The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) awarded a matching grant to The Ohio State University at Mansfield to launch a $2 million dollar urban sustainable food system project that will increase access to fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops while supporting the local economy. The project was developed and is being managed by Associate Professor of Environmental History Kip Curtis.

The microfarm network will progress over three years, allowing for researchers and growers to calibrate the growing, harvesting and marketing processes for the local setting. In the meantime, a parallel interdisciplinary research team will measure the ways in which this embedded local production system impacts a range of local issues from food insecurity, to urban beautification, to food literacy and educational achievement.

The Mansfield Microfarm Project will provide both training and microfarm kits to approximately a dozen initial producers, and help them farm cooperatively and aggregate their produce for marketability. The microfarms will create a food production system that, when fully operating, will produce and sell enough fresh produce to become fully-sustainable economic drivers in the Mansfield-area economy.

“This pilot effort of microfarms will establish a food system in the city of Mansfield that can collectively generate the volume and quality of specialty crops to compete for commercial markets,” said Curtis. “It will keep local dollars circulating within the community, rather than exporting them out, while promoting healthier lifestyles by providing residents with access to fresh, local produce right there in the neighborhood.”

The project started in 2016 when Dr. Curtis brought his concept to faculty and staff participating in the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), an Ohio State Discovery Themes initiative, which then catalyzed a cross-disciplinary conversation to develop the project. Curtis also led a group of six Ohio State Mansfield students in the design and construction of a demonstration urban microfarm on the Ohio State Mansfield Campus, which consisted of two high tunnels, housing raised plant beds, as well as several outside plant beds on a one-third-acre lot. They completed construction in the fall of 2017.

When fully implemented, the local production pilot system will represent a scalable fresh produce marketing core for local vegetable producers.

“Inconsistent access to affordable nutritious food is a problem that plagues communities nationwide,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “This project has the potential to transform agriculture production while simultaneously fostering local economic development. We are excited to pilot the microfarm model and explore the impact for the Mansfield community.”

“This project is fundamentally focused on developing and fine-tuning an urban microfarm aggregation system designed to create genuine opportunity for participant producers in Mansfield, Ohio,” said Curtis. “The potential impact, however, extends well beyond the original microfarmers and one small urban aggregation system. If successful, such models present opportunities for urban growers in other redeveloping cities across Ohio and beyond.”

The FFAR grant provides one-to-one matching funding to develop and study a pilot community-based sustainable food production and aggregation system in Mansfield, Ohio. The match was made possible in large part through partnerships with the North End Community Improvement CollaborativeMind and Body Align and Braintree Business Solutions, as well as the generous support of the Fran and Warren Rupp Donor Advised Fund of the Richland County Foundation. The FFAR funding is also matched in part by donations from the new Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, as well as in-kind support from researchers in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fisher College of Business, Knowlton School of Architecture, Department of History, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and College of Social Work.

“This is truly a community effort,” Curtis said. “Our partners really hit it out of the park with their generous support for the vision.”

Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization originally established by bipartisan Congressional support in the 2014 Farm Bill, builds unique partnerships to support innovative and actionable science addressing today’s food and agriculture challenges. FFAR leverages public and private resources to increase the scientific and technological research, innovation, and partnerships critical to enhancing sustainable production of nutritious food for a growing global population. The FFAR Board of Directors is chaired by Mississippi State University President Mark Keenum, Ph.D., and includes ex officio representation from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Science Foundation.

Source, Photo: The Ohio State University at Mansfield

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