Utilizing the USDA-SCRI Grant Award to Advance Local Food Systems

Steve Bosserman's picture

Currently, there are over 320 members of the LocalFoodSystems.org network and the number keeps growing!  Along with increasing membership comes an even wider readership by those who visit the site to catch-up on current postings or see what calendar events are going on, but not necessarily to join.  No matter what people do when they come to the site, it is evident that what brought them to it, in part, is a shared interest in what's happening within the local foods movement.

Many LocalFoodSystems.org members and visitors are actively involved in a wide range of organized efforts to advance local food systems in their communities, neighborhoods, and regions.  It is the intent of the LocalFoodSystems.org site to assist people, wherever they reside, as they engage in projects, businesses, and public and non-profit entities to carry out the important work of building, strengthening, and sustaining local food systems within the total food system.  The more people engage in their local foods initiatives, the more they learn, the more questions they have, and the more opportunities arise from pursuit of those questions; it is an unfolding process.  And, along with the new experiences and challenges people have as they build their local food systems, the more LocalFoodSystems.org is pressed to adapt its forums, processes, and tools in support.  The two are co-evolving.

Continuous adaption of LocalFoodSystems.org is the inevitable outcome of increased social networking.  Fortunately, LocalFoodSystems.org is not an independent project.  It is one of five focus areas outlined in the USDA-SCRI grant proposal awarded late last year.  Given a shared purpose to establish, bolster, and expand local food systems, their activities are intertwined and heavily influence LocalFoodSystems.org adaptation.

As implementation of the grant proposal gets underway, the original plan is undergoing several adjustments in strategy and execution to stay on track with the original goals, but take advantage of what is being learned.  Social networking through LocalFoodSystems.org has a major role to play, but it is only one of several critical elements.  Obviously, this effort is playing out within a complex system!

Below (and attached as a Word document) is a general overview that summarizes the anticipated outcomes and overarching goals of the grant proposal and clearly positions its intent to establish local food systems as an essential dimension to vital and vibrant local economies.  This description is boilerplate.  However, it can be tailored for specific audiences that would benefit from targeted messages about how they can participate more fully in local food systems.

 Experimentation and learning are the watchwords.  Please post your experiences so we all can learn!

USDA-SCRI Grant: Overview
In September 2008, the USDA awarded a 3-year, $2.2M matching fund Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI)
grant to The Ohio State University at the Ohio Agricultural Research
and Development Center (OARDC) and partners: the Pennsylvania
Association for Sustainable Agriculture (PASA), the C.S. Mott Group for
Sustainable Agriculture at Michigan State University, Penn State
University, and John Deere.  The project, entitled Social Networking, Market and Commercialization Infrastructure for Midwestern Fruit and Vegetable Crops in Local Food Systems, extends from January 2009 through 2011.

USDA-SCRI Grant: Anticipated Outcomes

  1. Build local, state, and regional community food systems networks
    by initiating online networks, groups, and forums, introducing various
    social media, conducting workshops, moderating meetings, developing
    curricula and delivering coursework, and providing one-on-one
    consulting and mentoring
  2. Establish local fruit and vegetable sales at gas station / convenience store sites in rural food deserts (multiple-county regions)
  3. Connect youth-serving organizations to embrace fruit and vegetable production,
    marketing, preparation, and policy education and activities, stimulating specialty
    crops-based entrepreneurship among young people (Youth Community Food Initiative)
  4. Establish neighborhood level specialty crop production homeowner services to
    grow and provide crops within participating neighborhoods (aka, Greener Acres)
  5. Strengthen local food systems throughout Western Pennsylvania by implementing Regional Food Infrastructure Network (RFIN) portfolio projects

USDA-SCRI Grant: Broad, Overarching Goals

  1. Establish robust, persistent, and adaptive local economies nested
    within a larger metropolitan or regional network that sustains them.  A
    three-legged stool of agricultural production, renewable energy
    generation, and distributed fabrication supports local economies. 
    Given that people have to eat and nutrition is key to health, the food
    system is the logical entry point with this grant; but the intent is to
    integrate all three into viable, comprehensive solutions befitting metropolitan areas whose strategic response to declining economic vitality is planned shrinkage.
  2. Bridge networks of local economies from one state or region to another and
    form intercity / metropolitan area corridors.  These corridors provide
    for the safe, quick, efficient, cost-effective, and ecologically sound
    movement of localized food, energy, and goods across economic regions. 
    The initial geographic focus is the tri-state corridor that connects
    the major metropolitan areas of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit. 
    Included in its sweep are the smaller metropolitan areas of Toledo,
    Akron, and Youngstown along with numerous communities and rural areas. 
    The proliferation of nested local economies throughout this corridor
    assures its economic persistence and prompt expansion to other
    corridors through viral network behavior.
  3. Leverage learning and experience among
    corridors.  Each network of local economies is a hotbed of
    experimentation with designs of local food systems, integration of
    agricultural production with renewable energy generation, and
    distributed fabrication, formation of local economies, and development
    of models and prototypes that replenish food deserts, engage young
    people in agricultural careers, and launch neighborhood businesses
    focused on delivering a wide range of food products to local and
    regional markets.  The underlying system architecture for these
    networks and media enables the rapid generation, aggregation, and
    dissemination of information as well as presentation in ways that
    expedite the transfer of knowledge and know-how throughout the
    corridor.  K-16 school systems, both public and private, are major
    contributors to and beneficiaries of these networks.

USDA-SCRI Grant: A Graphic View
The diagram below illustrates the context in which this grant is
executed.  Large, globalized, and centralized institutions,
corporations, and governments represented by the red and green pyramids
dominate the total economic landscape.  These main wealth-distributing
structures provide income, revenue, and subsidies to people who do
meaningful work in communities where they live and in support of causes
they care about as depicted by the blue oval.  In turn, people complete
the economic cycle by providing their outputs, payments, taxes,
investments, and incentives back to those same structures.  Given the
design of the total economic system, there is a concentration of wealth
and power in the global “red peaks” of the economic pyramid, which
leaves fewer resources available for “green bases” of the total economy.
Grant Graphic Overview

The network, represented by the mesh in the center of the graphic,
draws upon a wide range of social media that contributes to the
network's overall functionality and effectiveness.  The five action and
outcome areas identified in the purple boxes, are sustained by the
network.  Ultimately, the network enables communities to take ownership
for their local economies and extends an open invitation for everyone
to participate regardless where a person or an organization is in the
overall landscape.  That is one of the attractive features of this
grant work: any and all are encouraged to be part of the solution!

 

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