Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 1998: $29,450.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/1999
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $16,950.00
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: melons
  • Vegetables: asparagus, beans, broccoli, cabbages, carrots, cucurbits, eggplant, garlic, greens (leafy), onions, peas (culinary), peppers, rutabagas, sweet corn, tomatoes, turnips, brussel sprouts
  • Additional Plants: herbs
  • Animals: bovine, poultry, goats, sheep
  • Animal Products: dairy


  • Education and Training: farmer to farmer, focus group
  • Farm Business Management: community-supported agriculture, cooperatives, budgets/cost and returns, marketing management, feasibility study, market study, value added
  • Sustainable Communities: infrastructure analysis, new business opportunities, partnerships, public participation, urban agriculture, urban/rural integration, social networks


    Through the objectives of “Strengthening Farms on the Edge,” to develop a farm coalition and to decrease barriers for small-diversified farms to market their products, Northeast Ohio Family Farms was created to pilot creative marketing initiatives in Northeast Ohio. Beginning with an organizational brainstorming meeting in October 1998, ground was laid to begin working toward actualizing the above objectives. A group of six participating farm (10 individuals) members met once a month from October until March to develop ideas.

    The first task was to complete a needs assessment study of small farmers in Northeast Ohio. Michelle Smith, Ph.D., a professor of sociology at Kent State University and also a Team Member, authored a study regarding barriers to farming. [See Appendix A] Her thoughtful analysis provides a review of the problems that farmers identified in relation to the farm operation, past collaborative arrangements that producers have undertaken with other farmers and suggestions that producers have for future collaborative arrangements. Ms. Smith’s recommendations include the necessity for a non-farmer coordinator to take responsibility for networking and distribution, open communication, goal identification and planning, as well as farmer commitment. Her preliminary and final reports were shared with NOFF members and other interested individuals at monthly meetings and are available by contacting the project coordinator.

    Most notably, in February 1999, after considerable discussion among the Advisory Board and NOFF members, it was decided that in order to fulfill the education and outreach component of this project, Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days would be held with Silver Creek Farm as the Host. Four dates throughout the summer were chosen as “Farm Fest” dates. The purpose of Farm Fest was to connect consumers to the source of their food: the farms and farmers who produce it. The objective was to create a fun, family oriented event to facilitate the introduction of urban dwellers to farms and farmers. Farm products were sold and educational workshops about consumer and producer interests occurred throughout Farm Fest. Incredible work went into creating the necessary publicity, Farm Fest marketing brochure, refreshments and entertainment for participants. Well over 500 individuals attended Farm Fest throughout the summer, some coming as far as 50 miles to spend a day on a farm, learning about “pest management for your farm and garden,” “making goat cheese,” and “planting a perennial garden,” among many other workshops and demonstrations. Surveys of Farm Fest participants overwhelmingly indicate that respondents enjoyed themselves, made valuable connections with producers, and learned about important aspects of farming.

    It was through Farm Fest that NOFF members learned important lessons. Many young people interested in farming attended and wanted information about how to get started farming in Northeast Ohio. Other individuals wanted to know whether they could bring school groups out to the farm for lessons, and other non-farmers wanted to know if they could join NOFF as supporters. Facing these issues NOFF and its coordinator have developed the SARE 2000 preproposal: Northeast Ohio Family Farms: Re-Conceptualizing Farming Community to continue to address marketing issues as well as farmer and consumer education.


    “Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships” facilitated steps necessary to begin developing cooperative marketing initiatives, education and outreach to a wide audience that included consumers and potential farmers, as well as steps to begin the conversation about improving producers marketing skills. The Northeast Ohio Family Farms (NOFF) was created as the organization that supported the above efforts of producers through the Project Coordinator, Organizer, and use of SARE funds.

    During start-up, Russell Chamberlain of ACEnet, Athens, Ohio was retained to present to an audience of producers and consumers about ACE net’s success with economic development in a rural, low-income area in Southern Ohio. ACEnet has established a kitchen incubator, garden projects, and provided jobs for many residents of Athens County. NOFF members and consumers were particularly interested in learning about the possibility of a kitchen incubator facility in Northeast Ohio that would partner with farms to create value added products.

    Also during the start-up phase of this project, a meeting was held to brainstorm ideas with a group of interested consumers and producers. Out of this meeting, a core group of producers (the team) who were interested in participating in the project was identified. Also distinguished during the early phase was the need for a market study. Rather than a detailed analysis of the local market trends, it was decided that pursuing a more academic path would be of greater value to the participants of this project. Michelle Smith, Ph.D., was retained to complete an “A Qualitative Study Regarding Barriers to Farming in Northeast Ohio.” Her thoughtful, provocative study is included in Appendix 1.

    As a result of this study, which was completed in March, 1999, NOFF producers decided to create Farm Fest: Farm Appreciation Days which was an answer to the problem of uneducated consumers and raised awareness about farmland preservation. It took considerable effort to organize producers, consumers, print and radio media, as well as every detail for four farm market and education days hosted at Silver Creek Farm. The four Saturday events that drew well over 500 individuals to the farm were the most successful and rewarding endeavors (and also exhausting) facilitated by SARE funding.

    “Sustaining Family Farms: Preserving an American Heritage” and “Creating an Outdoor Classroom” are two videos that were also produced with SARE funding. The first video highlights the importance of preserving farms and the difficulties faced by producers in Northeast Ohio. The second film highlights the farm as an outdoor classroom for adult and child learners alike.

    Project objectives:

    1) Develop a farm coalition. The goal of which is to organize farmers for mutual aid, seed orders, and marketing efforts.

    2) Decrease barriers for small-diversified farms to market their food and fiber primarily through education and outreach to consumers.

    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.