Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land program launched

A multi-year project designed to help Ohio farmers adapt to a changing climate, improve the resiliency of their operations, as well as boost a wide array of ecosystem services from their land, while supporting local communities by producing nutritious food, is officially launching this week with the inaugural meeting of the Steering Committee of the Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land project.

The Steering Committee — comprised from a diverse coalition of state agricultural, environmental and food security leaders — aims to construct a strategy and action plan for making Ohio agriculture more sustainable and robust, while enabling the state’s farmland to deliver multiple food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystems services from the land.

Solutions from the Land (SfL), a national collaboration led by an acclaimed group of active farm, forestry and conservation leaders, is coordinating the three- to five-year project with the assistance of a $500,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Teaming up with SfL on the initiative will be The Ohio State University’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT), along with other partners.

The initiative builds on multi-stakeholder partnerships that have been developing in the state around water quality, food policy and sustainable agriculture projects, and will bring together innovators through dialogue and planning to improve climate resiliency, and achieve nutrition, energy, environmental, health and economic goals.

Taking a holistic, integrated approach to land management, the Steering Committee begins this week to identify, build and nurture the value chains that support the sustainable production of food, feed, fiber, energy and ecosystem services, and the delivery of goods and services up the food chain all the way to the most urban consumers.

One of the first steps to be undertaken through this project is to directly respond to the challenge of food insecurity, the lack of reliable access to a sufficient amount of food for an active, healthy life for all household members. One in six residents in Ohio struggle with keeping nutritious food on the table, and nearly one in four children face days without adequate, nutritious food. Food assistance can be critical to low-income residents, including the elderly and disabled individuals, who otherwise have to choose between paying for food or paying their utility bills or rent.

“The value of good, nutritious food for healthy children, adults, seniors and to communities as a whole cannot be overstated. Food security leads to positive outcomes in brain development, education, health condition, worker productivity and overall well-being,” said Lisa Hamler-Fuggitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks and a co-chair of the project. “Ohio is a national leader in agriculture, and Ohio’s farm community time and again has stepped up to assure fresh, Ohio-produced meats, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and much more are part of the solution to addressing food insecurity in our state.

“This initiative will provide a critical boost in momentum to assure we can continue to feed the state’s most vulnerable citizens.”

Another challenge to the state’s food security to be addressed by the project is soil degradation caused by erosion, organic matter and nutrient depletion, and elemental imbalance.

“The soil is the foundation of our farms. But it is more than that; it is also the foundation of the health of all mankind,” said Joe Hartzler, the other project co-chair, a Wooster dairy farmer and a cofounder of the Agroecosystems Management Program at OSU. “A healthy soil will produce a healthy plant. A healthy plant consumed will produce a healthy animal. A healthy animal consumed will produce healthy people. Like my Dad, Harold Hartzler used to say, ‘All life begins in the soil.’”

This week, Steering Committee members will review the project’s goals, objectives and outcomes, as well as discuss and refine their vision, plan of work and timetable. The committee will identify the building blocks that can make up the Ohio Smart Agriculture Action Plan, and discuss the process that will be followed for developing the plan.

The committee begins its two-day session with a tour of mission-related operations, including the South Side Roots Café & Market, a local market operated by the Mid-Ohio Foodbank to assist local communities to gain access to nutritious food at affordable prices; Franklinton Gardens, a 2.5-acre urban farm that grows 44 different types of fruits and vegetables year-round in environmentally-sustainable ways, and distributes them to community residents at reduced cost; Price Farms Organics, in Delaware County, an Ohio EPA Certified composting facility that sells high quality mulch, topsoil and compost; and the Seminary Hill Farm, a certified organic farm that rests on 5 acres of land on the campus of Methodist Theological School in Ohio, outside of Columbus.

“The Steering Committee has committed to lofty goals, but members acknowledge the needs of the future are not met by small ambition,” said Fred Yoder, an Ohio grain farmer, a member of the committee and an SfL board member.

For additional information, contact Ernie Shea, SfL president and the Ohio Smart Agriculture project coordinator, at 410-952-0123, or via email at EShea@SfLDialogue.net.

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