Landmark report provides path to better future for Ohio food and farms

Ohio is a major agricultural state—which should be a boon for consumers and farmers alike. Yet the state has one of the highest rates of food insecurity, many farmers are struggling financially, and some farming practices contribute to environmental conditions that threaten crops, animal and human health.

With the state's agricultural future in mind, The Ohio State University's Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) partnered with national nonprofit Solutions from the Land to facilitate a landmark report. “Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land, A Call to Action for Ohio's Food System and Agricultural Economy” is a comprehensive action plan offering pragmatic, workable solutions for farmers, policy makers, planners, and food and farm system advocates.

The report, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, focuses on four initiatives: making Ohio agriculture and the food system a public policy priority; diversifying and sustainably intensifying the production of food, feed, fiber and fuel; using institutional buying power to ramp up demand for “Ohio Smart Food”; and implementing landscape-scale, climate-smart agriculture strategies to ensure sustainability and abate agricultural runoff. The overarching vision is to boost profitability for farmers at all scales and in all settings—rural and urban—while improving environmental resilience, building strong communities, engaging consumers, and ensuring public health and access to nutritious food.

A 37-member steering committee representing numerous interests including farming, health, food security, forestry and conservation, aquaculture, agribusiness and more, contributed to the report. “Bringing all of these parties together is what made this truly transformational,” says Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and co-chair of the OSA steering committee. “We tend to work in our own silos, but this was a good opportunity to bring food and farm stakeholders together for a shared vision.”

Farmers were the largest component of the group that worked on the project, and co-chair Fred Yoder, a fourth-generation farmer and chair of Solutions from the Land, hopes the report will spur action. “This is really a call to action for everyone to work together through a systems approach. Instead of working in silos, let's work together and think of the possibilities.”

InFACT played a key advisory role from the very beginning, contributing systems thinking and attention to both food security and climate change, says Brian Snyder, executive director. “This project demonstrates how everything is tied together—food security, the success of farmers, the environment and the economy. And these issues have to be solved in a parallel process.”

According to the report's leaders, the time to implement the action steps is now. “We're ten years out from the end of the Great Recession, but yet we have chronic hunger and food insecurity taking a stronger foothold in our communities across the state,” says Hamler-Fugitt. “As a state and nation, we're spending more and more money on chronic diseases which could be influenced by access to healthy, wholesome foods instead of more medication.”

“It's about Ohio farmers feeding Ohioans, and benefiting in the process,” adds Snyder.

“Agriculture is really hurting,” says Yoder. “We need to look at what we might do to strengthen existing farms and develop new farming opportunities to help folks who are hurting. The timing is perfect.”

Ohio is the right place for these innovations, says Hamler-Fugitt. “We are the agricultural state. If not here, where? I think Ohio is well positioned for success.”

Read the full report here.