A $3,000 grant from the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation (OFB) is helping break down barriers that are keeping farmers from accessing markets, and consumers from fresh local foods.
Rural Action, a membership-based, nonprofit organization with more than 500 members that works on sustainable development in Appalachian Ohio, will use the funds to purchase a truck to be part of a food distribution system.
“Ideally the projects that we do come from the conversations and dreams and goals of the farmers we work with. Distribution has long been seen as a barrier keeping some farmers we work with from accessing markets,” said Tom Redfern, Rural Action sustainable agriculture coordinator. “Purchasing this truck through funding from the OFB will allow us to explore and create a distribution system directly responding through goals of our farmer and nonfarmer members and partners.”
According to Redfern, farmers in the region must make an effort individually to get their produce out, taking time away from growing fresh, local foods. Rural Action plans to meet the rising need and demand by aggregating and delivering local foods to area businesses using the truck purchased with the OFB grant.
Expanding access to fresh food
This expands the work Rural Action is doing currently with its program Country Fresh Stops. This program brings fresh produce to convenience stores in underserved areas lacking access to it. Country Fresh Stops serves areas deemed food deserts by the USDA.
Rural Action has relationships with several businesses in this region wanting local foods, but the businesses have had a difficult time arranging delivery of the food. With the purchase of a refrigerated truck, a distribution system can be mapped to find an efficient route to deliver the fresh local foods these businesses want. The envisioned region for the new distribution system will be approximately a 50-mile radius from Rural Action’s aggregation point, the Chesterhill Produce Auction, which has previously received grants from the Foundation.
Chesterhill Produce Auction
Rural Action has been working toward a goal of distributing fresh local foods for several years, starting with its purchase of Chesterhill Produce Auction.
The produce auction is like a farmers market where produce is sold, often in large quantities to a range of buyers. It serves as a way to aggregate produce from multiple growers, and creates the capacity to serve larger buyers. It also creates commercial destinations in rural areas. Farmers that bring their produce to the auction receive weekly checks for what they sell.
Redfern said that the action at the produce auction is fast paced and exciting, like most auctions, and people come to be a part of the atmosphere and enjoy the sense of community, as well as to purchase the high quality farm products.
“It is the bonds that we forge between Rural Action sustainable agriculture (programs), farmers and consumers of all types that drive any and all success of our programs,” said Redfern. “While we continue to build and grow the capacity of the Produce Auction we continue to depend on community volunteers to run the auction.”
In 2011, Rural Action recognized 25 people, some farmers and some not, who worked steadily throughout the season to make the auction a success.
“These people show up and work for free because they see a value for the whole community in supporting a place where farmers can sell their crops and bring people from throughout the region to purchase them,” said Redfern. “The relationship that develops between buyers, sellers and volunteers is one of the great perks that keep people coming back. Buyers, whether it is for their own use or for their stores or restaurants really appreciate it when they know not only where their food comes from but most importantly from whom,” he said. “Sharing in the production, consumption and sale of food is the greatest cement of any interpersonal bond between farmers and nonfarmers.”
The Chesterhill Produce Auction is held weekly from May through October, with auctions on Thursdays and Mondays. For more information call Tom Redfern or Bob Fedyski at 740-767-4938.
Visit Rural Action’s website
Read about Chesterhill Produce Auction’s start
Visit the Ohio Foodshed website, a project of Rural Action Sustainable Agriculture