Speaker 1 00:00:20 Welcome back. Just to bite listeners, we've got an exciting episode for you today focused on Ohio agriculture, Ohio's number one economy, and of course the people who provide much of the food that we enjoy on our tables and on our plates day in and day out. We are so thrilled to have been partnering with Ohio's agricultural community for decades now, and we have a new frontier to explore. That's right. We're gonna talk today about the U S D A local Food Purchase Assistance program and how we are planning to implement it here in the state of Ohio. Enjoy.
Speaker 1 00:01:06 Well, we're really excited at the Ohio Association of Food Banks to have our partners from the Ohio Department of Agriculture. Joining us for today is just a bite episode where we're gonna dive in a little bit deeper on a new partnership that we have launching in Ohio, the U S D A local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement program, which we are shortening and calling Ohio can, uh, here amongst our partners. We're so excited to launch this program, and I'm really excited to have our special guests with us today to talk through what it's gonna mean for Ohio agriculture as well as the Ohioans that are experiencing food insecurity and food hardship that we serve every day in our network. So I'm going to invite each of our special guests to introduce themselves and maybe share with our listeners one thing that our listeners should know about you, or maybe one story about you that might help them understand what Ohio agriculture means to you. So I will start with our special guest, Tracy and Aha, assistant director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Speaker 2 00:02:16 Thank you, Jori. I'm excited to be here with you all to talk about Ohio can. It's an exciting project for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. And, you know, I think to answer the question, what does agriculture mean to me? It, it's a hugely important, um, area of focus industry for Ohio. It, it's our top industry in Ohio, and, and I think that sometimes surprises people, but food and agriculture employs one in eight Ohioan, so it's significant and we are really happy to be a part of that structure. And the Ohio Can Project allows us to grow food and agriculture in a different and unique way. So, um, that is exciting for me to be a part of that. And, you know, one interesting fact about me as it relates to agriculture, I, I did not grow up in a, on a farm. My, my mom did. My mom grew up on a farm in western Ohio. Um, but I did touch agriculture a little bit. And one fun fact, I received an honorable mention at the Alay County Fair for my sewing project in four H. So <laugh>, I, I haven't worked on a farm. Um, but that is one connection that sometimes I can throw out in the community that I was active and involved in four H on things like cooking and sewing. Um, so that's, that's one fact, uh, that I wanted to share about agriculture.
Speaker 1 00:03:53 Well, that's wonderful. We love our four H ERs, of course. So shout out to all the four Hs listening and, um, you know, if you're, if you've got any farming in your family line of history, which one way or the other, most of us do, um, if we reach far enough back, it's, you know, it's in our blood. And like you said, Tracy, we're so lucky here in Ohio to have such readily ready access to locally grown foods and that it's such a huge part of our economy, um, definitely, uh, should not go unnoticed and underappreciate it. So, thank you. I'll now, um, ask Ainsley to introduce herself. She is newly the Ohio Can Program Manager for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and we've just really enjoyed getting to know her, so I'll give it to you.
Speaker 2 00:04:39 Yeah, thank you, jar. I'm also really excited to be here and talk more about Ohio can. Um, yeah, so like Tracy said, um, I also did not grow up like on a farm, um, or having like, you know, super direct connections with agriculture. But, um, I really kind of have developed a passion for agriculture through studying at Ohio State. I just finished my degree in environmental sciences, um, and just really came to love, um, food and farming through that. Um, I started studying soil health and how soil contamination disproportionately affects low income and black and brown communities, and was pretty disheartened by this. And so, um, at the time as well, I was working on a few farms and I love the work, but I really began to learn, um, and understand the challenges that farmers face, um, day to day basis from selling to growing and mental health and just all the struggles to make ends meet.
Speaker 2 00:05:38 Um, and so my experiences on these farms and during school the past few years have really led work on research projects that have analyzed like the of urban farms, especially in mitigating local food insecurity, um, neighborhood interest and buy-in. And so that is kinda why now I have this unique, um, passion for farm food assistance and why, um, Ohio agriculture is so important to me and why I think Ohio is, um, really gonna give us this unique opportunity to do the behind the scenes work of supporting farmers who have not historically had the same opportunities to sell to their local communities.
Speaker 1 00:06:22 Wow. Well, that was incredibly well stated. Thank you for sharing with us your passions and kind of what you've explored as a student that you're now bringing to the table as a, as a practitioner here in our state, we're lucky to have you. Um, and I'll finally invite my colleague, Carrie Harshberger, to introduce herself and, um, share a little bit about her connection to agriculture with our listeners.
