The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), Washington, D.C., awarded a matching grant to the Ohio State University, Mansfield, Ohio, to launch a $2 million urban sustainable food system project that will increase access to fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops while supporting the local economy.

The microfarm network will progress over three years, allowing researchers and growers to calibrate 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 from food insecurity to urban beautification to food literacy and educational achievement.

The Mansfield Microfarm Project will provide both training and microfarm kits to approximately a dozen initial producers, and help them farm cooperatively and aggregate their produce for marketability. The microfarms will create a food production system that, when fully operating, will produce and sell enough fresh produce to become fully-sustainable economic drivers 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,” says Kip Curtis, associate professor of environmental history at Ohio State University. “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.”

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,” says Sally Rockey, FFAR’s executive director. “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.”

“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,” says Curtis. “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.”