With the support of a three-year $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) at OSU launched the Buckeye Institution Supported Agriculture (ISA) program in 2018, recruiting over 30 families in the Columbus area and Southeastern Ohio in its first year.
The program targets low-income households with young children, providing start-up resources and technical training so that families can grow produce in their neighborhood, generate supplemental income from produce sales, increase household consumption of fresh produce and improve children's health.
Recruiting families to participate in the program has hinged on a network of community liaisons, selected based on their involvement in food systems work. InFACT identified and is working with seven community liaisons, including Rural Action, Parsons Area Merchants Association, the Greater Columbus Growing Coalition (GCGC), Local Matters, A&L Afterschool Literacy+ Institute, Franklinton Farms and the Charles Madison Nabrit Memorial Garden.
“GCGC is about promoting civic agriculture and so thought this was a perfect opportunity to partner with OSU,” says former GCGC president and current board member Charles Nabrit.
In 2018, GCGC recruited four households to the program. Families sign a participant agreement and get a mentoring plan. They then receive materials to install gardens in their backyard or at a community site. In partnership with Nationwide Children's Hospital, they also receive a biometric screening health assessment.
“We found that [families] being absurdly stumble-upon close to their garden is best for success,” notes Nabrit. “I was pleased that food really was not going to waste. Kids were definitely eating it!”
Building momentum in the early stages of the project was a big focus of 2018. “There are a lot of steps in the process from starting a garden to selling to OSU,” says Nabrit. “There were varying skill levels. Most participants hadn't gardened since childhood, so last year, we focused on teaching best practices for the garden. With that training, we're really looking to expand this year.”
Local Matters' Growing Matters Manager Jesse Hickman echoes that sentiment. “Most families were growing peppers, tomatoes, beans and greens. A lot didn't have a ton of experience, but were learning a lot this past year through growing and trainings,” Hickman says.
Trainings were a key component of the work in 2018. OSU Franklin County Extension Educators Tim McDermott and Mike Hogan provided 37 training workshops to Buckeye ISA households and the general public, reaching over 430 people. The program has also encouraged participants to seek out other continuing education opportunities.
“Two families in particular have been really encouraging and passionate,” says Hickman. “They even attended the recent OEFFA conference, and felt like rock stars.”
As families are able to invest time to grow their gardens and hone skills, extra produce will be sold to Ohio State and through other community channels, providing families with a source of supplemental income. Last year, families recruited by Rural Action and Local Matters sold produce to OSU's Traditions at Scott dining hall on the north Columbus campus in September. Other sites sold produce through the newly established Linden Farmers Market.
Much of Nabrit's work in 2019 will focus on the Linden neighborhood. “With Kroger closing, there is an urgency to provide fresh food options,” says Nabrit. He aims to recruit 10 families in 2019 to become Buckeye ISA participants – he's already recruited six – and continue partnering with the Linden Farmers Market as a sales avenue for program participants.
Local Matters is also looking to expand efforts in 2019, including recruiting families through their Young Gardeners clubs at city elementary schools. “I'm excited to communicate and reach out more with our families and build more steam,” says Hickman. “This project is just a baby, so I'm really excited about what we can accomplish and build in year 2.”