The following guest blog has been penned by Brian Williams, an Ohio-based SfL collaborator, consultant and writer in the fields of agriculture, local-food systems, planning, development, and transportation. He was a policy advocate and planner for nearly 20 years, following 25 years as a journalist in Ohio, Chicago, Thailand and Minnesota before returning to Ohio.
The Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land report was left in limbo not long after its spring 2019 release, but a lack of funding for the implementation phase did not diminish the relevance of its recommendations. In fact, many of the recommendations were a bit ahead of their time and may see light beyond Ohio and across the country.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to some disruptions in the U.S. food supply chain, was a factor.
The USDA has launched a $4 billion “build back better” initiative to beef up supply chains – and the goals read like something straight out of the 2019 Ohio report.
The USDA says the initiative will “ensure the food system of the future is fair, competitive, distributed, and resilient; supports health with access to healthy, affordable food; ensures growers and workers receive a greater share of the food dollar; and advances equity as well as climate resilience and mitigation. … With attention to competition and investments in additional small- and medium-sized meat processing capacity, the Build Back Better initiative will spur economic opportunity while increasing resilience and certainty for producers and consumers alike.”
Ohio Smart Agriculture noted that, “By re-establishing the infrastructure and supply chains for meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables, Ohio can create more food-industry jobs, have convenient marketing channels for farmers, and make fresh food readily accessible to Ohioans of all income levels. … To meet the demand, the state can develop more slaughterhouses, cold storage, and aggregation points, as well as facilities for cleaning and slicing produce, flash freezing, and high-temperature pasteurization. The supply chain must ensure market access to all farmers and food access to all Ohioans.”
From an environmental perspective, the Ohio report stressed that strengthening the protein and produce sectors would add agricultural diversity in a way that would benefit soil health and waterways.
Ohio Smart Agriculture, of course, was not limited to the food supply chain. It was a comprehensive look at the direction’s agriculture needs to take in the coming decades in terms of climate, land, water, markets, social and economic equity, and other factors. SfL’s statewide initiatives in Florida, Iowa, and the Delmarva Peninsula have done, and are doing, the same thing The key is that all these efforts are led by farmers who understand the challenges and have been creative in facing them. The SfL projects have given them the impetus to come together and share their ideas to chart statewide and regional pathways to the future. The vision was to do these projects in many states in ways that filter up to the national level. Now, post-COVID, the federal role has been accelerated.