Speaker 3 00:06:46 Hi everyone. I'm Carrie Harshberger, food resource manager working with J and the Ohio Association of Food Banks. And you know, when I think about, um, you know, my connection with agriculture, I, I've always been drawn to it cause I've always been enamored with stories. And to me, local food is the ultimate story. It's the story of our land. It's the story of those that raise and grows our, grow our food to the hands that prepare the ingredients into delicious dishes that can be the catalyst for the stories around our tables. Uh, and particularly with Ohio. You know, I think about when I first moved to Ohio about 10 years ago, I had just graduated college and was starting my own career path. Um, I had the privilege of doing a year of AmeriCorps with a Columbus based food nonprofit called Local Matters, where I was teaching low income families how to cook healthy, healthy foods on a budget.
Speaker 3 00:07:41 And as one of the founders was, uh, at the time part of Great River Organics, we each received a CSA bag as a special perk. And every week one of my coworkers would host a market bag dinners, we called it, bringing together members of the community to try new recipes and share whatever delicious foods are in season at the time. And those dinners were so transformative to me. They were the first time, you know, I got to try foods like Cole Robbi and Celery Root. Um, but you know, really it was the creating, um, of a new way of viewing, you know, food and community for me. So when my year ended with local matters, I knew that whatever I set my path towards would be working to recreate and capture the magic and warmth a community that I felt at that time. So that really kind of drove, drove my passion for local foods.
Speaker 3 00:08:33 Um, I went on to work as a chef for different farm to table restaurants throughout Columbus, and had the great opportunity of working with some wonderful mentors in the local foods field, including Dara Schwartz of Jurisa Dips, uh, was a, a small hummus company at the time. And I ran their production kitchen at the OSU pilot plant. And, you know, as that company grew, I saw my, my story with agriculture and local foods growing, and I ended up working for a contract manufacturing company, you know, really hoping to work with small businesses as they scaled up in production. But, you know, I loved working in all those fields and the makers and producers and farmers that I met in each of them. But the piece that was always missing for me was access. Um, and that's what, you know, I'm particularly excited for with the Ohio Can Project, since it feels like we're, it's an opportunity to put these pieces together, you know, our local farmers and local food actors and organizations that have been doing this work for decades, and then of course, with our na uh, to bring this food to their neighbors most in need.
Speaker 3 00:09:42 And one little fun fact, I'll throw out, I did not grew up on a farm. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. Um, but when I moved to Ohio, I did work at Alpaca Farm for three years. So that's my fun little <laugh> random fact about me.
Speaker 1 00:09:56 Well, we have, uh, you have had just many lives in the world of agriculture. It's so interesting to hear about your path and your passion, and I'm just really excited about having the three of you gathered together for this, uh, conversation. It's almost like breaking bread, uh, with one another. So I hope that our listeners are enjoying, um, something delicious as they listen, uh, to our further conversation specifically on Ohio Cannes. So, you know, Carrie, why don't you kick us off, if you wouldn't mind. Could you just give our listeners maybe some background on the core goals of the local Food purchase assistance program? Like this is a program funded through the United States Department of Agriculture and their marketing service. So there are a lot of core goals that we are grounded in under their direction and guidance. So I'd love if you could share some of that with our listeners.
Speaker 3 00:10:47 Absolutely. So, you know, we have all felt the supply chain chain struggles over the last few years. Um, you know, when we think about the goals that the U S D A A M S have laid out for this, you know, every every farmer and producer that we are aiming to work with for this is gonna be within 400 miles with a particular focus, of course, to our Ohio farmers and suppliers. Um, so, you know, with this hope, you know, it really is aiming to, uh, build on our local food systems, you know, help folks scale up in production and provide a new oppor new opportunity and a steady market for growers and processors. And, uh, particularly ones that have been socially and historically disenfranchised and, you know, left out of this system. You know, our aim is to reach a majority of, um, farmers, ranchers, uh, processors that are socially disadvantaged, including our BI packers out there, women owned, um, businesses, uh, veteran owned, you know, so you're really providing this, um, you know, connecting these, these folks that are, are, are out there with our food bank system and, and having this be a viable market for them.
