Sustainable Food

Food

How can Miami Valley communities increase the share of our diets that comes from our “foodshed?”

Paradoxically, great agricultural abundance and high rates of food insecurity exist side-by-side in Ohio, and the Miami Valley. When measured by total commodity value by state, Ohio ranked 16th in the nation in agricultural production in 2018. At the same time, overall food insecurity rates in the Miami Valley range from about 12 percent to 17 percent; and the child food insecurity rates (FIR) are even higher (from 17 to 21 percent). There is an emerging consensus that a stronger local food system can bridge this gap and also foster a more resilient local economy and social fabric.

Download the Food chapter. Throughout the Tool Kit look for the “BYG” tag for policies, programs, and projects that directly link to the DRG Bring Your Green government tracking platform.

The Issues

Paradoxically, great agricultural abundance and high rates of food insecurity exist side-by-side in Ohio, and the Miami Valley. When measured by total commodity value by state, Ohio ranked 16th in the nation in agricultural production in 2018. At the same time, overall food insecurity rates in the Miami Valley range from about 12 percent to 17 percent; and the child food insecurity rates (FIR) are even higher (from 17 to 21 percent).

 

There is an emerging consensus that a stronger local food system can bridge this gap and also foster a more resilient local economy and social fabric. Robust local purchasing can also help farmers transition from an increasingly-challenged commodity market to more diversified farms that are healthier for the planet and help to mitigate climate and weather extremes. This chapter explores ways local governments can support local food systems and reduce hunger.

It is fair to ask, “What is local food?” Definitions of what area can be considered local vary – sometimes markedly. The term local means different things to a restauranteur, a grocer, or a local farmers market. Distances can range from as few as 30 miles to as many as 400. Grocers sometimes define local as within a day’s drive, or a half day’s drive. The Dayton Regional Green Food Access Team has adopted a “foodshed” for our Region as matching the combined watersheds of the Great Miami River and Little Miami River. In all these cases the central concept is that food is “local” if is grown, harvested and processed near enough for the consumer to have an opportunity to interact directly with, to get to know, the producer.

There are many benefits from a healthy local food system. Locally-based transactions between farmer and consumer keep local incomes circulating in the regional economy. It supports efforts at farmland preservation by reducing local farmers’ dependence on large commodity markets. Local food processing can be a source of local food system employment. Local foods are healthier and fresher – they often have less pesticide and herbicide residues than factory-farmed produce and livestock. And because of shorter shipping distances they are not picked unripe and trucked from far away. The social benefits of local food systems include building personal connections between rural and urban communities, and building neighborhood and community connections around local community gardens. Local foods are an opportunity for residents to learn about new foods, such as traditional foods in immigrant communities, and how to prepare them.

The local food economy in the Miami Valley is holding its own in the marketplace. There are community gardens and urban farms producing fresh produce. Farmers markets dot the Region and can be found in every county. Miami County even has a virtual Farmers Market which enables year-round access to locally grown and produced foods. Community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) facilitate direct sales from producer to individual consumers.

Meanwhile, food insecurity, defined as lacking access, at times, to enough, nutritionally sufficient food for an active lifestyle for all members of a household, is a serious concern in our Region. Closures of grocery stores have created or expanded so-called food deserts, where access to healthy food is of greater difficulty. In this respect, the marketplace is not serving the needs of all of the Miami Valley.

In response to this issue in Dayton in particular, the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition has launched a Food Equity Action Plan initiative, modeled on the “Whole Measures” approach to equitable community food system planning. Led by Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County, the process has formed working groups on the topics of Vibrant Farms, Healthy People, Thriving Local Economy, Food Insecurity, Strong Communities and Sustainable Ecosystems. The process aims to release its report in 2020. A state-level advocacy group, Ohio Smart Agriculture (OSA), issued a report and call to action in 2019 to support the goals of reduced hunger and increased food production, a more robust food economy, and improved environmental protection in Ohio. Many recommendations from the OSA report are suited for local or regional implementation.

Two programs in Ohio seek to connect people in food insecure households with local food producers. Produce Perks provides a dollar-for-dollar matching incentive for customers who use their SNAP benefits at local farmers markets. The Produce Prescription program, a project of Case Western Reserve University, builds on a network of farmers markets and partners with health clinics to provide $40 monthly “prescriptions” for fruits and vegetable for pregnant women, new moms, and patients with hypertension.

What Communities can do

There are numerous ways communities can support the Miami Valley’s local food economy. These efforts will keep money circulating in your community, build social cohesion and improve your residents’ health.

Community Education & Outreach

  • Highlight the many benefits of local food in community newsletters and events.
  • Distribute the B-W Greenway Local Foods Directory to residents and businesses in either print or electronic form to assist institutions in buying local food. Explore local food purchase agreements. BYG
  • Encourage the development of farmers markets in your community. Allow schools to host farmers markets on weekends or after-school hours.
  • Encourage partnerships between community neighborhoods and Homefull to establish a community garden or urban agriculture.
  • The Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC) provides workshops for the public on vegetable gardening and pollinator gardens. Sponsor a workshop in your community.
  • Partner with the extension service of either Ohio State University or Central State University to bring the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) to your community. The program utilizes interactive discussions and activities to guide low- and moderate-income participants through a series of community-based workshops aimed at improving diet quality, food safety and physical activity. Adult participants also gain skills in food preparation and managing their food budgets.
  • East End Community Services offers gardening, food preparation, nutrition, and food preservation classes.
  • Share Five Rivers MetroPark’s Earth to Table resources and programming with your residents.
  • Support campaigns that encourage community members and community institutions to purchase from local food producers, artisans, businesses, and farmers in your community and the Region.
  • Encourage your school district to prioritize local food for school breakfasts and lunches and participate in the OSU Extension’s Farm to School program Wright State University and Five Rivers MetroParks have helped numerous school districts start school gardens. BYG
  • Food waste and hunger exist side-by-side on our communities. Facilitate connections between institutions that produce food waste and agencies that distribute food to people experiencing food insecurity. The Dayton Foodbank can assist in such an effort.
  • Educate citizens about how the growing practices of local farmers can impact water and air quality, as well as the nutritional content of food.

