate local food system development (2003-04)

7) Improved Capacity (Teaching/Learning)
• Involved six faculty from Oberlin and Ohio State University to develop wetland research and monitoring system for the farm (2003-04)
• Involved 10 Oberlin College faculty in development of activities utilizing farm for school field trips and activities (2002-04)
• Developed curriculum for intermediate service-learning course on sustainable agriculture that engages 25 students in farm, local food system activities (2004)
• Involved eight students, two faculty, five college staff in development of food waste collection system for Oberlin College (2003)
• Involved 24 students over three years in on-farm composting pilot project for composting dining hall food wastes (2002-04)
• Coordinated project with Oberlin College student to process kitchen grease-waste into bio-diesel for farm-use (2003-04)

Economic Analysis

Immediate economic analysis of project indicates an increase in farm production levels and sales (from $6,500 in 2002 to $35,000 in 2004) and an increase in institutional purchasing of local foods at Oberlin College (from $105,000 in 2000 to $225,000 in 2003). Funding from the USDA-SARE program provided core support for the development of a whole systems approach to local food system development program which included commitments of the following additional sources for the duration of the grant program:

Educational Foundation of America $50,000 (2003-04)
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency $49,000 (2002-03)
George Gund Foundation $60,000 (2003-04)
Ohio Cooperative Development Center $5,000 (2004)
USDA-NRCS $33,000 (2003)
Common Ground $25,000 (2002-03)
Phesants Forever $1,500 (2003)
Ohio Department of Natural Resources $3,600 (2003)
USDA-SARE Graduate Studies $10,000 (2003-04)
The program will be continued through medium-term funding commitments for the next three years, including:
George Gund Foundation $80,000 (funding for 2005 and 2006)
USDA-Community Food Project $268,000 (funding for 2005, 2006, 2007)
Heifer International $86,000 (funding for 2005, 2006, 2007)

Farmer Adoption

Without a formal program evaluation, it is difficult to assess exactly how farmer behaviors have changed as a result of our project. We have conducted extensive outreach, sending surveys to 300 farmers, organizing a farmer focus-group with 10 producers, involving eight farmers in a beginning farmer workshop at the George Jones Farm, and individual meetings with about 40 farmers about our project. There is increasing interest amongst farmers in Northeast Ohio to sell direct to institutional or commercial markets. We found that farmers were split, however, between different methods of local food marketing. Generally, higher-volume farmers were more interested in larger wholesale markets, such as dining services or larger restaurants. Smaller-scale or “boutique” farms usually favored opportunities to direct-retail their products through farmers’ markets, roadside stands, or CSA’s. It was more difficult for these farmers to consider larger markets due to lower wholesale prices for their product. Additionally, these farmers generally had a greater variety of produce necessary for the markets that they were trying to reach. Outside of a few small restaurants on the west-side of Cleveland, smaller-scale farmers generally do not favor wholesale markets. We identified two other potential opportunities for farmers to reach larger institutional markets. The first involved an Amish farmer who represented a cooperative of 30 Amish farm families interested in marketing products to institutions. Second, we met with three Amish farmers who operate a produce auction who expressed an interested in working with dining service managers to special order food at the auction, as long as the institution could arrange pick-up. Concerning the George Jones Farm in Oberlin, we have found that beginning farmers and urban farmers find the farm set-up most applicable to their circumstance. Most beginning farmers that we worked with are interested in smaller-acreage organic or integrated farms. We also worked closely with several individuals working on community garden or market garden projects in Cleveland. In designing future programs, we envision the Jones Farm as being a training and education center for youth and beginning farmers or urban market gardeners.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary:

Education/outreach description:

The following publications resulted from the SARE project:

Jones Farm Review, Newsletter, Spring 2002, spring 2003, summer 2003, fall 2004

Restoration Ecology and Innovations in Environmental Learning, 2004

Building a Sustainable Regional Food System for Northeast Ohio, 2003

Regional Food System Assessment for Northeast Ohio, 2002

Growing a Regional Food System: Strategies and Actions across the Glacial Till, 2005

Web-Site: www.neofoodshed.org

Project Outcomes


Areas needing additional study

Development of a sustainable regional food system is a long-term process. Funding from the USDA-SARE program provided some of the initial seeds to initiate programs. Long-term support and capacity building for a successful program will need to focus on:

• Farmer outreach and trainings to build the capacity of existing farmers and new farmers to supply emerging regional markets for local food.
• Young-farmer training program will be critical to improve opportunities for young people to develop careers in local agriculture.
• A comprehensive market assessment is needed to better understand quantities and prices of produce purchased by area institutions and commercial businesses to determine opportunity areas for local farmers.
• Improved distribution and processing infrastructure is needed to make locally-grown food cost-competitive with food imported from outside of northeast Ohio.
• Successful models for young farmer training and educational programs that also feature economically-viable farms that can cover costs without outside subsidy or grant support.
• Identification of production opportunities within the City of Cleveland to utilize vacant land for market garden production to provide economic opportunity to low-income residents.

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.