Thursday, September 1, 2011

Statewide Food System Assessment proclaims “Athens Sets the Tone”

Written by Tom Redfern

Ken Meter, agricultural economist and food system analyst with the Crossroads Resource Center in Minnesota has just finished a timely look at Ohio Agriculture, which traces Ohio’s historic dependence on exports to a currently emerging system of local food business clusters that the author states “ create mutually supportive economic opportunities, builds financial resilience, and strengthens the state’s social fabric”. Commissioned by the University of Toledo Urban Affairs Center with funds from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, this work underscores the potential as well as current economic and social impacts of local food systems in Ohio.

The study highlights ten key findings as well as a summary of recommendations in response to these findings. The Author features local food “business clusters” that those in the Athens area will be pleasantly familiar with, including the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks, (ACEnet), Shagbark Seed and Mill, the Athens Farmers Market, and the ground breaking work of local foods pioneer Leslie Schaller. Our own “Dairy Evangelist” Warren Taylor is featured. Meter describes Snowville Creamery, the business Taylor started with his Wife Victoria as “ …a complex web of business connections that fosters healthy farming practices, provides exceptional quality milk and ice cream, buys fruits and vegetables from Ohio farmers, and nurtures a network of support industries”.

The section titled “Amish Farms Grow a Produce Industry” sheds an interesting light on the culture and business model that has given rise to the Chesterhill Produce Auction, another one of our regions “local food business clusters”. Meter describes the rise of Produce Auctions in Ohio and the current $10 million plus yearly economic impact they have, and the leading role Amish producers have in the local food system as “almost unwitting”. Meter relates how the Amish farmers, most of whom prefer animal based agriculture, came to sell produce as dairy prices and demand plummeted in the mid 1990’s.

Success stories notwithstanding, one key finding in this study gets my attention the most; that is that $30 billion flows away from Ohio each year due to the current prevailing structure of the farm and food economy. Scaling up our successes to capture this outflow in this time of economic hardship seems to be challenge that hopefully works like this will help us to focus on, and invest in at both the private and public level.

Check out this thought provoking and inspiring work at

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