Speaker 3 00:12:06 You know, first time that will, we're, you know, able to purchase that market rates, uh, which is really exciting. Uh, so paying, paying higher dollar prices and, um, to make this profitable for, for folks involved. And then, um, you know, another big piece of this too is providing foods that we don't typically have access to within R TFA net network. Um, you know, food banks for a long time have, you know, relied heavily on U S D A commodities and, you know, with supply chain struggles, these have become, you know, just unfortunately like everything less and less reliable. So, you know, both reaching the fresh produce protein and dairy items out there that, you know, we haven't been able to, uh, reliably access, uh, in the past few years. And then also new foods that just typically aren't part of our commodity networks, more specialty products.
Speaker 3 00:13:04 Uh, we're aiming to, uh, you know, particularly source culturally appropriate foods for our, for our new American communities, thinking like goat and mushrooms, fresh herbs. It's these higher dollar niche foods, um, that, you know, we just don't typically see, um, you know, in our purchasing. And, uh, you know, and lastly, you know, I'd say, uh, a big goal, you know, with this knowing that we're, we're aiming to, you know, help our local food systems, we're really are trying to create a sustainable and scalable model, uh, for our farm to food bank programs, uh, to thrive in the future. Uh, we've been really lucky, uh, I'd say in the state of Ohio that we've had an agricultural clearance program funded through the state for last three decades now. Um, and so, you know, really this is hoping to grow on that program and, you know, help other farmers and producers access, uh, that program as well. So, you know, we will try and have best practices throughout this with our food bank staff and, you know, see this as an opportunity to bring in, uh, for local vendors to speak and see how we can work with them better and make this a valuable option for them both, both now and in the future.
Speaker 1 00:14:25 Thank you for that, Carrie. Yeah, and I mean, for our listeners who have joined us before or who are more familiar with how we operate in the, in the Hunger Relief Network across Ohio, um, you'll know that we, uh, currently are serving roughly one in 10 Ohioans regularly. And, and others, um, you know, episodically, so about a million people in Ohio are regularly counting on us as a staple source of food. So, you know, we really feel an obligation to make sure we're giving them adequate access to a variety of local wholesome foods. And this is a really cool way to do that. So, you know, I'd love to invite you, Tracy, to dive into that a little bit deeper about what are Ohio's specific goals for this program, and, you know, why is the Department of Agriculture in particular excited about marketing this opportunity to, to the ag community?
Speaker 2 00:15:20 Thanks, I, I, I would love to talk about that and what some of our goals and and interests, um, are. So the Ohio Department of Agriculture, it is primarily a regulatory agency. So this is a new space for us. And, and I think that is what makes it exciting. Um, and when I think about what, what our agency has typically done we're we are charged with keeping, helping to keep the food supply chain healthy. Um, so we certainly are focused on plant safety, food safety, animal health safety. So we have inspectors and staff and laboratories on our campus here in Reynoldsburg with that focus. So there are standards for ensuring safe and healthy food. And a lot of times, we'll, we'll ensure that those standards are met and we'll take samples from different food supplies too and test them in our laboratory here in Reynoldsburg.
Speaker 2 00:16:27 Um, and that's, it's a great mission. You we're proud of that work, and we know that it's important and that people may not realize it's happening behind the scenes, but we know it's critical to make sure that what you're eating is, is safe food. Um, so this opportunity through Ohio can opens another door. And we're really excited about that. And Carrie touched a little bit on the pandemic and the realities that, that we realized here in Ohio with the pandemic and the fact that our food supply chain, it, it's a little wobbly. Um, and we know that we can strengthen it by expanding those local opportunities. And at u d we, we did, we realized it and saw it firsthand in the meat processing world mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So during the pandemic and, and the height of Covid, uh, uh, we were seeing that our Ohio producers who traditionally send a lot of, of their animals to processing outside of the state to larger, larger plants, those plants were being impacted by Covid.
Speaker 2 00:17:38 And it was starting to slow down that food supply chain. And that that means something that's impactful for, for families who, who, who need food and count on, you know, that food being in their grocery store. So we know that there's value to, to expanding that food supply chain. And, and that's what I think of Ohio can, and this project, this program being about, we, we want to grow the number of producers who sell local Ohio products into the system. And then on the back end, we wanna expand to, to families who need that food, um, to get through a day. So we're really excited about that opportunity. It's, it's different for us. So, um, yeah, I, I think that's, that's a good explanation of what, what we see as, as the goal and value for oda.
