The Mansfield Microfarm Project (MMP) is a community-university collaborative to create economic development through sustainable microfarming (small-plot, high-intensity organic agriculture) in post-industrial urban spaces. Piloted in Mansfield, Ohio and in its second year, MMP cultivates a cooperative urban production, aggregation, marketing and advocacy system that enables small-scale producers to compete in wholesale specialty-crop markets. With initial funding from the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research (FFAR), MMP leveraged OSU expertise to develop, research, and implement the production system of microfarm-based specialty-crops in various settings. Now, the Richland Gro-op (RGO), a cooperative of microfarmers established in 2019, seeks to partner with Ohio State and NECIC to create a training program for low-opportunity novice producers in order to grow co-op membership in the future. This proposal would provide the personnel and supplies to formalize a comprehensive training program, develop it into a module to train additional trainers, implement it with at least two cohorts of beginning farmers in Mansfield, and formally evaluate the program’s efficacy and impact. Anticipated outcomes include increased knowledge and skills regarding sustainable microfarming, organic farming and business management skills among participants and trainers; creation and implementation of farms by program graduates using environmentally sustainable and sound business practices; and a durable new urban food production system, through the marketing cooperative with new farmer-members equipped with the training and support to succeed. This funding will enable MMP project staff to hire and train the appropriate partners to develop, deliver, and disseminate a sustainable microfarming training program.
Project objectives from proposal:
The Curriculum Development phase will result in a replicable curriculum for entry-level microfarmer training and a train-the-trainer module. We will create internet and hard copy versions, as well as a catalog of training materials, that include best practices for small-plot sustainable agriculture, food safety guidelines (GAP), recordkeeping templates, and worksheets for crop plan, budgeting, and business plans.
Recruitment activities will target 20 applicants each for years 2021 and 2022, and we aim to accept ten entry-level farmers into the program each year, targeting individuals who live in low-economic opportunity areas in Mansfield. Outputs will include the program application and a rubric for evaluating/assessing applications.
Programmatic outputs include implementation of two years of a ten-month training program for entry-level farmers that include regular (minimum: bimonthly) workshops and a mentored production experience (ten participants each year), as well as a minimum of twelve continuing education trainings for RGO growers (target attendance: ten growers per workshop). Partnerships will also be outputs of the training program implementation. These partnerships include OSU-Mansfield, OSU Extension, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, the Richland Gro-op, IdeaWorks, and Business mentors (from the USDA, Farm Bureau and Farm Credit).
The program process and outcomes evaluation will have the following outputs: pre-, mid-, and post-assessment materials and results for program participants and training educators for each implementation year. Additional outputs will be interview protocols and interview results for program participants and training educators for each implementation year, to serve as tools for the ongoing feedback loop for continued program improvement. There will also be annual program evaluation reports, including recommendations for curriculum and programmatic improvements, program process, and outcomes evaluation. These outputs will provide current team members and future adopters with tools and resources that will inform the annual refining of the curriculum, resulting in updated curriculum and program materials each year and for other groups seeking to use the content. This is an iterative process that will repeat each year by any user.
One last output relates to developing the ongoing support for the microfarm system and practical agricultural knowledge exchange within the Mansfield community and its related entities — local governments, school systems, and potential business buyers such as healthcare systems. One challenge is the need to sustain the education program coordinator in the long-term beyond this grant; this will require collaboration, built upon the open-door inclusion of these audiences. When this occurs, the following partnerships will be the main output from this activity: Richland County Extension office, State Extension leadership, Richland County Commissioners and other local governments, NECIC, Mansfield City Schools and OSU Mansfield.