Local Food Systems helping ag businesses connect, grow

One website has been quietly helping groups of agriculture-related enterprises align their products and services to mutual benefit for the last four years.

A project of the Agroecosystems Management Program of The Ohio State University, Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, and collaborators in Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania, LocalFoodSystems.org fosters cooperation between ag businesses in an attempt to strengthen them and their communities.

A biodigester, for example, can secure waste from a local dairy, convert it to energy and, in turn, provide heat and compost material to a green house operation that then provides healthy food to a school district.

“The economic play is across the value chain, from production through processing, marketing, distribution, preparation to sales,” says Casey Hoy, a research scientist in OSU’s Agroecosystems Management Program.

Recently, the LocalFoodSystems.org team talked to a berry producer who paid for delivery of half a truckload of fertilizer only to discover that a neighboring berry producer received the same amount of fertilizer from the same supplier just two days later.

“He pointed out that had he and his neighbor coordinated their effort, each would pay half of the cost of one trip and they could negotiate a lower price by buying in larger volume,” Hoy says. “The manure-providing business, the growers, and those who buy from the growers all benefit.”

Further, the fact that a very small percentage of a family’s food dollars go to locally sourced products indicates that there is a tremendous opportunity for business development and expansion, he says.

For instance, Red Basket Farm in Kinsman, Ohio produces a variety of fresh food products, including lettuce and spinach that it sells to a nearby school district, local markets, and individuals through a subscription program.

The farm’s owner, Floyd Davis, “cannot keep up with demand and would gladly collaborate with a capable producer to provide more product,” Hoy says.

In addition to entrepreneurs expanding, enhancing, or planning their businesses, the site’s users include advocates, educators, resource providers, idea generators, investors, and reporters.

The site currently has 1,535 registered users. There is no fee to join.

To date, the site’s users have formed 115 groups, some of which are engaged in one or more projects, and use the site to ensure participants have access to each other, shared calendars, and uploaded files. Other groups share similar interests (such as the Appalachian Staple Foods Collaborative), but communicate more broadly.

The site’s development has been supported by a three-year grant from the USDA Specialty Crops Research Initiative Regional Partnerships for Innovation program, as well as a series of grants from the Fund For Our Economic Future, a private foundation.

To learn more, visit LocalFoodSystems.org.