Speaker 1 00:18:35 Yeah, I mean, we're, we're definitely also journeying alongside you on, on all of the new and exciting elements about this program and project design. And so really excited to be learning together and, um, you know, it's just really great to, to have our Department of Agriculture so invested and involved, um, at the center of this work. So, you know, and on that note, I would love Ainsley to hear more from you, you know, how can local vendors, the ones that we're talking about that we wanna work with on this project, how can they learn more about the program and how they can get involved? And, and maybe you could also peel back some more layers for us about what you and Carrie have planned and are thinking about in the way of work that you have, um, you know, coming up in the future.
Speaker 2 00:19:25 Yeah, so we have a lot in the works right now. Um, as we're getting started, um, I'll start with first we, we'll be having our website on the Ohio Department of Agriculture's platform, which is, um, gonna be linked in the show notes. Uh, so there you'll be able to find an overview about the program and resources about, you know, which products are eligible for the program, and then also there you'll find a link to our producer and vendor registration board. Um, there you'll just fill out your basic contact info and some information about what products you have to sell. And then after filling that out, you'll be put in contact, um, with Carrie to go over some more details about purchasing and distribution. We also have quite a few conferences and events planned. Um, so we're gonna be attending the Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association conference on January 16th.
Speaker 2 00:20:21 So that's pretty soon after the new year. And then also the conference, so the Ohio, um, ecological Food and Farming Association Conference in February, as well as the Ohio Small Farm Conference in March. Um, and then later in the year we'll be at Farm Science Review in the Black Farming Conference. So those dates will also be posted on our website so you can know where to find us and get some more information. We're also really hoping and planning to work with Ohio State Extension and Central State Extension since, you know, they have officers with resources for farmers in every single county of Ohio. Um, and central state especially focuses their extension work on minority farmers and small and beginning farmers. So we're also on the process of planning some working lunches for early in the new year in vendor meetings, um, across the state for different stakeholders as well as producers so we can meet producers where they're at and hopefully create some more opportunities to support them and distribution partners as we get started with rolling out the program.
Speaker 1 00:21:25 That's so neat. It's really, uh, I think serving as a catalyst to get, uh, conversations and relationships moving and building, and we'll have so much to continue to grow on as we, um, continue to build out not only this program, but those partnerships and those, um, yeah, the way that we all work together and, and, um, leverage one another's expertise and, um, you know, contribute, support and, and, uh, best practices to one another. So I'm, I'm just so excited about that. So I hope you all caught that, listeners, and we'll make sure to, um, like, like Ainsley shared in the show notes, you'll be able to visit the website where you'll have access to all of those resources. And I'm sure that Carrie and Ainsley will look forward to seeing you out in the field, um, in the months to come to learn more about the program and is really all about relationships, you know, so we wanna be in relationship with the ag community on this. And then of course, also our Hunger Relief network. So, you know, Carrie, would you mind just giving our listeners a couple of broad examples about how food banks will use these foods a little bit differently or to supplement what we normally are able to do in our network?
Speaker 3 00:22:38 You know, the goal of this really is to reach underserved communities in our T FAP network. So, you know, we're, we are seeing this as a more, you know, targeted outreach approach and an opportunity to support different food banks on pilot programs that they might be doing, uh, with their, within their food banks. Ones that I am particularly excited for, you know, some of our food banks are working to have these funds support medically tailored boxes for people with diabetes and hypertension, um, and also, uh, culturally appropriate foods for WIC participants. And a lot are focusing on providing fresh produce and protein, uh, for their mobile markets. And, uh, others are using it to support school pantry programs. So I think it's really exciting to see how each food bank is, you know, choosing to use these funds in a way that's most meaningful to them, uh, which I think is gonna be just a really rich opportunity, uh, to, to, to try out new things and, um, use these funds in the ways that are most meaningful, meaningful to each.
Speaker 3 00:23:49 And, you know, we, we are also, you know, working with Ohio Department of Education on this, um, you know, seeing if there's ways to connect to connect our food banks, you know, with folks in their system that, you know, um, our, I could use these funds as well. So, you know, there's just a lot of opportunities as we've talked about, for different partnerships to evolve over this and bring together different actors that, you know, perhaps have been siloed, you know, in their past, in their, in their own little fields. You know, you know, this, this is about relationships and broadening those, this brought in those. So, you know, it's really exciting to see how this is all gonna unfold. And, um, yeah, more to come on on specifics that there are some exciting projects in the work for our food banks.
