FarmsSHARE pilot’s successful conclusion offers game-changing roadmap for food equity

November 24, 2020

What began as a creative pilot program in response to food inequities brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is now on track to make a longer-term impact after successfully concluding its pilot run. FarmsSHARE—or Farms Serving Health and Racial Equity—helps growers get their produce into community markets, with a focus on serving BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) growers, host organizations and residents.

Led by the Ohio Farmers Market Network, Columbus Public Health's Center for Public Health Innovation and Local Food System Strategies Team—and with administrative support and recruitment of BIPOC growers from InFACT—the eight-week FarmsSHARE pilot ran from late August through mid-October. Funding from the City of Columbus, thanks to advocacy from Columbus City Councilmember Priscilla Tyson, and The Kroger Co. Zero Hunger | Zero Waste Foundation Emergency COVID-19 Response Fund, enabled growers to be compensated for their produce at market value, while helping BIPOC-led organizations make the food available to their communities.

Beyond mitigating the impacts of COVID, which shut down or significantly altered existing markets, FarmsSHARE addresses serious food inequities that impacted BIPOC communities long before the pandemic. It's a situation that Julialynne Walker, founder of the Bronzeville Growers Market in the King-Lincoln Bronzeville neighborhood on Columbus's Near East Side, has been trying to remedy for years. “Our neighborhood is both a food desert and a swamp, meaning there's a lack of affordable, accessible produce and an extreme presence of fast food outlets that provide high-caloric foods that are quite expensive per serving,” says Walker. “People's diets are compromised simply by their environment.”

Through FarmsSHARE, Walker's Bronzeville Growers Market received weekly deliveries of fresh produce grown by Pam Mack, a Mansfield-based Black grower. As word spread of the high-quality, affordable produce available at the Bronzeville Growers Market, Walker saw more and more shoppers each week. “People are totally excited. They're like, ‘This is really good, where did you get it? And how can we get more?'”

The recently-released FarmsSHARE pilot report details the impressive results of the program's trial run at Bronzeville Growers Market and five other host locations. Highlights include:

  • Five of six host locations were BIPOC led
  • 60% of growers identify as BIPOC, including growers affiliated with InFACT's Buckeye ISA program who participated in the pilot
  • 1,495 Columbus residents received food through FarmsSHARE, 83.9% of whom are BIPOC
  • 47 different vegetables were delivered to residents, which were rated 5/5 for quality by host organizations
  • Four models of distribution were tested, including community-supported agriculture (CSA), farmers market, free distribution and a “pay what you can” approach

Ohio Farmers Market Network Board Chair Jaime Hadji is thrilled with the results. “We developed the pilot in direct response to the needs of our farmers market managers who have struggled to find farmers and produce for their markets, and of our farmers market vendors who lost their market, were selling less due to COVID restrictions, or lost restaurant and institutional sales as a result of closures,” says Hadji. “FarmsSHARE gave us the opportunity to provide for both, as well as the community. We're proud of this program and can't wait to review, revise and launch version two."

The FarmsShare program exemplifies InFACT's mission to “transform the way we grow, process and distribute our food, leading to vibrant, sustainable and resilient agriculture that places nourishing food at the center of just and vital communities in Ohio and beyond.” Seeing the success of the pilot brings hope that this will one day be achieved, says InFACT Executive Director Brian Snyder. “These various InFACT-supported projects are all starting to look like one big project—a better food system,” says Snyder. “When you're trying to transform a food system, it's necessary to take a systemic approach, and that's what we're doing.”

FarmsSHARE leaders are currently in talks to extend funding so the program may continue to provide game-changing advances in food equity for predominantly BIPOC communities and growers. That's something Julialynne Walker would welcome. “I would love to see this go another year, so that I can continue to grow our market and build relationships with producers so that eventually, the Bronzeville Growers Market will become self-sufficient.”