Internal operations

  • Organize staff memberships in a local Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.
  • Set a healthy and local procurement goal (for food grown within the Great Miami and/or Little Miami Watersheds) for city food services. Cleveland Heights has a policy requiring the city to consider purchasing local and Fair Trade food. BYG
  • Offer a bid discount to local food providers when bidding contracts. Cleveland’s policy is a model.
  • Colleges and High Schools can work with the Food Recovery Network and K-12 Food Rescue, respectively, to ensure leftover, prepared foods are donated to local agencies fighting hunger. The University of Dayton has a Food Recovery Network chapter.
  • Have community staff and leadership participate in the Annual Food Summit organized through the Montgomery County Food Equity Coalition.
  • Leverage economic development resources to provide technical assistance and financing to new and expanding food-based businesses in your community.
  • Make it easy for community gardens to access water from fire hydrants or other sources. The City of Dayton, Department of Water has a model program.
  • Help develop neighborhood centers and community kitchens at community gardens. BYG

Ordinances and policies

  • Plan for food uses — Encourage creation of food businesses through land use and economic development plans. The “Resettle Youngstown” initiative, part of the Youngstown 2010 Plan, has led to a city policy allowing urban homesteads – houses with an adjacent 1-2 acre area for intensive urban food production.
  • Permit urban farming uses — Allow urban gardening and small-scale agriculture on residential, commercial and other properties. The National League of Cities has numerous example policies, codes, and ordinances.
  • Ohio EPA has a model zoning code to encourage organic waste composting and urban agriculture.
  • Protect urban gardens — Cleveland’s urban garden district zoning classification provides legal protection to significant community garden sites.
  • Permit animals - Local communities are revisiting restrictions on farm animals in residential areas, to allow chickens, ducks, rabbits, bees, goats, and other livestock under certain conditions. The City of Xenia has adopted an Accessory Use code for the Raising of Small Livestock (see chapter 1224.01)
  • Front-yard gardens — Some communities allow homeowners to use front and side yards for edible plant gardens, while defining acceptable maintenance standards. Cleveland Heights’ vegetable/edible gardens zoning amendment is a model — see section 1121.12(l).
  • Establish a Public Market to enhance food security/justice, connect consumers with local producers, and foster locally-based economic development.
  • Establish Healthy Food Zones in coordination with efforts to increase access to healthy, fresh foods.
  • Pesticide ban — See Trees & Land Management chapter.

Broader collaboration

A major part of the sustainable food picture is the development of a regional food system that links cities and the surrounding countryside. Communities in the Miami Valley can all be thinking about how they fit into the bigger picture, and they can be engaged in a number of initiatives, such as:
  • Efforts of county Land Banks and local food advocates to streamline the process of transferring vacant parcels to urban agriculture uses.
  • Work of OSU Extension to establish an urban agriculture model of practice with standards, site control guidelines for public access and possible discounts on property tax and water use.
  • Small (15-50 acres) organic farms have a valuable and sustainable role to play in our local food economy, and suit rural land uses. Communities of all kinds can support efforts of the Organic Farmers Association and the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association to foster organic farming.
  • Efforts of Montgomery County’s Food Equity Coalition to convene sustainable food advocates and figure out ways to plug the gaps in the regional food system.
  • Efforts of Public Health Dayton-Montgomery County and other partners to map “food deserts” and then develop programs to promote the sale of healthy foods in those areas.
  • Efforts to develop kitchen incubators to help launch food processing businesses.
  • Efforts to systematize food waste composting on a regional scale. Private sector composting companies operating at a community scale or regional scale exist in the Miami Valley.
  • Efforts to build on the competitive advantage of food and beverage business clusters in the Miami Valley, support replacement of imported products with local products, and expand regional exports to national markets.
  • To reduce restaurant food waste, restaurants can offer steep discounts during their final hour of operation for foods likely to be thrown out if not sold. These businesses can collaborate on a smartphone app that highlights such deals in real time. Encourage your local restaurants to participate in such a collaborative. Food For All is an example from Boston, MA.

Regional Contacts

  • Farmers markets —B-W Greenway Community Land Trust, 937.867.5212, info@bwgreenway.org
  • Local food economy — Lela Klein, Co-Op Dayton, 937.716.1717, lela.klein@gduci.org
  • Local food legislation, Jenita McGowan, City of Cleveland Chief of Sustainability, 216.664.2405, jmcgowan@city.cleveland.oh.us
  • OSU Agriculture Extension offices:
    Darke County – 937.548.5215
    Greene County – 937.372.9971
    Miami County – 937.440.3945
    Montgomery County – 937.224.9654
    Preble County - 937.456.8174
  • Regional food planning — Haley Carretta, Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, 937.496.3308, HCarretta@phdmc.org
  • Regional food policy — Mark Willis, Hall Hunger Initiative, 937.225.3056, MarkW.hhi@dayton-unitedway.org
  • Sustainable food services for institutions — Stephanie Corbett, Case Western Reserve University, 216.368.6174, stephanie.corbett@case.edu
  • Community Gardening – Kaitlyn Lawry, Five Rivers MetroParks, 937.275.7275, Kaitlyn.lowry@metroparks.org
  • Urban garden zoning — Fred Collier, Cleveland Planning Commission, 216.664.3468, fcollier@city.cleveland.oh.us

Additional resources