Photo by Friedrich


Local Roots Market & Café is a grassroots, democratically governed organization, which is independently owned and operated by its membership, which includes over 3,000 producers and consumers of local goods. Over the years, Local Roots has strategically grown its operation in a way that provides resiliency for local food producers by offering multiple tiers of access to low-cost food business services.  With a grocery market, lunch café, and shared-use commercial kitchen, many gears of the local food economy can all work together under one roof, helping small farms and businesses sustainably operate.

In addition, member businesses have access to limited yet affordable training services for new business services and product launches. The 2020 Local Roots strategic plan identified an opportunity to expand those informal business services to a designated 501(c)3 nonprofit business incubator to support farmers and local food producers.

The Problem

Anecdotally, stories were surfacing that some farmers and food producers selling goods at Local Roots were having trouble diversifying their markets beyond Local Roots and the farmers market, and they needed additional support with new customer acquisition and growing their gross sales. These stories were supplemented by other research that highlighted that small- to mid-sized farms across Ohio were also struggling with profitability and may be at risk of going out of business. Further, the data showed that Wayne County was losing prime farmland each year. Improving farm viability had the potential to also be a strategy to support farmland preservation in the county.

However, more information would be needed.

  • What was the current economic impact that Local Roots had on farmers and food producers through 2020?
  • Was there enough demand for formalized entrepreneurial programs in the future? Was that demand sufficient to justify the creation of a new nonprofit entrepreneurial center?

The Solution

The solution was implemented in phases over a multi-step process. Sustainable Economies provided pro bono services to support Local Roots in designing and implementing a combined economic impact assessment and feasibility study. First, the economic impact assessment showed that yes, Local Roots had a strong, positive impact on local food producers. A few key findings were as follows:

  • 1 in 7 food businesses hired an employee because of Local Roots.
  • 93% of food businesses surveyed have grown since they began working with Local Roots.
  • Almost half of food businesses reported that they grew because of help from Local Roots.

Second, the feasibility study showed that yes, there was sufficient demand for entrepreneurial services for food producers and that it was worth moving forward with a new non-profit entrepreneurial center. Key findings were:

  • 70% of food businesses surveyed want to expand over the next 5 years.
  • The biggest challenges to profitability were “finding outlets for my products” and “competition from other growers and producers.”
  • The top services that would be in demand in a new entrepreneurial center were promotion and access to new markets; support with technical assistance, especially around health codes and regulatory guidelines; support with developing innovative new products.

Below, the infographic summarizing the report and the full feasibility study report can be accessed.

The third step was to create a strategic plan for the new nonprofit, a process which took place from August 2020 to July 2021. A steering committee was formed, which included representation from Local Roots, Ohio State University’s CFAES Wooster, Main Street Wooster, Wayne Economic Development Council, Logee, Hostetler, Stutzman & Lehman LLC, Attorneys at Law, Sustainable Economies Consulting, and several local business and agricultural partners. The steering committee later evolved into the Board of Directors for the new nonprofit, which was named FoodSphere: The Entrepreneurial Center at Local Roots. Sustainable Economies facilitated the planning process with the steering committee, which resulted in the development of a mission statement and vision, as well as four 5-year goals to support the mission.


Feasibility Study For A Non-profit To Support Food Producers

Wayne County, Ohio


Local Roots Market & Café, Ohio State University CFAES Wooster Campus, Main Street Wooster, Wayne Economic Development Council, and several local business partners

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