Ohio State project leverages institutional food purchasing to help disadvantaged families, improve nutrition in Columbus

COLUMBUS—Can a large urban university flex its food-purchasing muscle to lift up disadvantaged families, enhance the diets of vulnerable children and improve food security in its community?

The Ohio State University, through its Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), is working with central Ohio partners to do just that.

With the support of a three-year $750,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, InFACT is creating a plan to develop a network of between 100 and 500 low-income families, particularly in communities of color, that could grow food and sell it to Ohio State and perhaps other institutions and businesses in the area. The goal is to provide technical assistance and training so families can start small-scale food enterprises that both supplement their income and improve their children’s nutrition.

“Ohio ranks among the worst states in the nation for food security, but Ohio State is making a major investment in a systems approach to tackling this challenge,” said Casey Hoy, InFACT’s faculty director and the W.K. Kellogg Endowed Chair in Agricultural Ecosystems Management. “To that end, InFACT has made a commitment to begin a transformation in food and agriculture with our own campuses and the communities they’re part of, creating practical and conceptual models that can be shared across the globe.”

The Kellogg-funded  project is an example, a twist on a popular economic food model known as community-supported agriculture, or CSA, in which many individuals pay a farmer at the start of a growing season for a share of the anticipated harvest. Under the InFACT plan, there would be many farmers or gardeners and one very large buyer, a model Hoy is calling institution-supported agriculture, or the Buckeye ISA.

The Buckeye ISA project supports one of the pillars of Ohio State's sustainability program—namely, to increase the amount of local and sustainably sourced food served on campus to 40 percent by 2025. It's a tall task, but Hoy, InFACT Executive Director Brian Snyder, and a panel of faculty, staff and students are developing a plan to meet the goal. The Buckeye ISA project might contribute only a small percentage of the volume needed to meet the 40 percent target, but it offers an opportunity for families who could really benefit from the opportunity to find a place at the table.

“We hope to make a lasting difference in the health and livelihood of our neighbors, now and for generations to come,” Snyder said. “The intent of this project is to address a root cause of food insecurity by bringing new economic opportunities to the communities that need them the most, relying on Ohio State’s buying power.”

As envisioned in the Buckeye ISA plan, Ohio State campus lands would be used as demonstration and training sites, and faculty, staff, students and community partners would extend this training and assistance into surrounding neighborhoods and communities.

For Mike Hogan, OSU Extension Educator and Associate Professor, Buckeye ISA presents another opportunity for the university to help the community it shares. 

“For the past couple of years, OSU Extension has begun to provide food production training programs to some of the most food-insecure residents in Columbus, and we’ve been heartened by the willingness of these families to produce food to improve their family’s diet,” he said. “We’re excited about the potential for Buckeye ISA to provide additional opportunities for more families to produce food and supplement their family income.”

In addition to OSU Extension, Hoy and Snyder have held preliminary discussions with InFACT partners from community groups and government agencies who have a long-standing commitment to  improve food security. The list includes the city of Columbus, Franklin County, Franklin County Food Policy Council, Columbus Public Health Department, Mid-Ohio Foodbank and Urban Farms of Central Ohio, St. Stephens Community House, Children’s Hunger Alliance, Franklinton Gardens, Local Matters, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Growing Collective,  Methodist Theological School  Ohio, BREAD (Building Responsibility, Equality And Dignity), and current farmers in the community who focus on local markets.


About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Mich., and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.

About the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT)

An arm of Ohio State’s ambitious Discovery Themes initiative, InFACT is transforming programs and land at the university into model food systems that balance ecology, technology, culture, and policy to promote world health. Over the course of 10 years, $125 million will be invested in InFACT, and 31 affiliated faculty members will be hired to bridge our current areas of strength across the University in health and nutrition, policy and planning, business and entrepreneurship, climate-resilient agriculture, and food culture, history, art and design. For more information, visit discovery.osu.edu/focus-areas/infact/

About the Discovery Themes at Ohio State

The Discovery Themes initiative is a $500 million commitment over 10 years to establish Ohio State as a world leader in interdisciplinary collaboration for the purposes of better addressing the world’s critical challenges. It is a framework that guides Ohio State’s investment in the people and resources needed to continuously accelerate our problem-solving capacity in areas that best align with the university’s strengths, specifically in: food and food security; health and wellness; energy and the environment; humanities and the arts; and data analytics. For more information, visit discovery.osu.edu.

For more information, contact:
Angela Latham
Program Coordinator
Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT)
3138B Smith Lab, 174 W. 18th Ave.
Columbus, OH 43210
614-354-7641 mobile
latham.47@osu.edu

Tags: InFACT, nutrition, food, food production, Food Production and Security