14:16 PM

Mansfield Microfarm Project will support economy, supply local produce

$2 million matching grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research

The Ohio State University at Mansfield is launching an urban sustainable food-system project that will increase area residents’ access to fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops while supporting the local economy.

The project, developed and managed by Associate Professor of Environmental History Kip Curtis, is supported by a $2 million matching grant from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).

The Mansfield Microfarm Project will provide both training and microfarm kits to roughly a dozen initial producers, and help them farm cooperatively and bundle their produce for marketability. The microfarms will create a system that, when fully operating, will produce and sell enough fresh produce to become a fully sustainable economic driver in the Mansfield-area economy.

“This pilot effort of microfarms will establish a food system in the city of Mansfield that can collectively generate the volume and quality of specialty crops to compete for commercial markets,” Curtis said. “It will keep local dollars circulating within the community, rather than exporting them out, while promoting healthier lifestyles by providing residents with access to fresh, local produce right there in the neighborhood.”

The microfarm network will progress over three years, allowing researchers and growers to adjust the growing, harvesting and marketing processes for the local setting. In the meantime, a parallel interdisciplinary research team will measure the ways in which this embedded local production system impacts a range of local issues, including food insecurity, urban beautification, food literacy and educational achievement.

Curtis introduced the concept to faculty and staff participating in the Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation (InFACT) in 2016, prompting a cross-disciplinary approach to developing the project. Curtis also led a group of six students in the design and construction of a demonstration urban microfarm on the Mansfield campus, which consisted of two high tunnels housing raised plant beds as well as several outside plant beds on a one-third-acre lot.

When fully implemented, the local production pilot system will represent a scalable fresh produce marketing core for local vegetable producers.

“Inconsistent access to affordable nutritious food is a problem that plagues communities nationwide,” said FFAR’s Executive Director Sally Rockey. “This project has the potential to transform agriculture production while simultaneously fostering local economic development. We are excited to pilot the microfarm model and explore the impact for the Mansfield community.”

Added Curtis, “This project is fundamentally focused on developing and fine-tuning an urban microfarm aggregation system designed to create genuine opportunity for participant producers in Mansfield, Ohio.

“The potential impact, however, extends well beyond the original microfarmers and one small urban aggregation system. If successful, such models present opportunities for urban growers in other redeveloping cities across Ohio and beyond.”

The FFAR grant provides one-to-one matching funding to develop and study a pilot community-based sustainable food production and aggregation system in Mansfield. The match was made possible in large part through partnerships with the North End Community Improvement Collaborative, Mind and Body Align and Braintree Business Solutions, and the support of the Fran and Warren Rupp Donor Advised Fund of the Richland County Foundation. The FFAR funding is also matched in part by donations from the new Sustainability Institute at Ohio State, as well as in-kind support from researchers in Ohio State’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Fisher College of Business, Knowlton School of Architecture, Department of History, Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity and College of Social Work.