Supply-chain disruptions during the pandemic have showcased the importance of local foods, and a new report offers a pathway to improve the health and resilience of Ohio's food system.
Jaime Hadji, who chairs the Ohio Farmers Market Network, said people who want safe food options have been able to turn to farms and markets in their communities — and those businesses adapted to meet the demand safely, with online ordering and drive-through markets. She noted that most state and federal financial assistance was geared toward large-scale commodity growers and markets, shutting out the little guys.
"Farmers and markets have demonstrated incredible resilience and creativity in responding to the crisis, but many of these sacrifices are not sustainable," she said. "Investment is needed to ensure they don't disappear from our communities, cutting off an important source of local food."
The report recommended eight policy steps to improve food security by investing in the long-term capacity of small farms and farmers markets, including funding from the HEROES Act now in Congress. It also suggested creating a statewide interagency food work group, focused on improving online infrastructure for farmers market sales and expanding food-processing facilities.
Amalie Lipstreu, policy director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said another recommendation is passage of the Family Farm ReGeneration Act (HB 183/SB 159) in Ohio, giving tax credits to landowners who transfer land to the next generation. She said access to land is a perennial problem for beginning farmers.
"They're easily outbid by large, well-resourced operations and developers," she said. "Our food security depends on farmland staying in production and new farmers having access to Ohio's productive prime and unique farmland."
The report encourages developing better online capability for nutrition programs. In Ohio, Produce Perks gives a dollar-for-dollar match to SNAP beneficiaries to purchase local fruits and vegetables. Tevis Foreman, who directs Produce Perks in the Midwest, said online purchasing would ease the strain on food-assistance programs, while boosting jobs and local economies.
"These solutions will allow us to adapt in real time to the ongoing impacts and realities of the COVID-19 pandemic," he said, "while providing lasting systemic change and equitable purchasing opportunities."The report was released by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio Farmers Market Network, Ohio Food Policy Network and Produce Perks Midwest.
The report is online at oeffa.org.
Disclosure: Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association contributes to Ohio News Connection's fund for reporting on Consumer Issues, Hunger/Food/Nutrition, Rural/Farming, Sustainable Agriculture.