Across Ohio, many communities are dependent on the local food economy as the backbone for their rural economy. However, our farmland is at risk, with thousands of acres being lost each year to development. In Wayne County, which is third in the state for agricultural production, from 2001-2016, 3,369 acres of farmland were converted to other uses (American Farmland Trust 2020). 75% of the farmland that was developed was “nationally significant farmland,” which are high-quality agricultural lands that are suitable for long-term, intensive crop production.
Small-scale food producers and family farms are particularly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks, yet many struggle to access the entrepreneurial support and resources needed to grow their business and access new markets.
It has been hypothesized that non-profits may be uniquely suited to fill the gap with entrepreneurial support for food producers, due to their ability to generate revenues through philanthropic donations, grants and fees. Yet more research is needed on the entrepreneurial trainings and programs needed by small-scale food producers and farmers, and how these programs could be structured to best meet their needs.
To answer those questions, a team from Ohio State University, College of Wooster, and Sustainable Economies Consulting came together to develop the Catalyzing Food Entrepreneurship (CaFE) research project. Cafe Project Fact Sheet The CaFE project is partially funded by a grant from OSU’s Initiative for Food and AgriCultural Transformation, a Discovery Themes program. For more information visit www.discovery.osu.edu/infact.
The first phase of research was completed in May 2021 and encompassed 5 focus group sessions with 36 farmers and food producers. These sessions were designed to understand what barriers are currently facing producers, and what are gaps they have identified in entrepreneurial programs. Findings from the focus groups will inform a future survey targeting more than 1,500 food producers. Focus group participants were recruited with the help of several project partners including Farm Bureau, Local Roots Market and Café, Countryside Conservancy, ACE-Net, the Center for Food Innovation at Oberlin, and OSU Extension. The summary of results can be found at the following links:
Also completed in May 2021 was a report showing a case study analysis of food and kitchen incubators, written by a student team at the College of Wooster through their Social Entrepreneurship program. Their research focused on the structure and operation of U.S. food incubators to advise the development of nonprofit entrepreneurial centers across Ohio. Their report obtains insight from a literature review, food incubator interviews, and an analysis of incubator form 990s. The final report can be found Final Plan Catalyzing Food Entrepreneurship case study assessment COW 5.2021.