A lack of control over land use may ultimately affect everything from the cost to the availability of local food in Ohio where 90% of the state’s $40 billion farm revenue comes from exporting food. It could explain why Central Ohio’s transportation and planning agency, MORPC, is addressing land use as a food security issue.
How complete and near to the city a ring of farmland will enable or be limiting factors to growing and bringing food to a local market.
Brian Williams was hired by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Council (MORPC) to knock down barriers to local food markets. He says that a region’s policy can open up markets previously assumed to be closed to Ohio farmers.
“We want to create new markets and new options for farmers,” Williams told NEO Food Web, a group interested in local food, who met last week at Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA,) the regional transportation planner. “If I want someone to start switching over to (specialty food crops and away from mono crops) I’ll ask, ‘do you want to measure your yield in dollars per acre or bushels per acre. If we do local food right, they’ll be measuring it in dollars per acre.”
MORPC, like NOACA, approves funding for big transportation projects and keeps the region in compliance on the Clean Water and Clean Air Act. But MORPC also sees its role as a regional planner expanding—just as the urban area of Central Ohio has spread into the surrounding farmland.
Williams’ role is to convene. His position at the regional funder is attracting top brass at federal and state government and in Central Ohio’s philanthropic community.
“A regional funder can bring people to the table and coordinate,” he says, adding that groups meet at MORPC to work on local food issues, like a meat industry task force.
The market for local food is certainly growing, evidenced by the farmers markets, CSAs and other links in the local food chain. Even affordability is being addressed—most farmers markets, for example, accept government food assistance programs. In Cleveland, philanthropy matches $10 on every fresh food purchase at a farmer’s market for low-income households.
Land use looms large. It is receiving less notice than flashy topics like food hubs (central locations where small farmers pool resources, prep food, and sell it collectively as a cooperative).
Central Ohio is pursuing a regional land use plan that will include farmland preservation and reduce vehicle miles travelled. Columbus’ Insight 2050 is similar to Northeast Ohio’s VibrantNEO —showing the impact of sprawl and proposing an alternative path.
“We’re increasingly tying things together at MORPC,” Williams says. “We see infill as mutually beneficial to farmland preservation.”
Addressing sprawl at the scale of the region really is a statewide issue, Williams says. Water quality could be an area where environmentalists and farmers agree.
Water quality, Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ), Jobs Ready and brownfield funds are all being tapped by metropolitan planning organization’s like MORPC to boost local food, for example, a compost facility that has grown from 50 to 400K sq ft. on a brownfield in Wooster.
“You have five million acres in Lake Erie basin,” added Brian Gwen of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “If this group wanted to get behind something, it could be the land use in Northeast Ohio. Brownfields and sprawl.
“It’s a shame that the ag community dismissed the whole NEOSCC because (tea party) groups would take over the meeting, and it was not productive.”