Strengthening Farms on the Edge: Developing Rural/Urban Partnerships
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 (NOFF) 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 objectives. A group of six participating farm members (10 individuals) 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, a team member and professor of sociology at Kent State University, authored a study regarding barriers to farming. 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. 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.
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 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 important lessons were learned by NOFF members. 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 further funding requests to continue to address marketing issues as well as farmer and consumer education.
For more information:
29150 North Hilltop Road
Chagrin Falls, OH 44022-1412