The Sustainable Agriculture Program at Rural Action has spent two decades strengthening the local food system by increasing production and equitable access to local food through a strategy of processing, aggregation, distribution, and education. Our work with beginning and established farmers centers on peer-to-peer education and mentorship to build a strong community of farmers. We seek to increase local food production in order to see our region become resilient and self-sufficient in the face of increasing global disruptions due to climate change, pandemics, and economic and environmental instability. At the same time, we seek to accelerate the distribution of local foods into low wealth and underserved Appalachian Ohio communities.
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Our Current Projects
Each year we engage with hundreds of small, diversified farmers and landowners in order to understand their needs and provide the tools they need to increase food production while reducing risk, enhancing profitability, and restoring local ecosystems. At the same time, we’ve expanded a regional network of shared use infrastructure that helps bring beginning farmers to market. Our “Whole Farm” project seeks to provide wraparound support for beginning farmers, including access to capital, land, mentorship, professional services, site visits, and management plans. We aim to uplift the voices of experienced farmers in serving as mentors and peer educators to help build a strong small farm community.
Local Food Access
We focus on market-based food access projects in order to increase demand for local food and ensure the equitable distribution of local food into rural communities. We supply communities with little to no access to fresh fruits and vegetables with local produce through Country Fresh Stops, Produce Prescriptions, Buying Club, and Farm to Institution. At the same time, these projects build demand for local food and provide support to local farmers. We do this work collaboratively through the Appalachian Accessible Food Network, involving Rural Action, Community Food Initiatives and ACEnet.
Farm to Institution
The Farm to Institution project exists to increase local food procurement from K-12 schools, universities, and healthcare providers. In southeast Ohio, these institutions represent a major economic force as well as a substantial consumer of food and provider of meals. They offer the potential to dramatically shift the local food system as large buyers of local food, thereby increasing local food production as new entrepreneurs see farming as a viable livelihood.
Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative
The Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative (ASFC) team works to develop a robust food system among grain, bean, nut, and oil seed growers, processors, and researchers through collaborations with leaders in our region and across North America. We facilitate peer-to-peer learning groups, mobilize local food access development, and publish a quarterly newsletter, the Staple Pulse. Our Neighbor Loaves (& Meals) project provides Athens County food access programs with nutritious meals using at least 50% local staple bean, grain, and nut crops. We’re also partnering with Shagbark Seed & Mill to develop a model staple seed processing center that’s climate smart, inclusive and replicable.
Rural Food Hub Development
For the past decade, Rural Action has worked to build and expand a food hub in rural Southeast Ohio called the Chesterhill Produce Auction (CPA). We work with over 200 farmers each year to build the food and farming economy in the Mid-Ohio Valley of Ohio and West Virginia. With an estimated $400,000 in annual sales, all of which occur in Ohio, Rural Action’s Sustainable Agriculture program provides specialty crops to an estimated 50 wholesale buyers and 900 retail customers. Driven by the mission of a network of diversified farmers and landowners, Rural Action provides the tools that producers need to increase food production while reducing risk, enhancing profitability, and restoring local ecosystems. To accomplish this, it is estimated that Rural Action sources an annual volume of 200,000 lbs of specialty crops from Ohio. Specifically, Rural Action sees its highest volume in the provision of tomatoes, corn, potatoes, onions, green beans, peppers, and apples.
National Service Members
Each year, Rural Action mobilizes more than 35 energetic and passionate people across the region to help small communities do big things through our Leadership Development and Service program. Our National Service members serve in communities through a yearlong commitment as part of our Appalachian Ohio Restore Corps, an AmeriCorps State/National program administered by Rural Action, or our through our AmeriCorps VISTA program, Rural Renewal. See members who are currently serving with Rural Action here or learn more about how we are growing local leaders here.