Speaker 1 00:24:34 Yeah, thank you. I mean, you know, it's just, if it's helpful to note as, as well for our listeners, you know, we normally of course are working on, in a world of volume, our role is to really try to, um, locate resources in bulk or, you know, we're rescuing foods that are close to code from our retail and manufacturer partners. We're rescuing surplus agricultural product that doesn't have, um, you know, doesn't have a viable market necessarily aside from our food distributions. And normally we are really geared to be thinking about how much food can we bring in for the least amount of funds, right? Because we have so many people who are counting on us to keep them fed, um, when they're struggling to make ends meet and experiencing food hardship. And, you know, often we of course have to sacrifice what kind of products we're able to bring in, um, how regularly and consistently we're, we're able to bring them in because we're reliant on a lot of factors outside of our control that other, uh, food procurement bodies and entities would, would otherwise not be limited by. So, you know, it's something that we are definitely learning through too and, and growing into a different mindset on this. And that's really cool. So, um, it's been so great to learn from all of you. You know, I'd love to invite y'all to provide any other final comments or thoughts about the program. Um, if you have them, uh, I'll start with Tracy, if you wanted to jump in with any other final thoughts.
Speaker 2 00:26:10 Thanks, joy. A and it's, it's been great. Uh, hopefully our listeners are understanding and appreciating this new opportunity and we'll check out our website and think about connections they might be able to make with friends and family. Um, but Ohio can, it opens the door for us, for us, you know, the big us, uh, oda a and the age other agencies we're working with in the Ohio Food Bank Association to support agriculture farmers and producers in a way that, that you, we haven't normally had the opportu opportunity to engage in. So our role will be to market this opportunity to get more farmers and producers interested, and it makes me think too about how we can build on that in the future. So it's a great opportunity for us. Um, and, you know, hopefully it's just the beginning of work that we can do to help buy local, get farmers involved and, and help feed hungry family. So thank you.
Speaker 1 00:27:17 Thank you so much, Ainsley. Did you wanna share any final thoughts with our listeners?
Speaker 3 00:27:22 Um, yeah, so just to kind of echo Tracy, you know, this program is all about just expanding the number of producers that get the opportunity to be involved with Ohio's food system. So the, you know, opportunities are just really li limitless and, you know, we really are gonna prioritize building relationships with Ohio producers and community members. And so I just, you know, I really welcome as our program starts to kick off and as we, um, you know, talk with producers and, you know, as you all are listening to this, to just send feedback our way too. And, you know, we wanna hear how we can best serve you too and how, you know, what your thoughts are about expanding partnerships for the years to come.
Speaker 1 00:28:05 Absolutely, Carrie.
Speaker 3 00:28:09 Yeah, I was gonna say something very similar to Ainsley and, you know, and, and Tracy too. You know, just this really is a, an exciting opportunity to expand the work that we're doing, uh, with our agriculture community in Ohio and local producers and, and, and processors and, you know, yeah, I think it is gonna be a learning experience for, for everyone involved. And we're excited to, we're excited for, for the process and, and the learning experience. So, uh, yes, definitely. I think, you know, this is gonna be a program where we welcome feedback throughout and really just ho hoping for a conversa, you know, to open the doors to conversation for this, um, and, and see when, where it takes off, um, yeah. So that we can, you know, continue to do this work for, for the years to come.
Speaker 1 00:29:02 Yeah. Well, I look forward to having you all back maybe in a year or so for, uh, a follow up episode so that we can hear about all the success that you've had, um, early on in implementation. So thank you all for your time today, uh, and thanks our listeners for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:29:25 Wow. Well, I'm sure you enjoyed that as much as I did. It was so great to learn from Tracy Ainsley and Carrie about this new frontier of working together. And what's really exciting is that in September, the US Department of Agriculture announced that it will provide additional funds to expand the local food purchase assistance program. So we're really excited to learn more about what that means for our work on Ohio can. And I'll just close by sharing kind of the grounding that U S D A secretary Tom Vilsack shared in that announcement in September. Funding these initiatives, he said, is paramount in the fight against hunger and further demonstrates the U S D's commitment to strengthen food and nutrition security. We must ensure Americans have access to safe, healthy, affordable food for longevity and optimal health. So we're really excited about the focus at the administration, at the federal level as well as here at the state level has on both strengthening and making our agricultural communities resilient, going into the future and the challenges ahead in that sector, and then also making sure that there's equitable access to that wonderful food across all of our communities.
Speaker 1 00:30:45 So thanks for listening. We'll talk to you again next time.